2017 Distinguished Teaching Artist Awards

It is our pleasure to introduce the recipients of the 2017 Distinguished Teaching Artist Awards: Julie Helenius, Jacob Sweet, and Chris Walz.

These honorees have been nominated by their peers and selected by a committee of members from Old Town School’s Board Of Directors. Criteria for selection was based upon excellence as a teaching artist, excellence as a leader among fellow teachers, and excellence in their contributions to the community culture of the Old Town School of Folk Music. The 2017 Distinguished Teaching Artist Award recipients will be honored at our third annual Legends Dinner on November 1, 2017.

Our teaching artists help make the School a national model for community arts learning and inspire our students, community members, and staff alike. Congratulations to Julie, Jacob, and Chris!


Julie Helenius

Chicago-based children's performer Julie Helenius, affectionately known as "Miss Julie" by hundreds of Wiggleworm students at the Old Town School of Folk Music, has been bringing the joy of music into the hearts and lives of children for over 25 years. Her energy, combined with her creativity and love of children, is what makes her stand out as a favored performer. She has released one CD entitled I'm so glad we're friends. Once your children have been introduced to "Miss Julie" and her music, they too will be a part of her circle of friends and the music that radiates from her.

Julie has performed across the Chicagoland area for numerous festivals, libraries, and birthday parties, as well as performing on a featured float at the Festival of Lights parade in downtown Chicago!

Learn more about Julie »


Jacob Sweet

In 2017, Jacob Sweet will celebrate his 20 year anniversary as a faculty member of the Old Town School of Folk Music. He teaches guitar, music theory, and numerous ensembles across all genres and ability levels. A fixture of the Chicago music scene since 1990, he has performed over 2 thousand shows both as a solo artist and with various groups, including his band Underwater People, to crowds large and small, in venues ranging from majestic to decidedly not-so. He is also active in the recording world and has played guitar on over 20 albums and dozens of commercial jingles. In 2008, he contributed guitar to several of Barack Obama’s campaign commercials including one filmed by Steven Spielberg.

Jacob is proud to be carrying on his family's tradition of teaching and non-profit work (his mother was a life-long art teacher and his father ran a non-profit). He feels very fortunate to have found a home in the Old Town School of Folk Music and is honored to be a part of it’s community. Jacob has a BM in Jazz Studies with a minor in Classical Guitar Performance from DePaul University.

Learn more about Jacob »


Chris Walz

I got interested in playing guitar when I was about 17 years old. I used to listen to a late night folk music radio show called "Good Time Folk, Jug Bands, and Blues." One night they devoted the entire hour to Mississippi John Hurt, and when I heard his powerful, smooth finger picking, I was hooked. That’s what I wanted to do. From Mississippi John Hurt I started listening to some of the other Country Blues finger style guitar players from the 20s and 30s. I listened to a lot of different kinds of finger picking guitar, but the old-time blues players were my favorites.

Around that same time, I started listening to Norman Blake and started trying to figure out how the flat pick was supposed to work. I was listening to a lot of Bluegrass, Blues, Old-Time, and Folk. It was Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, the Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Dave Van Ronk, you name it. If it wasn't plugged in, I'd give it a listen. I tried to learn as much of it as I could, and I'm still trying.

I started hanging around the Old Town School of Folk Music in 1989 and felt at home right away. In 1996 Michael Miles hired me to teach at the Old Town School, and have been there ever since. I teach guitar, five string banjo, and some mandolin. The real satisfaction I get is when I'm able to get a student to execute something they didn't think they could do. I work with both tablature and by ear, but mostly what I try to do is get my students to think for themselves. Not a bad way to make a living, teaching folks how to pick.

Learn more about Chris »

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4544 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago IL 60625  •  773.728.6000