Grace Coberly ’21 Tunes in to the Chicago Music Scene

Me with the TPMS logo T-shirt.

It’s Monday: I wake up at 6:30 am to take the CTA Green Line to the Chicago Loop. Now it’s Tuesday, and I’m up at 5:30 am to take the Brown Line all the way north to Albany Park. On Wednesday I’m back in the Loop; Thursday and Friday are Albany Park days. Duolingo on the morning commute, novels on the way back. This has been my schedule for the last three weeks, as I’ve been alternating between two internships—one at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and one at The People’s Music School. Thanks to the funding I received from the HCAH, these positions have allowed me to explore my passions in both music education and arts administration from multiple angles.

I worked in Lyric’s PR/Marketing department last summer and stayed in touch with the office during the year, so returning there felt like coming home. Lyric is really the ideal intern workplace. Not once have I been asked to fetch anyone coffee—instead, I specialize in copywriting whatever needs to be written. Last year, I drafted blog posts, artist biographies, and two 2000-word articles to be featured in mainstage programs. This summer, my focus has changed from dramaturgy to media relations. I’m writing all of the press releases for the season as well as a few newsletter articles and another program feature. I’ve also led interviews, archived newspaper clippings, and assisted my supervisor with a photo shoot for a visiting magazine.

The famous foyer outside Lyric’s theater.

I’m also dedicating some of my time to Lyric Unlimited, a division of the opera house that centers around educational programming and community engagement. At its core, LU seeks to bring opera to non-typical opera audiences—specifically to youth and people of color. My work with the department varies from week to week. My main project has been collecting testimonials from participants in the EmpowerYouth! program. Empower is the result of a partnership between Lyric and the Chicago Urban League, an organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black communities in the city. The eight-month program gives thirty South Side high school students the opportunity to develop their skills in acting, singing, writing, dancing, rapping, and more, all while gaining confidence in self-expression. A few weeks ago, I was invited to visit the Chicago Urban League to speak with an administrator there about the impact of the program and the potential benefit of the testimonials. I hope to be able to conduct some of the student interviews myself in my remaining days at Lyric.

Other than being a performing arts nonprofit, The People’s Music School is different from Lyric in almost every way. TPMS is a high-quality, tuition-free music program designed for students of families who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford music education. Their students take private lessons, practice in ensembles, study music theory, and perform at large-scale Chicago music events. During the school year, TPMS offers an after-school program in three locations, and in the summer, they transition to a three-week summer camp. Because the school doesn’t charge tuition, many facets of the camp function with the help of volunteers, especially parents of students and interns like myself. 

Kids shared their musical aspirations on clouds.

At the beginning of camp, I spent most of my time assisting teachers and walking kids from place to place. But as the program went on, I was given more and more responsibility. I was substitute-teaching classes by the end of the last week. In my “rock band” class, we learned and recorded an arrangement of the “Cups” song featuring drum pad, double bass, bells, piano, singing, and cups, of course. Two students forgot to bring their instruments to my practice class, so I had them create an original rhythm pattern on a wooden stool, a music stand, and a metal folding chair. My most fulfilling teaching experience involved an eight-year-old trumpet player who had lost her trumpet: while her classmates practiced the piece they had spent the week composing, this student worked individually with me on conducting. In our final class period, she stood alone on the stage and conducted the ensemble herself. The pride and amazement on her face as she delivered the cutoff at the end of the piece were enough to assure me that I want to be an educator for the rest of my life.

Lyric’s marketing chalkboard, which I spent hours perfecting.

As I return to Lyric full-time for the last weeks of my internship, I know I’ll miss the kids that I bonded with at camp, but I’ll also appreciate the chance to focus on my more time-intensive Lyric projects. My varied summer work has absolutely been a blessing, as it has allowed me to experience the Chicago music scene from multiple perspectives. No matter where I eventually land on the spectrum between music education and arts administration, this summer will have helped me develop the skills I’ll need to succeed beyond college.

Written by Grace Coberly ’21, music and linguistics double major

Edited by Emily Dombrovskaya ’19