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Classical music has served Chicagoans in a broad variety of ways.

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Classical music was heard in Chicago at least from the time of its incorporation and city charter in the 1830s.

Early settlers such as Mark Beaubien (fiddle), John Kinzie (violin), and Jean-Baptiste Beaubien (piano) owned instruments and played for dances at the Sauganash Tavern.

A Miss Wythe opened the first school of music in July 1834; Samuel Lewis opened a second the following year, and a shipment of pianos arrived in 1835.

Short-lived amateur performing groups began with the Old Settlers' Harmonic Society (1835–36, also called the Chicago Harmonic Society) and soon included the Chicago Sacred Musical Society (1842), the Chicago Choral Union (1846–48), and the Mozart Society (1849).

In 1847, Frank Lumbard was appointed vocal teacher in the public schools, a move that placed music education at the core of the civic enterprise.

As Chicago expanded, its growing audiences could attract touring artists.Musicians visited intermittently, offering recitals that mixed classical and popular music with virtuoso feats. Soprano prodigy Adelina Patti performed with violinist Ole Bull in 1853, '54, and '57, and with her family troupe in 1860.For the city as a whole, classical music has served as a signal of Chicago's cultural sophistication and economic strength.Cultural events and institutions were one means of placing Chicago's civic vitality above that of rival cities and proclaiming its coming of age to the nation and the world.In a city of superlatives, Chicago's musical culture could likewise excel.To combat pejorative labels such as “Porkopolis” or “Second City,” civic boosters strove to make Chicago a “First City” of the arts.