A living musical community

The Irish Music School of Chicago teaches children and adults as it has been done for generations in Ireland and Irish communities around the world: as a collaboration between Irish musicians, teachers, students and the community itself.

Students learn almost entirely by ear with little to no reference to written music. The School does more than just teach students the tunes, though. In keeping with the tradition of Irish music, the School tells the stories behind the tunes, and the significance of being part of a living musical community, a community that values its senior members and is much larger than any individual.

From the first day, our students have fun with Irish music. By acquiring creative and social outlets that will last them a lifetime, they are able to make friends wherever they go. Our teaching philosophy demands that our students have access to and participate in all forms of Irish music. As such, they learn how to perform in front of audiences, how to play for hours at sessions, how to play for dancers and how to help others learn to play. They can arrange themselves into groups, decide which tunes to play, and then figure out and memorize their own accompaniment parts and arrangements. Many of our students can do these things on multiple instruments.

The School was founded in 2003 by Chicago-bred and internationally acclaimed Irish fiddler Sean Cleland. As a young Irish-American determined to play traditional Irish music, Sean made repeated trips to Ireland. Back at home, he immersed himself in the vibrant Chicago Irish Music community, literally sitting at the feet of the mostly immigrant Irish musicians.

Recognizing the need for a school of Irish traditional music in the city, he envisioned a place that could provide a unifying presence for Irish music in Chicago, bringing younger generations of student Irish musicians into contact with the older generation of Irish musicians that had influenced him so greatly as a young music student. A school could be the place where teachers, students, and musicians from all over the Chicago area could come together united in a common purpose: to build, renew and share a community of Irish music.

Historically, Irish music had been passed on through individual, isolated lessons held in basements throughout the city. The establishment of the Irish Music School of Chicago created an opportunity to expand the teaching of Irish music from that state into small group classes and larger ensembles of local players studying in better facilities and playing in better performance venues. A school would afford the opportunity not only to teach the tunes and technique, but also to expose students and the community to the history, traditions, instruments and lore of Irish music, song and dance.

As a not-for-profit organization, the Irish Music School is committed to maintaining the strong tradition of Irish music, song and dance, to involve more people in the community of Irish music, and ensure that this type of music does not disappear in Chicago and the United States.