Skip to main content

Why Chicago?

Chicago benefits from a robust youth-focused music education sector boasting many well-established and successful nonprofit organizations with distinctive missions, differing approaches and students engaged. CMPI provides the opportunity for these various organizations with like-minded missions to work together across the entire musical pathway.

As a major market for orchestral music and the third largest school district in the nation, the Mellon Foundation strongly believes that music education leaders in Chicago are poised to address the challenge identified by Mellon in ways that can inform national efforts and models for other regions.

Mellon is funding collaborative initiatives in major urban centers, hoping to improve the pathways for highly talented and dedicated young musicians from historically underrepresented communities who have committed to the goal of becoming professional musicians.  This is matter of access and opportunity, not one of a lack of talent.  Mellon-supported consortia are already working in Philadelphia and are concurrently beginning in Boston.

How Did CMPI Come About?

This collaborative process was initiated and co-led by Merit School of Music, a nationally accredited music school based in Chicago’s West Loop and working across the city to help young people of all backgrounds achieve lifelong success through music, and the Chicago Sinfonietta, the nation’s most diverse professional orchestra, which promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion not only through its orchestra roster, but through a highly effective fellowship programs for orchestral musicians and conductors.

Implementation of the Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative is led by Merit School of Music and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras (CYSO), which provides music education through orchestral programs and performance opportunities. Steering Team partners participating in the implementation of CMPI include:

  • Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts);
  • Chicago Sinfonietta;
  • DePaul University School of Music;
  • The Negaunee Music Institute at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and
  • The Ravinia Festival.

Who Should Apply? How Can Interested Students Apply?

We seek musicians in grades 9 through 12, and on a smaller scale, grades 6 through 8, from underrepresented communities who demonstrate a passion, dedication and aptitude for music performance, and an interest in pursuing intensive study and a career specifically in orchestral music.  Through them, we will create role models for future generations of aspiring, young musicians.

If you are interested in participating, learn more about auditioning here.

In addition, the Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative and its Steering Team work closely with the following organizations to identify potential program participants, and to collaboratively support them on their musical, developmental journey:

  • Chicago Academy for the Arts
  • Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University
  • Chicago Jazz Philharmonic
  • Chicago Mariachi Project
  • Chicago Metamorphosis Orchestra Project
  • Chicago Public Schools
  • DePaul Community Music Division
  • Grant Park Music Festival
  • Hyde Park Suzuki Institute
  • Hyde Park Youth Symphony Orchestra
  • Ingenuity
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago
  • Midwest Young Artists Conservatory
  • Music Institute of Chicago
  • Musical Arts Institute
  • One City at VanderCook College of Music
  • Shift: Englewood Youth Orchestra
  • The Chicago Philharmonic Society
  • The People’s Music School

What Instruments are Included in the Program?

All instruments traditionally included in a symphony orchestra:

  • Violin, viola, cello and double bass
  • Flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon
  • French horn, trumpet, trombone and tuba
  • Percussion
  • Harp

How Are Students Evaluated for Inclusion in CMPI?

The selection process includes auditions and interviews, including interviews with family members and other caregivers.  Musicians selected for CMPI are carefully assessed and provided with comprehensive supports — musical and extra-musical — including financial, instructional and academic, to remove many of the barriers to access that can discourage or derail the training of talented students from underrepresented backgrounds before they are able to fully realize their musical potential.

How Many Students Will Be Invited to Participate in CMPI

We are inviting 50 musicians annually or 150 program participants over the course of this initial grant.

Where Does CMPI-Related Instruction Take Place?

Instruction takes place at the participating organization(s) based on the needs and best fit for each individual musician.

Once a student is accepted into CMPI are they required to study with a certain teacher?

If a student is accepted into CMPI and already has a private teacher, it is not part of CMPI policy to disrupt that relationship.  However, due to the rigorous pace and high-performance standards of CMPI, all CMPI fellows are required to study with a teacher that has attended a top tier music conservatory and/or has a track record of getting students accepted into top tier music conservatories.  Otherwise, any teacher changes that take place are the result of a discussion initiated by the student with CMPI staff.


Cleveland Institute of Music

Colburn Conservatory

Curtis Institute of Music

DePaul University

Eastman School of Music

Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University

Juilliard School

Manhattan School of Music

Mannes School of Music

New England Conservatory

Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University

Oberlin Conservatory of Music

San Francisco Conservatory

Shepherd School of Music at Rice University

Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University

Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA

University of Michigan


This is by no means an exhaustive list.  Please direct any questions about the quality of specific university or conservatory programs to CMPI staff.


What besides private lessons is included as a part of the overall approach?

Musicians selected for CMPI are carefully assessed and provided with comprehensive supports — musical and extra-musical — including financial, instructional and academic, to remove many of the barriers to access that can discourage or derail the training of talented students from underrepresented backgrounds before they are able to fully realize their musical potential.

Grant funds underwrite private lessons, summer study, ensemble opportunities, audition preparation, and support with college applications and ACT/SAT preparation for participating students.

We believe that by providing tailored and intensive support to carefully vetted musicians of promise and commitment, we can offer opportunities to deserving young musicians who often fall through the cracks — or never even step onto the pathway.

How are students selected for CMPI evaluated as they progress through the program? Will mastery of a musical instrument, performance and academics all be evaluated?

Those selected are assessed by CMPI staff, and provided with individualized support plans — including financial, musical, social-emotional, academic, family engagement, and peer-to-peer elements — enabling them to remain and succeed on the training pathway, despite the barriers they face.  Student progress is monitored through semi-annual juries; meeting progress benchmarks are a condition for remaining in the cohort.  Supports are adjusted to reflect students’ changing needs and circumstances.  The primary focus of this project is refining and mastering musical skills; secondarily, students requiring additional academic supports to be successful in college receive these via partnership with Chicago-based organizations who specialize in college readiness.

How can I make a donation to support CMPI?

Thank you for considering a gift to support CMPI fellows! Click here to make a donation online.

To mail a donation, please address to:

Attn: Development Department
38 S Peoria Street
Chicago, IL 60607

Please make checks payable to Merit School of Music with CMPI noted in the memo line.

For more information, please reach out to or call 312.584.0855

Still more Questions?

Send Them Our Way