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Teachers at the Old Town School

Michael O’Toole


Acoustic Guitar and Ukulele, Irish & Country Fiddle, Clawhammer and Seeger Style Banjo, Beginning Mandolin

When students enter the classroom, they each bring a fresh set of abilities, hopes, and expectations. My job is to welcome each student wherever they're at that day. Most days, folks are well prepared. But everyone struggles with their instrument sometimes, hasn't practiced that week, or has missed a class or two because of, well, life. I'm here to foster a good musical moment. Or three. No matter what kind of day you or your child is having.

I teach a variety of instruments and styles, but not everything and anything. I will always direct you to someone else if that's who can better help you. I'm mostly an acoustic player and I enjoy the social part of music as well as the performance part. What I think I'm good at is boiling things down to a few basic principles and then working to find the best way to get that information across in a way that really reaches each student. In group classes, I try to aim for the middle while paying attention to the edges.

I first came to the school in 1973 to take fiddle lessons. I was a month shy of 16. I'd been playing guitar for a few years and had begun giving lessons to friends. I learned fiddle from Dave Prine and banjo from Fleming Brown. Both were longtime teachers at the school and veteran performers on the Chicago folk scene. I joined the faculty early the next year when the school opened a branch in Skokie.

Along the way, I've traveled, been a street musician, lived abroad, acted on stage, picked up a foreign language or two, scored an independent film, run a shoebox recording studio, hosted kids' shows and open mics, been a musical director in tiny black box theaters, and won or shared in a few small awards. Life's been good.

These last 12 years are my third, and longest, tenure at the school. It's my full-time job. While the school has grown tenfold since I first walked through the doors, it's kept its openness and warmth through the decades thanks to the staff, the students, and the faculty. I'm glad to be a part of that.

Member – ASCAP, AFM

Contact Michael at motoole@oldtownschool.org.

Education: Attended Northeastern Illinois University, City Colleges of Chicago, Second City

Started at the Old Town School in November of 1974

Private Lessons in the 8-week session beginning 04/24/2023

Tuesdays 9:00 am – 11:45 am
Thursdays 9:00 am – 11:45 am

Private Lessons in the 8-week session beginning 06/19/2023

Tuesdays 9:00 am – 11:45 am
Thursdays 9:00 am – 11:45 am