Evanston-based music school hosts festival to give back to community


Jeffrey Wang/The Daily Northwestern

The Music Institute of Chicago has multiple locations around the city, including the Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave. The institute is hosting about 125 concerts in the Chicago area over the span of 16 days as part of its Community Music Festival, which aims to give back to the community.

Rachel Yang, Reporter

An Evanston-based music school kicked off its inaugural festival last week, which features about 125 concerts in the Chicago area over just 16 days.

The Music Institute of Chicago, which has multiple locations around Evanston, aims to give back to the community with its Community Music Festival, said Mark George, president and CEO of the institute. The school provides music education to students in the Chicago area.

In addition to some professional groups, hundreds of the institute’s students will be performing in various concerts from April 17 to May 3, many of which are free and open to the public. About 30 of the concerts will be in Evanston.

George said the institute exceeded its initial goal of bringing 100 concerts to the festival, instead hosting about 125 concerts in community centers, libraries, senior centers and other venues in the Chicago area.

A key event to cap off the festival is a performance May 2 on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Red and Purple lines, George said. Musicians, including a string quartet, will play live music in the Davis, Howard, Fullerton and Lake stations.

George said the inspiration for hosting the festival came from the institute’s dedication to contributing to the Chicago community. Although he said he does not think the festival will occur annually, he believes it is always important for musicians to share their gifts with others.

“(Musicians) have a skill, an art, that is so powerful and speaks so directly to people, both to bring them joy and to console them when they need it,” George said. “So as an institution, we’ve been committed to bringing music to people who might not otherwise experience live music.”

Since the festival began, George said the reception from audiences has been generally positive, with some performances attracting around 100 people. He added that he hopes the festival will benefit people of all ages. For example, children who attend the concerts may be inspired to pick up an instrument, George said.

“You don’t have to be a prodigy to do (music), you just have to learn how to play,” he said. “For children, when they see their peers doing something really great, like making music … I want them to really believe that they can do this too.”

Additionally, the festival is a great way for families to take part in something together, George said.

“(The festival) gives adults, especially parents with their children, something to share,” he said. “Because the busy lives of parents and kids don’t often converge with their schedules … having the ability to hear them play … I think that’s very important for families.”

Paul Larson, president of the Rotary Club of Evanston, said he similarly believes in the institute’s mission to enrich the community through music.

Along with the institute, the Rotary Club, a service organization dedicated to improving the city through volunteering and fundraising, is co-hosting a free concert Thursday afternoon, featuring 14-year-old violin prodigy Julian Rhee.

“Our club strongly supports any endeavor that helps the arts thrive in Evanston, and the Music Institute is certainly an example of that,” Larson said. “We support local theaters and others who are trying to nurture and to strengthen artistic expression in the community.”

George said that when he attended a singalong concert Tuesday at Symphony of Evanston, a nursing and rehabilitation center, he was extremely gratified to see the audience’s reactions.

“I am listening to the music and I’m just looking around at peoples’ faces,” he said. “And when you see that you have really touched them, moved them some way emotionally, that’s a reward right there.”

Mike Fehland, the director of activities and volunteer sources at Symphony of Evanston, shared similar sentiments. He said he thought the concert demonstrated the impact of music on peoples’ lives, especially those who may have limited physical or mental abilities, like some residents at the center.

“(The concert was) all about just making it the best it can be for residents to really have meaningful moments,” Fehland said. “Music is a universal language … It’s a way to connect to another person and a way to bring joy to residents, especially those who can’t communicate easily with words, because again, music does all the speaking.”

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