2021 Fischoff Competition

The Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition was founded in 1973 in South Bend, Indiana. It is the oldest premier educational chamber music competition in the United States, and winners are recognized worldwide. On average, over 125 ensembles representing 22 nationalities compete in two categories: string and wind. A gold medal from the Fischoff Competition is one of the most prestigious classical music prizes attainable today!

This is the first year that Encore Music Academy has had an ensemble participate in Fischoff, and the members of the Encore Flute Quartet ended up being Semifinalists – a huge honor! The Encore Flute Quartet was also featured on WMFT (the local classical music radio station) on July 3, 2021. Listen to the video below to hear them perform one of their competition pieces: Coffee Nerves by Gary Schocker.

We are so proud of these students, and we can’t wait for next year!

With our vivacious youth and adult choirs, thriving youth orchestra and private lessons out the wazoo, you may think that Encore Music Academy has it all. And we do! We are very fortunate to have such dedicated staff and families in our organization. However, there is one specific demographic of musicians that we have been missing out on: the singer/songwriters.


Enter Allie Hulen! A graduate from Western Illinois University, pianist/vocalist/guitarist, and local talent, she has provided live music on behalf of EMA for years. And now, Allie has officially joined the EMA family as our resident singer/songwriter private teacher! We couldn’t be happier, and she couldn’t be more excited to create a welcoming studio for anyone who wants to write and perform their own music.

Fun Facts About Allie

Hobbies: I love to garden, cook, bake, eat, and write songs.

If you weren’t a musician, what job would you love to have? I would do something with plants or with food… maybe an environmental botanist, a farmer, or a baker.

Where is your favorite place you’ve traveled, or where would you like to travel to? I want to travel to any place with incredible food and with people who share their own stories!

Sign up for a lesson with Ms. Hulen!

Learn more about Private Lessons at Encore

Interview with Allie

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

A: “What I enjoy most about teaching is the relationship I get to build with a student while we learn about one of the things I love the most.”

What does a typical first lesson with you look like? 

A: “In a first lesson, it is most important that the student feels comfortable. We will get to know one another, talk about what their goals are, and then start to see where they are at in their musical development. My hope by the end of the first lesson is that the student is excited to learn with me, motivated to learn their instrument, and that they will have something to work on for our next lesson.”

How do you go about selecting music for your students? Do they pick out their own music?

A: “When selecting music, student input is extremely important; but multiple other factors are important as well. I try my best to select music for my students that is of a high quality, will expose my students to various musical styles, will prepare and support them in other musical experiences, will allow them to be successful, will appropriately challenge them in their musical growth, and will motivate them!”

What made you decide to go into music?

A: “I love music! I love experimenting with sounds, I love exploring new instruments, I love what music can teach you about yourself, and I love most the relationships I have made because of music.”

Who is one of your favorite musicians/composers/artists? Why?

A: “I really admire Willie Nelson. In his music he brings together some of the best parts of multiple music genres. His guitar playing is heavily influenced by the jazz guitar of Django Reinhardt and his songwriting by the storytelling heard in old country/folk music. I also love the songwriting of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, the Indigo Girls, and The Weepies.”

What sparked your interest in your instrument?

A: “For piano, it was because I loved the timbre! For guitar, it started with me wanting to be able to accompany myself while singing and songwriting.”

What advice would you give to someone considering music as a career?

A: “First, know that any career in music is going to take practice. Additionally, know that – as musicians – we are constantly learning and growing and exploring ways to improve our art form. This takes time, patience, and perseverance – often with yourself.”

Listen to Allie’s cover of “Speechless” from Disney’s Aladdin!

Listen to “Shades of Blue” – an original song by Allie Hulen!

Like any business that thrives on music, learning and people being close together, Encore Music Academy has spent the past year stretching to survive and throwing plans out the window. Phrases like “tentative calendar” and “when things go back to normal” have been uttered at every meeting since March of 2020. We used to schedule entire YEARS in advance, and now planning more than a week in advance feels extremely risky. What do you do when you lose control of everything around you?

That’s right. Time for some self care and a website GLOW UP.

Old EMA Homepage
New EMA Homepage

Due to the generosity of a grant, Encore was able to invest in a brand-spanking-new platform to share our programs with the world. For months, Ann Tucker and our Website Task Force researched different website production companies, wrote, re-wrote and edited content, searched for the perfect picture for each page, and converted our outdated website into this crisp, clean web-SIGHT. You think raising a child takes a village? Try designing a website.

Besides the fact that our old website was simply, well… old, McHenry County Youth Orchestra and Voices In Harmony were recent additions to the Encore family that needed to be featured and flaunted! The Task Force made sure that these programs were integrated into this new website, but that their identity wasn’t lost along the way – a huge achievement. Oh, and while all of this was happening, we also updated our logos! No biggie.

The best thing about this transformation is: It. Is. Sustainable. EMA has already created a new summer program (Encore Wind Symphony – check it out!), and it was added to the new website on the same day! There’s a place for EMA’s Joyful Noise All Abilities Choir, Music Together early childhood music classes, private lessons, and any other great idea we come up with. Our online presence finally matches the truly stellar programs and people we have in this organization.

We are so grateful to have the support and means to make this amazing change – thank you so much for coming along for the ride. We can’t wait to continue meeting and exceeding the needs of our community!

