Join us for the 2024 CYSO Gala: Got That Swing! on Saturday, March 2. Info here

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.

Join steel orchestras upcoming 2024-2025 season!

New students are now being accepted for CYSO’s steelpan program! Scroll down to find out more about the program and fill out the application at the bottom of the page to sign up for a steel try-out. Steel try-out applications are due by Monday, April 1, 2024 at 11:59 pm.

No music experience is required for CYSO’s steel programs. We ask students to participate in a try-out in order to find the right ensemble for their playing level.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

What is Steel Orchestra and when are rehearsals?

Steelpan (sometimes called the steel drum) is a unique percussion instrument which has its roots in the Caribbean islands and culture of Trinidad and Tobago. CYSO’s Steelpan program focuses 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. 

CYSO Steel ensembles meet at our location at 410 S. Michigan Ave, Suite 802. Steelpan 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
    • Our only audition-based Steelpan ensemble
    • Rehearsals:  Saturdays, 3:15 PM – 5:15 PM

When are Steel Orchestra concerts? 

CYSO Steel Orchestras perform two yearly concerts. The Fall Concert will take place in December and the Spring Concert takes place in May. Kaiso Steel Orchestra also performs additional spring events including Education Concerts and the CYSO Gala. 

What is the tuition cost for 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 benefits of participating in a steelpan ensemble?

Students come to CYSO’s steel ensembles as both beginners who have never played music before as well as seasoned musicians who play another instrument. For students without music experience, steelpan can be learned by rote (by copying what they hear) and is also a great way to introduce music-reading skills. For those who play other instruments, learning complex rhythms and polyrhythms on steelpan benefits musicians in all areas of playing. Our steel ensembles are also smaller, providing more one-on-one attention to help students learn and grow.

Do I need to own my own steelpan to participate?

Absolutely not! We know that owning a steelpan is out of reach for most families. Steel rehearsals have rehearsal time built in so that students don’t need to practice on their own time.

Is experience required?

No music or percussion experience is required to join Steelpan. Steel try-outs help gauge students’ abilities and maturity level to place them in the appropriate ensemble, but it is not a true “audition” since everyone gets in! Our steel ensembles include students with no prior music background as well as students from other CYSO ensembles with years of music experience.

The only exception is our advanced Kaiso Steel Ensemble, which does require an audition.

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

Steel tryouts will take place via video submission or in-person at CYSO’s rehearsal spaces. New students who already play an instrument can submit an audition video on their primary instrument, though we do recommend they come in to get a feel for the actual steelpan in person before committing for the entire season.

New students who don’t play another instrument are invited to set up an in-person tryout. Tryouts will be scheduled through the spring and summer, based on staff and family availability.

In-person tryouts take place at CYSO’s offices in the Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Ave, Suite 802. Travel and transit information is available here.

What is the Steel Orchestra attendance policy and requirements for membership? 

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

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

My child has never played an instrument before. What should we expect at their 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 child plays an instrument but has never played steelpan. What should we expect at their 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.

My child wants to try out for Kaiso—how do they do that?

Kaiso is the only steel ensemble that requires an audition to join. Students who wish to audition should fill out the Audition form below and prepare the Kaiso Steel audition requirements.

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 eager to learn. We challenge students to achieve beyond their expectations. Students learn to work individually as musicians and collectively as an ensemble.

In addition to the musicianship and technical proficiency that students develop at CYSO, the orchestra environment provides 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.

Steelpan Try-Out Application

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