Intonation Music is one of my favorite organizations. They provide music education programs to kids from early elementary through high school on Chicago’s South Side – primarily in the rich music history neighborhood of Bronzeville –  and really focus on kid-driven programming and building a community through music. I am also the VP of their Associate Board and am very thankful to have the opportunity to further amplify their efforts alongside equally passionate people across the Board.

It is important to me that others know about Intonation Music, their mission, history, and the impact they make on their students. I chatted with Development and Communications Director Beth King and Program Director Aquil Charlton to hear their Intonation story and what their programs do for career development in music.


When and how did you get started with Intonation Music?


Beth: I actually met and volunteered for Mike (Founder of Intonation Music) for the first time over 13 years ago. I have been a fan of the organization and its work since its inception. Professionally, I have done development and communication work for non-profits, often focused on youth, education, and innovative pedagogies. Mike reached out to me when his Development Manager of 8 years was leaving for a new opportunity; he asked if I might know anyone interested in working for Intonation. I responded immediately that I wanted to pursue the position.


How has the organization progressed in the past decade?


Intonation has grown organically, intentionally, and responsively to meet the needs of our students and the communities we serve. It is one of the things that impresses me the most about the organization – we don’t seek progress for progress’s sake. We seek to grow impact. Two key examples are a focus on growing the number of contact hours we have with our students rather than the number of students we serve. We believe in the music and social emotional learning outcomes we see in our students and know they increase with more time spent in the program so our strategic focus lies there. We also have a geographic focus in greater Bronzeville. To best serve our students, we are committed to growing and expanding partnerships in that community so that youth have multiple points of access to our programs in schools and parks, and for the duration of their academic career. Rather than offering programs throughout the city, we are able to offer our community year-round classes, including in-school, after-school, weekend, and summer camps.


What makes these programs different from a typical in-school music class?


Our programs are tremendously student-driven to intentionally develop agency, voice, teamwork, and conflict resolution skills. Youth select their own band name, the song(s) that become the template for learning, and solve problems democratically. Creative collaboration is challenging, and our students are getting to develop those skills while diving into the music they love and connect to. It is a blast to see what songs they pick – a performance of student bands can range from Cardi B to Bill Withers to Nirvana. Many bands will write their own music and lyrics, too, which is not an experience one gets from a typical in-school music classes. Additionally, all students learn every band instrument – guitar, bass, drums, keys, and vocals. Along with assessment on music skill growth, we measure growth on social emotional learning, and our instructors also consider performance skills, too.


What opportunities are your older students finding in the music industry? What questions or concerns do they have about growing a career in music?


Beth: I am throwing these last two questions to Intonation’s extraordinary Program Director, Aquil. He is not only a musician himself but has worked developing and establishing programs to grow and support artists in Chicago for decades.

Aquil: Young artists are taking advantage of production software, digital streaming, and social media to create opportunities for themselves. The festival circuit is laser-focused on youth culture so many artists work to garner the attention of talent buyers by building up a discography for streaming or viewing and networking relentlessly. Skills in marketing, design, photo/video and new media seem critical right now.
Concerns I hear from young artists are about how to forge a career path in an industry that seems to be highly in flux. However, the response seems to be an entrepreneurial one: young artists are developing multiple skills and pathways to a largely self-defined career.

What do you think are some good next steps for high school graduates that want to pursue a career in music? Any suggestions on specific resources, programs, or organizations?


 Considering the academic route, I would recommend adding electives or pursuing programs in media, design, marketing or business. These fields compliment artistic development with an enterprising skill set.

Whether in school or not, it is still important to network in the local music scene and understand how both booking and stage production work. Artist residencies provide access to studio space, equipment, and career development support. I had a residency at High Concept Labs through which I got the support to launch an independent tour of my latest music.
The DIY, maker, and artist collective communities also provide spaces and activities for resource sharing and emotional support. Many of these communities like AMFM are led by young artists.
I often look at Chicago Artists Resource classifieds for opportunities. Also, I attend creative community-oriented events like Push Beats and Open Beats for producers and DJs, or events at Co-Prosperity Sphere to be among diverse groups of artists dedicated to their crafts as well as creating support networks.
Be sure to check out Intonation Music on Instagram and Twitter and stay tuned for their upcoming concerts!
If you want to further support them, donations are always accepted. Additionally, their annual gala, Amplify, is coming up!

Enter for a chance to win a Logan Square Staycation while supporting the organization. The prize includes:

How to purchase tickets at the event website:

  1. Click the link below to get to our event website:
  1. Click “Items” along the top ribbon to get to raffle tickets!
  1. Create an account so that they know how to contact you should you win! They’ll notify you via email and will have certificates to send.
  1. When entering your name, please add my initials in front of yours so that I can get the prize to you. For example, if you were referred by me, Connor Skelly, add “CS-Your Name”.
  1. Tickets are 1 for $25, 5 for $100.