Joining Steel Orchestras - Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras

No experience is necessary to join CYSO’s Steel Orchestras– ensembles range from beginner to experienced young musicians. To join, students participate in a tryout and are placed in an appropriate ensemble based on their age and musical experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

Read frequently asked questions below. If you have additional questions please ontact Scott McConnell at or 312-939-2207 ext. 270.

What will my child learn in CYSO?

In addition to the musicianship and technical proficiency that students develop at CYSO, the orchestra environment provides young people with skills that translate to all areas of their life. CYSO musicians develop the ability to listen to others respectfully and intently, and learn how to work towards a goal.

Our students learn and grow alongside young musicians from across the Chicago region, developing friendships and learning to collaborate with students they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to interact with. Students leave CYSO with a strong sense of discipline, increased confidence, and a deep appreciation for music and the arts.

What makes CYSO programs different from other music training?

At CYSO, students have the opportunity to work alongside a diverse student body of like-minded young musicians who are passionate, hard-working, and ready to learn. We challenge students to achieve beyond their expectations. Students learn to work individually as musicians and collectively as an ensemble. We view the orchestra as a model for democracy in action; each student contributes to the good of the whole and in the end, the orchestra is greater than just the sum of its parts.

Is experience required?

To join our orchestra or jazz programs, we recommend that students have approximately two years of experience playing their instrument. No music or percussion experience is required for steelpan.

What is Steel Orchestra and what are CYSO’s different ensembles?

Steelpan (or steel drum), a unique percussion instrument which has its roots in the Caribbean islands and culture of Trinidad and Tobago. Rehearsals focus on basic music theory, technique, musicianship, building a diverse repertoire and learning about calypso—the traditional music of Trinidad and Tobago—as well as other musical styles from classical to jazz. 

See a video history of steelpan on our YouTube page.

Ensembles include:

  • The Jumbies

Elementary Students

Rehearsals: Saturdays, 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM

  • Groove Steel Ensemble

Elementary/Middle School Students

Rehearsals: Saturdays, 10:30 AM – 12:00 AM

  • Junior Steel Orchestra

Intermediate Elementary/Middle School Students

Rehearsals: Saturdays, 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM

  • Kaiso Steel Orchestra

Audition Requirements

Rehearsals:  Saturdays, 3:15 PM – 5:15 PM

Where do tryouts take place and how do I get there? 

In-person auditions take place at CYSO’s offices in the Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Ave Suite 833. Link to page with travel info. Depending on current public health recommendations, video auditions may also be accepted. Information on submitting video auditions will be provided via email as necessary.

My child has never played an instrument before. What should we expect at the Steel Orchestras tryout?

No prior musical ability is necessary to join CYSO’s Steel Orchestras program! Students who have never played an instrument will be tested on melodic and rhythmic learning by rote. Rote learning is a memorization technique commonly used in music that is  based on repetition.

My student has played an instrument but has never played the steelpan. What should we expect and prepare for the tryout?

Students with experience will be tested on their general music knowledge as well as melodic and rhythmic sight reading on their primary instrument. Students should bring their instrument to the tryout and be prepared to play major scales and a solo or excerpt of repertoire they’re currently working on. Students interested in joining Kaiso Steel Orchestra, CYSO’s most advanced steel ensemble, should also prepare the Kaiso Audition Requirements.

My student plays the steelpan. What should we expect and prepare for their tryout? 

Students with prior experience playing steelpan will be tested on their basic music knowledge. They will also be asked to perform on the steelpan and assessed on major scales, melodic and rhythmic sight reading, aural skills and rote learning. Students interested in joining Kaiso Steel Orchestra, CYSO’s most advanced steel ensemble, should also prepare the Kaiso Audition Requirements.

When and where are rehearsals held?

Jumbies: 9:00 am – 10:00 am

Groove Steel Ensemble: 10:30 am – 12:00 pm

Junior Steel Orchestra of Chicago: 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm or 12:30 pm – 3:00 pm for extended rehearsal days

Kaiso Steel Orchestra: 3:15 pm – 5:15 pm or 3:15 pm – 6:00 pm for extended rehearsal days

When are Steel Orchestra concerts? 

CYSO Steel Orchestras perform two yearly concerts. The Fall Concert will take place in December 2018 and the Spring Concert will take place in May 2019. Junior Steel Orchestra of Chicago and Kaiso Steel Orchestra will perform at the Steel Orchestras Education Concert in February 2019 and Kaiso Steel Orchestra will also perform at the CYSO Gala in February 2019. Other performances may also occur during the season.

What is the Steel Orchestra attendance policy? 

Steel Orchestras students are allowed three absences per concert cycle/semester (September – December and January – May). Absence forms may be completed online.

What is the tuition cost of Steel Orchestra? 

CYSO program tuition is available online on our tuition page. We make our programs accessible to all students, regardless of their financial background. Need-based financial assistance is available for all CYSO programs.

What are the requirements for membership? 

Requirements vary for each orchestra, enrichment program, and by instrument. See the CYSO membership requirements PDF for details.

Register for Steelpan

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