DeKalb High School student takes top honors in Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artists Competition

Meet Jaden Teague-Núñez, youth steelpan player in Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artists Competition

Jaden Teague-Núñez, 16, a sophomore at DeKalb High School, plays along with the percussion ensemble directed by Steve Lundin, the schools director of bands Monday, March 18, 2024, in the band room at the school. Teague-Núñez won first place in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artists Competition playing the steelpan and will appear as a soloist in a CSO youth concert during the 2024-25 season.

DeKALB – One high school student has caught the attention of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and has earned the right to the moniker “man of steel” for playing a musical instrument unique to many: the steelpan.

DeKalb High School student Jaden Teague-Núñez recently was recognized with top honors in the 2024 Crain-Maling Foundation Chicago Symphony Orchestra Young Artists Competition.

“It’s a really cool feeling, not just for myself – of course I want to win it for myself – but also for the steelband fraternity because this is the first time that a steelband player has not just entered the competition but actually won it,” Teague-Núñez said. “Now that I get to perform in such a legendary orchestra, I hope that this will expose more people to the instrument. And also, being able to perform with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago – which I did in the final round – should expose the instrument to more classical fans and, hopefully, have it more respected to the different crowds.”

As the winner, Teague-Núñez stood out among fellow musicians in the final round of the competition, performing selections of a concerto with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. The runners-up, Elyse Schlesinger and Chloe Nam, performed their selections with the French horn and flute, respectively.

Steve Lundin, the high school’s director of bands, said he’s not surprised by the recognition Teague-Núñez has garnered.

“I think it goes without saying: When you’ve got a kid of that ability level, as a teacher, you feel humbled,” Lundin said. “I always tell people it’s an honor to get to work with kids who play like that. But he’s a really relaxed kid. He has a great demeanor in rehearsal.

“He’s learning how to play lots of different instruments. So we spend a lot of time trying to transfer what he knows on one instrument to another instrument. He takes all of the feedback in stride. He’s trying to be better every day. That attitude is really, really fantastic.”

Teague-Núñez said his parents instilled in him the importance of music education from an early age.

“My dad, he is the head of steel band studies at Northern Illinois University, and he’s been doing so for … I’d say close to 30 years,” Teague-Núñez said. “My mom, she was from Panama. She was a violist and a violinist. She used to be a principal violist for the Panama National Symphony. That’s basically how they met.”

Lundin said Teague-Núñez has come a long way as a steelpan player in the many years that he’s known him.

“Sixth-grade Jaden was already playing significantly better than what we would hear really at any point in the high school experience,” Lundin said. “Most of the high school kids, they play other instruments first and pan is the second or third instrument for them. But they’re not starting until their ninth or 10th grade many times.”

Teague-Núñez said he’s enjoyed having the opportunity to learn from Lundin.

“Under Mr. Lundin, he’s been really supportive toward me,” he said. “He’s helped me with a bunch of my percussion skills. I can really appreciate that.”

Teague-Núñez said he likes to emulate how other musicians would interpret music to perform.

“I like to think of it like a combination of that and my way,” Teague-Núñez said. “[It’s] not just the pan but also in my piano-playing. When I am performing a piece, I like to listen to what other people are doing. I usually take interpretational ideas from them as well as doing stuff that I like myself.”

Teague-Núñez said someday he would like the steelpan to become normalized like any other orchestral instrument.

“A lot of people think of the pan as something that you would play on a beach as background music, but I think it can be as respected like a violin or a piano when you’re putting it on the stage,” he said.

Teague-Núñez said he doesn’t feel limited by what he can play with the steelpan.

“The only limits I’d have is like range, but if you really want to do something, I’ll make it happen,” he said.

As the winner of the competition, Teague-Núñez is expected to perform May 2 and 3 as a soloist and with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as part of the CSO School and Family Concerts.

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