The Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


The Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago is one of the most influential music schools in the country. It has been teaching music for over 60 years and has trained some of the most famous musicians in the world.


The Old Town School of Folk Music is a music school in Chicago, Illinois, United States. Established in 1957, it is the largest and oldest school of its kind in the country. It offers classes and workshops in a variety of folk music styles, as well as related dance and instrumental instruction. The school also stages more than 400 concerts and events each year.


The Old Town School of Folk Music is a music school in Chicago, Illinois, United States. It was founded in 1957 by Frank Hamilton, Win Stracke and Shirley Fleming. The school offers classes in a wide variety of musical styles, as well as dance classes and children’s programs.

1930s and 1940s

In the early years, the school provided a place for immigrants and first-generation Americans to gather and share their musical traditions. In the 1930s and 1940s, The Old Town School was known for being a great place to learn folk music from around the world. Students could take classes in everything from Appalachian fiddle tunes to African drumming. The school also hosted folk concerts, which were open to the public.

1950s and 1960s

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Old Town School of Folk Music was a leading force in the American folk music revival. The school offered affordable classes in guitar, banjo, fiddle, and other instruments, attracting students from all walks of life. Many of the school’s teachers were themselves nationally-famous folk musicians, including Win Stracke, Frank Hamilton, and with Hamilton and Siegfried Social Security numbers; passports; voter registration cards; financial account information; medical records; tax records; email addresses; user names and passwords.

1970s and 1980s

In the 1970s, the Old Town School continued to evolve, adding more experimental and progressive classes while still maintaining its commitment to traditional folk music. In 1977, the School hired its first full-time Director of Folk and Traditional Music, Larry Polansky. Under his leadership, the School began hosting workshops with a more eclectic range of instructors, including such luminaries as John Cage, Steve Swallow, and Anthony Braxton. In the 1980s, the School deepened its commitment to world music by adding instruction in African percussion and West African dance. Meanwhile, it also began offering bluegrass classes taught by some of the genre’s most respected performers, including Bill Keith and Norman Blake.

1990s and 2000s

In the 1990s, The Old Town School of Folk Music faced eviction due to increased property taxes. van Horn led a Save Our School campaign which included students and faculty. The effort was successful, with the city of Chicago purchase of the building in 1998 and granting it landmark status. In 1999, the school purchased a second building a block away.

In 2001, van Horn retired as Executive Director and was succeeded by Bau Graves. The school added performance spaces and classrooms in its new Wicker Park location, and continued to grow its programming. In 2003, the City of Chicago designated the North Ave campus as a Chicago Landmark.

In 2007, the Old Town School opened its new Lincoln Square facility, which allowed it to expand its programming and increase its enrollment. The $16 million dollar project was partially funded by a $2 million matching grant from then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Renaissance 2010 initiative. The facility includes four music classrooms, five dance studios, five visual art classrooms/studios, eight offices, two ensemble rooms/lecture halls/recital halls, two music libraries (one for adults and one for children), forty student practice rooms (half for music and half for dance), nine storage rooms/closets/kitchens, four restrooms (two mens’, one womens’, one family), an elevator (for accessibility to all floors), and an outdoor landscaped courtyard.


Old Town School of Folk Music teaches and celebrates music and cultural expressions rooted in the traditions of diverse American and global communities. Through our innovative programming, we bring stories, songs, and traditions to life in classrooms, concert halls, and living rooms around the world.

Music instruction

Music instruction at the Old Town School is based on the principle that everyone can learn to play music for their own enjoyment, regardless of previous experience or natural ability.

We offer a wide variety of musical programs for all ages and skill levels, taught by experienced and qualified instructors. Whether you’re a beginner just starting out, or an experienced musician looking to improve your skills, we have a program to suit your needs.

Our music programs include:

– Private Lessons: One-on-one instruction with a qualified instructor, tailored to your individual needs and goals.
– Group Lessons: Small group classes taught by experienced instructors, designed for students of similar skill level who want to learn together.
– Ensembles: Hands-on learning in a group setting, giving students the opportunity to develop their skills by playing together.
– Workshops: Short courses offered on a variety of topics, taught by expert instructors.

Concerts and events

The Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago presents more than 700 concerts and events each year. Our internationally renowned concert series features a wide variety of folk, world music, and blues artists. We also offer free concerts in our three main auditoriums, family-friendly programming in our Kids at Work™ series, sing-alongs, festivals, fiddle contests, and more.

Notable alumni

The Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago has produced many notable alumni, including Grammy Award-winning artists, leading performers in the folk music scene, and respected music educators.

Some of the most famous alumni include Steve Goodman, John Prine, Bonnie Koloc, Mike Seeger, and Frank Hamilton. These artists have all won Grammy Awards for their contributions to the folk music genre. Other notable alumni include Mark Dvorak, Janis Ian, and Peter Yarrow.


In conclusion, the Old Town School of Folk Music is a great place to learn about and enjoy folk music. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, the classes are affordable, and the location is convenient. If you’re looking for a place to get started with folk music, or if you’re already a fan of the genre, the Old Town School of Folk Music is definitely worth checking out.

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