By Lela Nargi
Jessica Solares and her husband, Luis, don’t just teach music in Chicago’s creative epicenter; they live music, too. Parents to 3-1/2-year-old Lucia, who attends preschool at Bucktown Academy, near the Solares’ Bucktown Music studio, the two met at Elmhurst College, where they both studied Music Business —a major Jessica describes as “odd” and also uninspiring when put to real-life practice—before they decided instilling a love of all things musical in tots, teens, and even adults was their ultimate calling.
Although they and their staff teach voice and pretty much every instrument imaginable to school kids as well as the occasional grownup, they describe Kindermusik, an early-childhood-development curriculum for infants as young as, well, 0, as the real lynchpin of their operation— and their first love. Read on to find out why! And how important music is for them, their daughter, and families throughout Chicago.
Why is the Bucktown neighborhood such a great location for a music studio that caters mainly to kids—and that your own kid spends so much time in?
Jessica Solares: There are a lot of other cool businesses here: an art school called Easel Art Studio, a dance place where they teach ballroom—Dance SPA Chicago— a playspace around the corner called Purple Monkey Playroom. We were one of the first businesses on this corner, and just a few blocks down from us there’s a hub with fancy shops, restaurants, and bars: we love Irazu Costa Rican restaurant and Red & White Wines. There’s also a doggie day care, and an auto repair shop, so it’s kind of strange. But there’s always plenty of parking on the block!
What is it that you guys love so much about Kindermusik?
Jessica: When I began teaching at other places, I had students who were excelling above and beyond in their lessons. I wondered, Why are they so smart? It turned out they had all taken Kindermusik classes. I looked into and I liked the concept. It’s not just singing and dancing; it helps with brain and language development, prepares kids for school, teaches them patterning, how to use their bodies. It also gives kids way to express things when they don’t otherwise have the language, because kids can start singing even if don’t know words. It helps their soul. And when we listen to music they can notice instruments: “I hear a piccolo!”
In my own experience as a parent, Lucia and I have a song for every activity, from mealtime and brushing teeth, to bathing and going to the grocery store, to the doctor, to the park, plus feelings and sounds. The songs have saved me countless times while waiting in line or at a restaurant with a restless child! They are a great, easy, positive distraction that doesn't need anything but your voice.
Luis Solares: Jessica brought Lucia to a Kindermusik class when she was 1 week old. We were running the business and had to be here, and Jessica was tired of being home. Lucia loves music. She’ll say, “Papa, lets play ‘No Woman No Cry,’ or ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight.’ That’s one of her favorites. She sings perfectly in tune and gets joy out of it. I don’t know if she’s going to be musician; she might be an accountant or a fitness instructor. But we’ve had this time together and music is part of her life.
Jessica: I don't expect her to pursue a music career. Our goal at Bucktown Music is the same for all children: that they can be musical children, not child musicians. I want her to understand how music can express feelings and give her a pleasurable activity to release stress. Music also helps reading, language, math, abstract concepts, spatial awareness, and teaches kids to work in groups if they are in an ensemble. So far, Lucia loves singing and playing all of the percussion instruments.
Does she like hanging out at the studio?
Jessica: Yes! She likes to chat with customers, color, play instruments, read books, and participate in whatever class she can!
Is Lucia also learning how to play an instrument?
Luis: Not yet, but we know she’s going to do piano for sure. It’s the most fundamental instrument, the instrument kids can be most successful at at a young age. But if at 8 or 9 she wants to play guitar or violin, that’s fine, too.
Jessica: We’ll start her on piano when she is 5 or 6 years old, and it will be important to make it a positive experience for her so that she will want to continue.
What were your backgrounds in music growing up?
Luis: I was involved with the choir, a little band that did performances in church. That was my only association with music as a kid. I moved here for college 17 years ago; I’m originally from Guatemala. It was supposed to be temporary but I decided I loved music and wanted to continue being involved. I used to have bands that performed in local bars and restaurants a couple of times a week. It was a gratifying experience; and it also shows my students you don’t have to be famous to get rewards from music. In fact, I have a lot of adult students—doctors, lawyers, accountants, nurses. They play music to relax, it’s their hobby.
Jessica: My family has a musical background. I have three younger brothers and two of them are professional musicians; one works here now. My dad and brothers are also luthiers, so I grew up my whole life with music. It’s strange to me that not everybody does that. It was so great for me to always play music with my dad, violin, and he played guitar. And we had a family band, Wild Rice. We played hot rock/jazz type of stuff because my dad was big into the bluesy thing. And yes, we have been compared to the von Trapps.
What instruments do you each play and teach?
Luis: Jessica was the lead singer for a band, and when she went to college she played violin in the orchestra but was a voice major, and she’s also good piano player. I teach guitar.
Jessica: A good music teacher should have a variety of things they can do. Mostly, we want everyone to learn a love of music and get inspired.
Visit to learn more about Bucktown Music.
Photographs by Thomas Kubik, TK Photography.