Still feeling the beat

CPS students continue to make music during pandemic


Andy Carlos-Tamez ‘21 (right) plays the conga drums in a Ravinia Jazz Showcase last year. Photo courtesy of Andy Carlos-Tamez ‘21

It’s been months since the music rooms of Chicago Public Schools high schools have been filled with guitar riffs and drum beats, but students have still found ways to explore their passion for the art through extracurricular programs. 

The Ravinia Jazz Scholar Program recruits and mentors CPS students looking to learn more about music, while the Illinois Music Education Association (ILMEA) looks across the state to find talent.

Andy Carlos-Tamez ‘21, a conga and drum player, said he is very lucky to have found the Ravinia Jazz Scholars, which works exclusively with CPS students by pairing them with professional musicians in Chicago that mentor them.

“At the beginning of high school, I got into the After School Matters Latin Jazz Program, and I started becoming really interested in music,” said Carlos-Tamez. “I heard about Ravinia Jazz Scholars when a mentor from the program came to the Jones jazz band, and I decided to take my music more seriously and audition.”

Once he had been accepted, Carlos-Tamez began meeting his fellow musicians and made friends with people who are just as passionate about jazz as he is.

“I moved from Florida to Chicago just before high school, so it was nice to find friends in an unfamiliar place,” Carlos-Tamez said. “The community is just so great and I could tell that everyone loves music as much as I do.”

Much like Carlos-Tamez, bassist Tom Gotsch ‘22 said he is counting on the Ravinia Jazz Scholar Program to take his music from a hobby to a full-time extracurricular.

Gotsch began playing upright bass in seventh grade, but it was only in high school when a family friend told him about Ravinia that he started practicing more and specializing in jazz. The program has helped Gotsch fine tune his musical skills, and he is now considering a career in the performing art.

“I’m certainly starting to take jazz more seriously,” Gotsch said. “I’m even thinking of doing it professionally, and Ravinia has helped me figure out what it takes to get there. I feel very lucky to have amazing musicians teaching me how to play.”

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has made the program much more difficult to run this year.

“It’s hard to do jazz workshops virtually, because it’s a largely improvisational form of music,” said Gotsch. “With lagging computers and bad sound quality, listening to other musicians and building off their work is a struggle.”

Across the city, at Whitney Young High School, senior singers Gabi Allemana and Angel Rodriguez are involved in the chorus division of the ILMEA.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been singing for fun, mainly with my sister,” said Rodriguez. “When I was accepted into and began singing with the chorus division, though, was when I really started improving, and I fell even more in love with it.”

Allemana, on the other hand, had been singing in choirs for years before joining the ILMEA program.

“I was actually in the Chicago Children’s Choir for ten years, but I’ve loved being able to meet other singers in chorus division,” Allemana said.

Both the Ravinia Jazz Scholars and members of the ILMEA chorus division were set to perform at various venues this year, but many events have had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ravinia Scholars were supposed to play a few jazz clubs near Jones over the winter, and we were supposed to have a culminating concert at the Ravinia venue in Highland Park in May, but we’ve had to cancel all of that,” Carlos-Tamez said. “Now Ravinia is having scholars record themselves playing so it can be compiled into a concert of sorts near the end of the year.”

Meanwhile, ILMEA chorus division was forced to cancel competitions for the 2020-21 school year.

“Typically there will be a district-wide competition hosted in a high school auditorium near the city, and then those who move on spend a weekend in Peoria at the statewide competition, but we aren’t able to do that this year because of the coronavirus,” said Allemana. “We’re having master classes instead, which I’m still excited for.”

Although both programs have struggled to find a way to engage students in a virtual setting with no competitions or showcases, students still feel that the activities are nurturing their passions for music.

“I’m a little apprehensive about how things will unfold with learning music while being quarantined, but mainly I’m optimistic,” Gotsch said. “I think we’ve got this down, and I’m excited to meet new people and learn good music.”