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Introducing The People’s Music School

Today we’d like to introduce you to The People’s Music School.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
The People’s Music School is the first and only completely free music school in the country. Our founder, Rita Simo, a Julliard-trained pianist from the Dominican Republic, started The People’s Music School in 1976 with just $625, a donated piano, a few students, and the belief that all children should have access to music education regardless of their socioeconomic status. From these small beginnings we’ve grown to serve nearly 700 students from 45 different zip codes every year through intensive instruction and performance at four different program sites across the city. Since 2015, our student population and annual revenue have more than doubled, and we aim to continue this growth and take in more students off our long waiting list.

Please tell us about your art.
Students at The People’s Music School study a wide variety of instruments and voice, and they all perform with an ensemble – everything from full orchestra to jazz band to new music to choir. Through their studies with The People’s Music School and our strong culture of support, our students develop essential life skills, find their voice, and grow through a range of high-impact partnerships and residencies we have formed, from Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, to Chicago Public Schools and Bottom Line college prep, to Young Chicago Authors and the Obama Foundation. Our intensive curriculum is designed to provide access to the unique benefits of a music education, enabling children to grow musically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually, regardless of economic barriers. Research shows that intensive music education leads to higher graduation rates, higher salaries, higher rates of voting and volunteering, lower rates of crime, and more. We are not only inspiring young minds to experience the joy of music — we are transforming and empowering lives! We are 100% free, 100% underserved, over 90% of color with a 100% high school graduation and college attendance rate.

Choosing a creative or artistic path comes with many financial challenges. Any advice for those struggling to focus on their artwork due to financial concerns?
There is so much power in music education, but the barrier to entry is equally high. This is why we’ve made it our mission to remove this barrier, so that all children have access to the benefits associated with high-quality music education. We encourage our students to find and raise their voices through music — to play pieces they feel connected to and make them their own, to use music as both a creative outlet and vehicle for empowering themselves and others, and to apply the skills they’ve developed through their music education to all aspects of their lives.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
You can catch us all across the city of Chicago, from recitals at our program sites, to side-by-side rehearsals with Civic Orchestra at Symphony Center, to performances at events like the Obama Foundation Summit! We accept donations at all levels, and there are countless ways to get involved from student mentorship to joining our Board or Associate Board. Currently, we’re preparing for our biggest event of the year – our annual gala – which will be held on May 11 at Morgan Manufacturing. As we are 100% tuition-free and supported by private donations, funds raised through the gala are essential to continuing our programs. Our gala will feature a cocktail reception, seated dinner, and special student and guest performances throughout the evening, including a performance by Grammy award-winning artists Third Coast Percussion! We will also be honoring Genevieve Thiers, opera singer and groundbreaking entrepreneur who founded You can buy tickets and find sponsorship information at!

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