Get kids excited about classical music with these 11 Chicago area schools and organizations

By Kylie Harwell |

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The school year is officially underway, and the sleepover requests and homework complaints have likely already started. Don’t fret, there are plenty of after-school options across the city that will keep students of all ages and interests engaged in music and off their phones … at least for an hour or two a week.

Access Contemporary Music

Ravenswood, Chicago • 1758 W. Wilson St •
Does your student already love to write their own music? Maybe they’ve expressed an interest in becoming a singer-songwriter, or the next John Williams? In addition to instrumental lessons for children and adults, Access Contemporary Music offers composition lessons. Their dedication to supporting contemporary music includes a variety of opportunities to engage in new music composition and performance.

Young music lover enjoy family-friendly activities at the Thirsty Ears Festival, which is organized by Access Contemporary Music (Photo: Elliot Mandel)

Anima — Glen Ellyn Children's Chorus

Glen Ellyn, IL • 501 Hill Ave, Ste 207 •
Not every child has the opportunity to sing in a Grammy Award-winning ensemble. Yet, Anima (formerly the Glen Ellyn Children's Chorus), who will celebrate its 55th season in 2019-20, is a recognized chorus whose ensembles frequently perform with the CSO. Each of the six ensembles in Anima serve children from over thirty-five communities across Chicago. This prestigious chorus regularly schedules international tours, trips, and competitions.

Chicago Children's Choir

11 locations across Chicago • Offices at Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. •
The benefits of singing in a choir reach far beyond the musical experience and can help improve everything from posture to social skills for singers of any age. Luckily, Chicago happens to be blessed with the internationally-recognized Chicago Children’s Choir, an expansive organization that has offered music and more to over 50,000 young people since its founding in 1956. With international trips to locales such as South Africa and Spain and dozens of community concerts, this choral organization offers opportunities for every level of singer. There is no prior singing experience necessary to join a Neighborhood Choir, and the audition process is open to students in grades 3 and up.

Chicago Children's Choir in performance (Photo: Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of Chicago Children's Choir)

Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras

The Loop, Chicago • The Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Ave, Ste. 833 •
CYSO young artists have access to an abundance of opportunities, not least that the organization's ensembles often perform on the same stage as the CSO. Take this season for instance — they'll give the Chicago premiere of a work by composer Zhou Tian in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad. Likewise, the debut of the CYSO’s chamber music ensemble CORE will focus on, “leadership and education, including serving on audition panels for seating auditions for fellow members of the ensemble, participating in a side-by-side with our Concert Orchestra, and gaining skills and practice in public speaking.”

Photo courtesy the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras

Evanston Children's Choir

Evanston, IL • Rehearsals at Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St. •
Looking for a great chorus without the long commute? Don’t miss The Evanston Children’s Choir in Chicago’s North Shore suburbs. These choirs are open to students without any prior experience, and the program seeks to foster inclusivity as well as musical education. The performance-oriented Concert Choir accepts singers grade 3 through high school and encourages these singers to perform at competitive levels. Likewise, their unique Family Choir is outfitted for the whole family!

Merit School of Music

West Loop, Chicago • 38 S. Peoria
The nationally-recognized Merit School offers an array of musical education programs for young virtuosi of all ages. Older musicians also have the opportunity to audition for the tuition-free conservatory, which represents students from over 90 Chicago zip codes. One of the school's highlights is its annual Performathon — a two day performance fundraiser to benefit Merit scholarships and financial aid.

Members of one of Merit School of Music's brass ensembles onstage at the Pritzker Pavilion as part of WFMT's 2019 YAS! Fest Introductions broadcast (Photo: Kristan Lieb)

Midwest Young Artists Conservatory

Highwood, IL • 878 Lyster Rd. •
With nine youth orchestras, three big bands, seven jazz combos, four choral ensembles, and over sixty chamber music groups, it’s actually difficult to find anything that the Midwest Young Artists Conservatory doesn’t offer. They also offer early childhood music education, so it’s never too early to start!

Music Institute of Chicago

Evanston, IL • 1490 Chicago Ave. •
Students age 10 and up who are interested in an elevated orchestral experience need look no further than Preludio Orchestra, the Music Institute of Chicago's youth orchestra. This organization offers a youth orchestra experience that requires participation in their school orchestra as well as skill-level requirements based on the Suzuki music methodology. Of course, The Music Institute of Chicago also offers a host of music lessons and opportunities for musicians of every skill level, and is home to the Academy, an intensive music program for students on track to pursue a career in music performance.

Photo courtesy Music Institute of Chicago

The People’s Music School

Locations across Chicago •
The People’s Music School of Chicago takes inclusivity pretty seriously. In fact, their landing page opens with: “You Belong Here.” That is a fantastic message for musicians of any age. All instruction is free, and the school boasts impressive professional mentors and collaborators including Yo-Yo Ma and Third Coast Percussion. Their multiple locations across Chicago include The Uptown Academy (city-wide program), Hibbard Elementary School (Albany Park), Lara Elementary School (Back of the Yards), and the Bronzeville Classical School (Greater South Side).

Photo courtesy The People's Music School

Spirito! Singers

Oak Brook, IL • 900 Jorie Blvd., Ste 102 •
Since 2008, Spirito! Singers has offered young women the chance to join an auditioned girls’ chorale with two distinct choirs open to young women primarily located in western Chicago. Spirito! begins formal music training including comprehensive music theory available for 5th-8th graders and continues on throughout high school with the second ensemble. While ensembles are based on a successful audition, once accepted there is no competition between singers.  Singers hail from 62 schools in 27 suburbs, but when together, the choir is “One Voice, One Team.”

Photo courtesy Spirito! Singers

Suzuki Institutes Around the City

Find a location at
The Suzuki methodology has captivated millions of families and educators internationally since Shinichi Suzuki developed his pedagogy during the 1950s. His philosophy of every child possessing innate musical talent has set the stage for teachers around the world. Suzuki teachers are easily found on the Suzuki Association’s website.