National Guild For Community Arts Education

About Banner

Forgot Password?

Enter your email below to help retrieve your password.

Forgot Password?
Home > About > News and Events > News > Member News > Music Institute of Chicago Academy Celebrates 10 Years

See what’s happening at the Guild, our members, and the Community Arts Education Field. Filter news items using the buttons below.

Music Institute of Chicago Academy Celebrates 10 Years

« Back

Image for Music Institute of Chicago Academy Celebrates 10 Years

Apr 18, 2016

With the goal of creating the next generation of leaders in classical music performance, the Music Institute of Chicago established its Academy (Chicago, IL) in 2006 as a training center for highly gifted pre-collegiate musicians. Components of the 30-week Saturday program for students ages 12–19 include private study with artist faculty, chamber music, chamber orchestra, theory classes, and enrichment.

Today the Academy is nationally respected for its curriculum and remarkable record of student accomplishment. Industry leaders identify the Academy as a premier training ground for gifted pre-college pianists and string players. As its 10th anniversary approaches, the Guild spoke with Academy staff about unique aspects of the program and important lessons learned.

New Educational Approaches

“Finding ways to help students move past mastery of technique is critical,” commented Academy director Jim Setapen, “and helping students develop their own musical voice—the ability to interpret musical works independently and meaningfully—is key in molding a stand-out musician.”

Kate Lie Wu Han Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Masterclass at Harris Theater

For example, improvisation classes for pianists have proven a fruitful tool in helping young musicians articulate their own voices. Janiana Fialkowska, concert pianist and past enrichment guest, remarked, “What was interesting was the way these young pianists had been taught to use their own intelligence in developing their interpretations. The performances were youthful, highly skilled, but also thoughtful.”

In addition to improvisation classes, another educational approach the Academy has found useful is the study of solfege. “Encouraging instrumentalists to open their mouths to sing can be more daunting than one might imagine, but the study of solfege has gone far in helping our students learn the instantaneous correlation of the visual and aural,” said Setapen. “This is one of the most valuable skills a musician can possess—you can play only as well as you can hear.

“Beyond these specific aspects of the Academy’s music theory curriculum, the enrichment component of the program cannot be underestimated,” Setapen continued. In addition to working with master musicians recognized as the best in the field, enrichment sessions also feature dancers, composers, vocalists, and prominent psychologists, physical therapists, and arts managers.

These interactions have not only musical enrichment, but also networking implications. The Academy actively helps and encourages students to network so they may continue to grow and flourish in a competitive and rapidly changing musical environment once they leave the safety net school provides.

Academy students meet some of the most influential people in the world of music, which pays dividends in the professional environment, though even more immediately in each student’s choice for post-high-school education. Music Institute president and CEO Mark George recounted one such example: “A young violinist from our Academy was sitting in a hallway, nervously awaiting her audition at the Cleveland Institute of Music, when she ran into Joel Smirnoff, violinist and president of that institution. He remembered her from his visit to the Academy and invited her to share a quick lunch with him. The encounter put her at ease to play a fantastic audition, leading to an acceptance and scholarship to matriculate at CIM. Truly, luck is the residue of design.”

Key Lessons Learned

“Bigger isn’t always better,” noted Setapen. “We have discovered that an important differentiating factor in our program is our limited enrollment of between 30 and 40 violin, viola, cello, and piano students.” Indeed, this approach has ensured the dominance of the Academy’s chamber music curriculum. Since 2006, Academy groups have won 11 medals (including five gold) at the National Fischoff Chamber Music Competition alone.

George stated, “Our goal isn’t to be the biggest, but the best. Our faculty and staff know the students and their families, and they know us. We all put tremendous effort into creating a supportive community of students, parents, faculty, and alumni. The goal: foster healthy competition while avoiding destructive pettiness that can damage a student’s confidence and psyche. Of course, excellence reveals itself through great teaching, abundant performance opportunities, success in competition, etc., but it’s the ethos of community support and kindness that also sets us apart.”


Alumni agree. Samatha Bennett, a member of the Academy’s inaugural class who now performs regularly with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with the Boston Pops, and as section violinist with The Florida Orchestra, reflected on her time at the Academy, saying, “I truly believe that studying with Mr. and Mrs. Vamos was the single most important part of my early music training. Their incredible guidance, not only with matters of music, gave me a foundation that is invaluable. I owe so much of my perseverance, creativity, and passion to them: they saw something in me that could grow, that could achieve something great, and they nurtured it and brought it to the surface. I learned so much from them outside of lessons as well. They built a family for us all: they taught us generosity of spirit, sacrifice, and a willingness to help others and do whatever it takes to make something great.”

She continued, “I felt the belief of everyone at the Music Institute behind me. Saturdays at the Academy were the absolute highlight of my week. On top of everything I was learning, it was so much fun to be with my friends playing music all day. I still have inside jokes and hilarious memories that keep me connected to everyone from those Music Institute days. It really was the best time. The Academy gave me other opportunities that, in combination with the tutelage from Mr. and Mrs. Vamos, set me up for a career in the best possible way.”

On May 14 2016, the Academy will celebrate its 10th anniversary with performances from Music Institute of Chicago alumna Rachel Barton Pine and Academy alumnus Matthew Lipman. Click here for more info.

This resource brought to you by the National Guild for Community Arts Education.