Carol Munn became a member of the Encore family in 2016. She is also the choir director at McHenry Middle School, where she has enjoyed building a strong choral program over the last 11 years. Ms. Munn was raised in a musical family and loves sharing her passion for music with her students. She is currently the conductor of EYC’s Di Canto Choir, our high school group!


What made you decide to go into music?

C: Both of my parents were musicians. It was my destiny!

If you weren’t a musician, what job would you love to have?

C: Psychologist or health care worker.

What advice would you give to someone considering music as a career?

C: Learn music theory and improvisation.

Who is one of your favorite musicians/composers/artists? Why?

C: Beethoven’s 6th Symphony is enchanting.

What has been one of the most rewarding moments of your career?

C: Achieving my National Board Certification in Music Education!

Fun Facts about Carol:

College: North Park University & Aurora University

Favorite food: I love trail mix for my go-to snack!

Favorite holiday: Valentine’s Day (love & chocolate)

Celebrity Crush: Robert Downey, Jr.

Hobbies: Yoga, reading, running, & paddle boarding

Favorite place you’ve traveled: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

1. Friends!
Every group activity leads to meeting new people and creating friendships, and choir is all about teamwork! Although everyone in choir comes from many different towns and schools, they all love to sing. You will find new friends and excitement singing with others who feel the same way about music as you do. Choir is just as much about creating an amazing sound as it is about having fun singing with the people around you.

2. Music
In choir, you will sing a lot of different music. Music from other cultures, styles, times and places. Music that might be familiar to you, and music that is brand new. One of the most exciting parts of our choir season is starting new music for each concert!

3. Learn
You will work on your singing technique, music reading skills and learn how to sing in harmony. Each choir focuses on how to become a better musician and singer. In addition, you’ll learn about the composers of the music, their life stories, and how their music connects to your life and experiences today!

4. Perform
You will share your singing with others in concerts, festivals and tours. You will also have the opportunity to offer your singing as a gift to others through community service.

5. Connection
Singing is a part of who we are. It is a way for us to connect to each other and to those around us. Singing will bring you joy your entire life.

Sherry Taliaferro joined the Encore faculty in 2006 – just one year after Encore Music Academy (then Northwest Community Music Academy) was founded. She teaches over 20 piano students and accompanies Encore Youth Choir!

Interview with Sherry:

Did you go to college? If so, where?

S: University of Iowa

What is your favorite food?

S: Donuts. Pretty much any kind of donut makes my day.

If you weren’t a musician, what job would you love to have?

S: I would have been an accountant. I really like math and numbers. It’s a sort of instant gratification when everything lines up and you have the perfect final answer.

What advice would you give to someone considering music as a career?

S: Think hard about how many hours every day you are willing to spend alone, practicing your instrument. Think about how your income might not have guarantees as you piece together performing and teaching and perhaps another job. And if you still have that burning love and passion for the music, go for it!

Who is one of your favorite musicians/composers/artists? Why?

S: I adore the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. It is clean and elegant. I do not have large hands to reach big piano chords, but small hands can still play Bach.

What sparked your interest in your instrument?

S: As a preschooler, I used a toy piano to pick out songs that I heard on the radio. Eventually, my parents purchased a used piano and decided to let me try piano lessons. I loved it and just kept going.

2020 is changing everyone’s life. Amidst the chaos of this ridiculous year, there are extraordinary moments, both big and small, happening all around us. While surviving COVID-19, some learned to bake bread, some made masks, and others donated funds or volunteered at all kinds of relief organizations. Many people have simply enjoyed spending this strange, extra time with their families.

Or, if you’re Keith Hulen, you take on MORE responsibility during this so-called “break.”

Keith started teaching clarinet at Encore in 2016. Since then, he has taught saxophone and guitar, led chamber ensembles, and continued to direct the Hannah Beardsley Middle School Band. But that just wasn’t enough!

In August of 2020, Keith became the newest addition to the McHenry County Youth Orchestra team as the Intermezzo Orchestra Conductor. Hired just one week before the start of the season, Keith managed to jump into the outdoor rehearsal prep with enthusiasm and confidence. Despite heat waves, rainy nights, strong winds and cold fronts, Intermezzo performed their Fall Concert music successfully, safely, and together.

With Keith’s breadth of musical knowledge, organizational skills, and performance experience, Encore Music Academy is so excited about the future of Intermezzo. We look forward to hearing their holiday selections at MCYO’s December concert!

Fun Facts about Keith

College: Bachelors in Music Education and Masters in Clarinet Performance at Western Illinois University; Masters in Reading Instruction at Aurora University

Favorite food: Pizza!

Celebrity Crush: Really? Julia Roberts.

Hobbies: Cooking, gardening, and everything clarinet.

Favorite place you’ve traveled: Spain


What made you decide to go into music?

K: Ever since attending ISYM band camp at University of Illinois, I knew I wanted to be in music.

If you weren’t a musician, what job would you love to have?

K: Electrician

What advice would you give to someone considering music as a career?

K: Always have a backup plan.

Who is one of your favorite musicians/composers/artists? Why?

K: Gustav Mahler is my favorite composer because of his massive orchestrations and melody writing.

What has been one of the most rewarding moments of your career?

K: Performing with The Moody Blues!