Old Town School of Folk has been a staple institution in Chicago since 1957. Students of all ages can learn about music and dance, as well as visual and performing arts. The classes are truly diverse: Budding musicians can tinker with a Dobro, dancers can learn tai chi or capoeira, and thespians can experiment with improv and Shakespeare. Not enough for you? Past sessions have even included a Beatles tribute band and astronaut camp.
Zelda Zerkel-Morris, 10, attended her first Old Town summer camp when she was six years old. A year later, the musical-theater buff and budding guitarist first picked up the string instrument. The following year she joined the Young Stracke All-Stars band led by guitar teacher Jason McInnes. Named after Old Town School founder Win Stracke, the student group rocked gigs at the Beat Kitchen, the Art Institute, Chicago Children’s Museum and Welles Park, when it opened for the Chicago Shakespeare Company in front of around 5,000 people. YSAS also performed with Grammy award–winning folk artists Ella Jenkins and Dan Zanes. Zerkel-Morris tells us where it all started.
What’s your favorite song that you’ve written?
Me and my friend Sedona, she’s like my songwriting partner, we wrote this one song called “Umbridge,” which is about the mean professor in Harry Potter. It was really, really good. We spent, like, three hours on it, so I think that one is my favorite.
What’s your favorite lyric?
Well, we would have a verse and then a chorus, and we were basically telling the story of when Umbridge came to the school and Harry and his friends try to stop her and stuff, so when we got to the part where they drive her into the forest to get her scared by the centaurs, the lyric is, “When our heroes drove you into the forest / we ran out of lyrics / So let’s skip to the chorus.”
You’ve already performed with some big names. Who else would you like to perform with?
Oh, that’s a good question. I’ve been a really big fan of this folk band called Mumford & Sons. They are my favorite band in the whole wide world. We’ve come in contact with a lot of great folk musicians. We met Nora Guthrie, who is the daughter of Woody Guthrie. I’d also like to play with Pete Seeger as well.
Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N Lincoln Ave (773-728-6000, oldtownschool.org). Jun 24–Aug 16, 9am–3pm. $1,600 per 4-week session; extended hours additional $500. Ages 6–10.