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Peter CottonTale Breaks Down ‘Catch,’ Previews New Music on Vocalo

Written by on November 9, 2022

(Left to right) Bekoe, Emma Harmon and Peter CottonTale discussed the importance of access to music education, like that provided by Merit School of Music.
Photo by Morgan Ciocca, Vocalo Radio / Chicago Public Media.

Emma Harmon and Peter CottonTale on Merit School of Music:

Bekoe: It’s Vocalo Radio 91.1 FM. I’m your host, Bekoe. Alongside me, I got a special guest, Peter CottonTale in the building! And we got another special guest that’s in the building with us as well, Emma Harmon, individual giving manager at Merit School of Music. How’re you doing? 

Emma Harmon: I’m good, Bekoe. So happy to be here with you and Peter. Yeah, I mean, Merit has been around for 40 years. I mean, Peter, you were a Merit kid, as well. I was, too. Merit touches the lives of all of these young musicians in the city. We’re really proud to be on the side of training people like Peter, because without music education, you don’t get recorded music. You don’t get studio music. You don’t get touring musicians. 

Peter CottonTale: Correct, yeah. 

Emma Harmon: No symphonies, no nothing. Merit is an equity-based nonprofit music school in the West Loop. We touch all areas of Chicago and Chicagoland, though. We serve, I mean, thousands of students in the area, either in schools or at our campus in the West Loop. The way we break it down is: over a million dollars goes to financial aid and direct student support. If you want to become a student musician, if you want to get your kid enrolled in music classes, there’s always financial barriers, right? There’s the cost of the lessons, there’s renting an instrument, there’s getting there, there’s all that stuff. We’re here to break that barrier down. 60% of our students have access to instruments at little to no cost. They rent from us. Yeah, that’s really how we roll. We try to create music programs, free programs, low-cost programs that really get kids energized and excited about music. 

Peter CottonTale: Awesome. It’s so crazy, because the narrative for so long was that arts are dying in Chicago. 

Bekoe: Nah, I felt like art is very strong. 

Peter CottonTale: Yeah.

Bekoe: Very strong. 

Peter CottonTale: Yeah. 

Bekoe: I mean, the whole culture of art. And I’m hearing you say “try” to get programming… Nah, that’s an understatement. You all have been doing what you need to do to get the assets to students that need to continue to develop, musically. 

Emma Harmon: I mean, music is incredibly powerful, especially for young people. 

Bekoe: It’s a therapy.

Peter CottonTale: Yeah, for sure.

Emma Harmon: Yeah, musicians are 24% more likely to graduate high school, they’ve got more confidence. They’re better in math and English. Like, these are big things. 

Peter CottonTale: Wow. That’s facts, y’all. 

Emma Harmon: Yeah, there’s research on this.

Peter CottonTale: Don’t quote me on math, though, because I will disappoint you. Oh, my goodness.

Bekoe: Me too! I stopped.

Emma Harmon: For real, though. You may be better than you think you are. I won’t make you do any multiplication on air, though. I got you.

Peter CottonTale: Please, no. No long division, please, I will say… Oh, my goodness. 

Emma Harmon: But all of the money that we’re making tomorrow night, we’re really grateful to City Winery for splitting the ticket costs with us and giving us a majority of the profits. We’re really grateful to Peter. We’re gonna have a pianist Julius Tucker, opening for Peter doing a tribute to Ramsey Lewis… the late great Ramsey, who unfortunately passed away recently, was a great friend of Merit. We’re gonna have some kids performing, we got our jazz combo performing. Come out, y’all.

Peter CottonTale: Special shout out to the whole Lewis family. I know Frank Lewis does a lot of work in the city for art. Shout out to the Lewis family, still doing things in Chicago, period. It’s really important… blessings and condolences to you guys, for sure. 

Bekoe: Emma, can you let people know how people can get in tune with Merit School of Music? If you all are accepting students, how people can put in applications as well as the link for the event that’s going down tomorrow, as well. 

Emma Harmon: Absolutely. You can find out more about Merit at We’ve got rolling early childhood classes. Anybody can enroll in private lessons, group classes, we take things on a rolling basis, and our tuition free conservatory, which… is audition-only. It’s a really intense Saturday program. Those auditions go up in the spring. So bring your kids out, come out if you’re a student musician, I know we got a lot of students listening right now, young people, and be part of something a little bit bigger than yourself. Be part of something that makes music and changes lives.

Follow Peter CottonTale on Instagram and stream his music on Spotify.

Follow Merit School of Music on Instagram and Twitter, and check out their website for more information.

Interview and audio production by Bekoe

Introduction by Makenzie Creden

Photography, transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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