The University of Chicago is no music conservatory—we don’t even have a performance program. Still, it’s a place where you can be as serious about music as you like—if you are willing to do it on your own time. The campus is teeming with musical groups and organizations run both by students and by the University itself.
On the University side, there are several official music groups run through the music department, so musicians with a wide range of skills, interests, and instruments will be able to find a place. Classical programs dominate and include multiple orchestras, choruses, and chamber music ensembles. The music department also offers a few alternative ensembles, including the Central Javanese Gamelan, Middle East Music Ensemble, New Music Ensemble, and Jazz X-tet. For a complete list of programs and their descriptions, you can visit the music department’s website at music.uchicago.edu
If the University programs aren’t what you are looking for, student-run groups may provide you with a musical outlet. There are several a cappella groups, requiring different levels of commitment, including such groups as the Chicago Men’s A Capella Choir, which performs arrangements of classic U of C pride songs like our alma mater and “I’m Strong for Chicago,” and creatively named groups like Aristocratic Octopus and Rhythm and Jews. For those who want to march to the beat of their own drum, there is the Music Production Organization, a group for students who want to produce their own original music.
There are also plenty of opportunities to listen, even for those who don’t want to venture out of Hyde Park. The Major Activities Board (MAB) brings a big-name band or performer to campus every quarter, and in the spring quarter more than one is usually featured at the highly anticipated Summer Breeze festival. Recent bands and performers sponsored by MAB have included Cake, Talib Kweli, Spoon, and The Roots. Occasionally, student organizations bring in smaller acts as well.
The University offers some high-quality classical programming, especially chamber music. Artists-in-residence such as The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and The Pacifica Quartet have formed a solid core for the University’s frequent fillings of Mandel Hall. Student tickets for these events are generally only $5 to $10, but if that’s not a good enough value for you, check out the noontime concert series. Offered on Thursdays at noon in Fulton Recital Hall on the fourth floor of Goodspeed, the noontime concert series is free and low-key but features some extremely talented performers.
And lastly, no article about music on campus could be complete without mentioning the student group that broadcasts it on the radio: WHPK. If you want people to listen to what you tell them to, WHPK is the place to be, and if you want to hear your classmates on the air, tune in to 88.5 FM. Don’t forget WHPK when Summer Breeze rolls around; the station brings in lesser-known local talent to complement MAB’s big-time acts.
If your musical exposure at this University amounts to walking across the quads with your iPod, you have no one to blame but yourself. Even so, while the University will bring some great music right to your door, you have to leave Hyde Park to hear what Chicago really has to offer.