Giving Back is Music to Emily Knight’s Ears

“It’s like going to heaven,” Emily Knight says of lying in the grass and listening to a musical performance at Ravinia. Most of us know the feeling.

But Knight’s work as one of Ravinia’s trustees and the past president of the Women’s Board is not only about preserving Bach, Brahms and Gershwin for us but also about sharing it with people who don’t have the same easy access. She chairs the education and community partnership committee, which brings music lessons, concerts and music education to people in low-income neighborhoods of Chicago, and she’s also a trustee of the Merit School of Music, which provides free and reduced-fee music lessons in the city.

And a diagnosis of stage four breast cancer 8 years ago hasn’t kept the clinical psychologist and longtime Glencoe resident from pursuing and combining her passions: music and children.

“I think children and music go together,” says Knight, 62. “Music enriches their lives. They’re learning discipline, teamwork, that you have to practice to get better, auditory skills, which help with reading, listening skills, and it’s fun.”

She spends hours visiting classrooms in the 20 Chicago schools Ravinia partners with and at the Ravinia Lawndale Conservatory on the West Side. Roughly 150 children and adults take free lessons at the conservatory.

Ravinia also holds intensive teacher institutes with their artists-in-residence that give teachers in city schools the confidence to incorporate music into their curricula. Renowned artists give free concerts in the schools as well.

Knight’s passion for helping children dovetails naturally out of her career as a psychologist. She spent a dozen years commuting to Chicago’s South Side to work with sexually and physically abused and neglected children at La Rabida Children’s Hospital.

“I loved my work there,” she says in her charming, subtle Southern accent (she’s originally from a small town in Kentucky).

When the commute got to be too much, she retained a private practice on the North Shore evaluating learning disabilities in children. She always worked out of desire, not necessity, even when it wasn’t fashionable among North Shore moms. In fact, when her family first moved to the North Shore 27 years ago, she was barred from certain carpools because she was a working mother.

Even cancer hasn’t stopped Knight from pursuing her life at full-throttle. She works out with a trainer, walks every day and travels around the world. In some ways, she sees her illness as a gift.

“It sounds corny, but I notice the color of the sky, the color of the leaves, the sun,” she says. “My senses are totally heightened to try to get the most out of every day. That’s why I love music so much. It adds to my life.”

And she realizes how lucky she is.

“When I go to these cancer [centers] and see people with this [disease] who sit there, getting their infusions, and they’re so brave and they keep on going—those are the amazing people,” she says. “My friends and family were there for me. Think of the people who don’t have that. They’re the amazing ones.”