The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Negaunee Music Institute is one of seven local arts groups dedicated to increasing diversity in classical music through the newly established Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative. The project, announced Oct. 23 during a press conference at the Merit School of Music, is being made possible by a $3.5 million grant over 3½ years from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Other participating groups are the Chicago High School for the Arts, Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras, the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Merit School of Music, DePaul University School of Music and the Ravinia Festival. The Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative was launched by the Merit School of Music, a nationally accredited, West Loop-based academy, with a mission of helping young people of all backgrounds achieve success through music, and the Chicago Sinfonietta, regarded as the nation’s most diverse professional orchestra and dedicated to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion through its membership roster as well as its fellowship programs for orchestral musicians and conductors.

Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative will identify and assist promising young musicians of African American, Latino, American Indian, native Alaskan, South Asian and Pacific Islander heritage from lower-income households, with the goal of preparing the students to excel in top conservatories and college-level music schools and eventually join the nation’s ranks of professional musicians and orchestras.

“The absence of diversity within the field of American classical music, and in American orchestras in particular, is a serious challenge to the vitality and future sustainability of classical music,” said Susan Feder, program officer in the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Arts and Cultural Heritage program. “The Mellon Foundation is taking a systemic approach to address the seemingly intractable issue of 4 percent black and Latinx representation in American orchestras — a figure that has not changed in more than a generation. This is a matter of access and opportunity, not one of a lack of talent.”

The Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative will begin recruiting young musicians in spring 2019. By next summer, approximately 50 Chicago-area musicians will be identified as CMPI participants, with approximately 150 young musicians to be assisted between 2019 and 2022. Each participant will receive from an individually tailored career road map, with professional training and mentorship needed for success.

Mellon-supported initiatives already exist in Philadelphia and soon in Boston. As a major market for classical music and the third-largest U.S. school district in the nation, Feder said, “Chicago was a natural site for such work, and CMPI has received our largest Pathways grant to date.”

The Merit School of Music will lead the implementation of the Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative, along with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras, which has provided top-level orchestral programming for Chicago-area students for more than 70 years. In addition, the seven-member CMPI steering team will work closely with 18 local groups to identify talented young musicians, and support their musical developmental. The 18 groups are the 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, Shift: Englewood Youth Orchestra, Chicago Philharmonic Society and the People’s Music School.

TOP: Charles Grode, president and executive director of the Merit School of Music, speaks during the press event announcing the launch of the Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography