Korff School junior wins Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra Young Artist Competition

Jonah Payne
Jonah Payne

Jonah Payne, a junior percussion performance major in the Glenn Korff School of Music from Lincoln, Neb., was selected as the winner of Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra Young Artist competition for the 2019-2020 season.

“I was elated when I was told that I had won the LSO Young Artist Competition,” Payne said. “As the winner, I will be performing part of a concerto as a featured soloist, accompanied by Lincoln's Symphony Orchestra, on their two holiday concerts. Unlike most concerti, which are written for instruments that have been around for several centuries, I will be performing a piece on a tenor steel pan. This means so much to me because percussionists are not often the main focus in orchestral settings and steel pans, specifically, are rarely ever found in an orchestra at all.”

Payne will perform Liam Teague’s “The Visit” for tenor steelpan, arranged for orchestra by Jamie Wind Whitmarsh, with Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, Dec. 8 at 2 and 6 p.m. The piece was originally composed as a solo by Teague, who is professor of music and head of steelpan studies at Northern Illinois University.

“The judges were very impressed with the overall level of playing at this year’s competition. All of the students displayed great skill, and Jonah Payne in particular blew us away with his technique, musicianship, and mastery of the instrument,” says Edward Polochick, music director of Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra. “We look forward to featuring Jonah on our holiday concerts.”

Payne studies percussion with Assistant Professor of Percussion Dave Hall and steelpan with graduate student Louis Raymond-Kolker.

“I’m so proud of Jonah Payne for winning the Young Artist Competition with the LSO,” Hall said. “Jonah is an intelligent and creative musician with an incredibly diverse percussive skill set. He’s an excellent drumset player, orchestral percussionist, solo marimba and vibraphone player, and also spends a lot of time improvising, composing and tinkering with new sounds and ideas. He exhibits a quiet curiosity and ability to absorb information that has always made him a joy to work with.”

As winner of the LSO Young Artist Competition, Payne receives the title of LSO Young Artist Winner for the 2019–20 season; publicity exposure; a private rehearsal and coaching from LSO Guest Conductor Lucas Waldin; solo performances at LSO’s concerts on Dec. 8; and a cash prize.

“I’m very excited to be working with Jonah Payne,” Waldin said. “His audition demonstrated high technical proficiency coupled with a clear and confident musicality. His instrument, the steelpan, may be a new experience for many in the audience and orchestra, but I have no doubt it will be a memorable performance of a very colorful concerto.”

Fourteen elementary, middle, high school, and college music students participated in LSO’s Young Artist Competition this year, which is funded in part by the J. Edmund & Thelma D. Miller Fund at the Lincoln Community Foundation. The competition requires that applicants be 20 years old or younger and perform a movement of a concerto on their instrument in a formal audition.

Payne has participated in a variety of musical ensembles since middle school. In addition to school concert band, he played in PANgea, a Lincoln Public Schools-sponsored steeldrum band, from 6th through 12th grade. He began playing in the jazz band at Scott Middle School in 8th grade, continued throughout high school at Lincoln Southwest (LSW), and is now in his 5th semester with the UNL Big Band. In high school, Jonah was introduced to orchestral music when he played in the Lincoln Youth Symphony – he played in the ensemble for four years and, as a senior, he was selected as one of the winners of their concerto competition in 2016. He is currently in his second semester with the UNL Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to performing in the Lincoln Southwest marching band for four years, and in the Cornhusker Marching Band for two years, Payne spent the summer of 2018 on tour with the world class Spirit of Atlanta Drum and Bugle Corps. Additionally, he has participated in the UNL Percussion Ensemble, UNL Varsity Men’s Chorus, and several more ensembles.

Though he had played steel pan for years, Payne’s fascination with pan has only grown during his time in the Glenn Korff School of Music.

“I love playing steel pans because they are such a unique group of instruments,” Payne said. “The sound of pans is intoxicating, and the instruments have an extremely rich culture and history surrounding them. In the future, I plan on spreading my love for pans to others throughout my adult life as well as integrating these instruments into every musical style/genre possible.”

He has played three different types of pan in Nebraska Steel and Steel2 (UNL’s two steel drum ensembles): tenor pan, double seconds, and triple guitars. He composed a piece, “Jamboree,” for beginner-level steel band and led Steel2 in rehearsals, culminating in a premiere performance in the spring of 2019. In addition, Payne transcribed and arranged a piece written by a world-renowned pan player, Jonathan Scales, for his sophomore recital. This led to him playing double seconds on Scales’ newest album, “Mindstate Music.”

“He has been playing steel pan since well before he got here as a member of Lincoln’s Pangea Steel Band,” Hall said. “His skills on that instrument have really taken off over the last three years, though, since the Glenn Korff School of Music acquired our own pans. His virtuosity on the instrument is undeniable, and he and his accompanist, Dominic Loutsch, have great chemistry and sensitivity as a duet.”

Payne is excited to perform tenor steel pan with the LSO.

“I am excited to display steel pan in a classical setting, which is something most of the audience will have never seen before,” he said. “This experience will be extremely unique and exciting-- I am really looking forward to it.”