Longtime Downers Grove North music teacher readies for retirement

Brayer Teague has spent all but three years of his career teaching music at Downers Grove North High School, and that will forever remain true as Teague plans to retire at the end of this academic year.

Teague’s journey at Downers Grove North began in 1993, when he jumped on the opportunity to apply for a job in a district with such a strong reputation for the arts and music education. His love of music, education and travel, however, developed much earlier.

The son of two educators, Teague knew almost immediately that he too would teach. Teague grew up in Columbia, Missouri, just close enough to the University of Missouri to hear the echoes of the college’s drum line ring through the air, regularly prompting him to ride his bike down to watch the marching band rehearse.

“There was this natural marriage between my love for music and interest in teaching because I admired the work of my parents as educators … and I quickly latched onto music as well,” said Teague, North’s fine arts department chairman.

Teague began his music experience as a percussionist in the first grade and later was a drummer for a garage rock band named Mambo Sun during his high school days. He was part of high school honors ensembles and the 1985 Missouri All-State Band before pursuing a degree in music education at Northwestern University.

Having been surrounded by high-level musicians during his high school years, Teague was inspired, and at Northwestern, he found a mentor. John Paynter taught Teague during his college years, and today a framed baton from Paynter to Teague hangs in Teague’s office.


“I was just so inspired by his conducting and teaching and there has not been a day in the past 33 years that I haven’t looked to him,” Teague said.

Finally, Teague’s journey brought him to Downers Grove.

At Downers Grove North, Teague’s focus on students has left an impact on many in the community, teaching colleague Frank Piekarz said. Former students support this sentiment and said Teague’s genuine interest in their lives is one of the things they always will remember about being in his class. Kristin Bowers, a 2002 North graduate who is a clarinetist for the U.S. Marine Band, said Teague taught her the value of continued relationships.

Bowers remembers Teague and his family sitting in the audience of her senior year college recital as she pursued her bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance. The moment has stuck with her, she said. It taught her the importance of maintaining relationships and the impact that can have on people’s lives.

“One of the most meaningful things in my relationship with (Teague) is that when I left, he didn’t abandon me as a student,” Bowers said. “He encouraged me to step outside of Downers Grove and to confidently step outside of my surroundings to see if I could do this on a bigger stage. You don’t have to want to be a professional musician to benefit from his class because he’s cultivating future leaders.”


Brett Latman, who graduated from North in 2013, is evidence of that, as he entered the world of music education after graduating. Latman teaches fifth through 12th graders in Ohio and said Teague is someone who fostered his passion for music.

Latman said he still feels he can reach out to Teague for advice in part because Teague developed individualized relationships with each of his students, always making them feel seen and heard.

“Teachers wear so many hats, and I think I learned from him that you can wear all those hats and still teach the subject matter at hand,” Latman said. “I try to emulate a lot of things I learned from him with my students, whether they’re in class now or graduates, and I hope I can have a fraction of the impact he had on me with my students.”

Piekarz has worked with Teague for 27 years and believes Teague’s strength is his ability to advocate for the arts. During his time at North, Teague expanded the music program significantly and has taught with the philosophy that students should enjoy art for art’s sake, rather than emphasizing competition, the typical focus of music programs.

Teague’s teaching philosophy of “art for art’s sake” and a childhood trip with his father are what led him to expanding the program in the ways he did, providing students with authentic tour opportunities both nationally and internationally. As a young boy, Teague recalls the inspirational experience of traveling with his father and his father’s students to England, where the students studied British primary education methods.

In his 30 years at North, Teague has led 20 tours, including trips and performances in Dublin, Ireland, the London New Year’s Parade, Carnegie Hall in New York and an extensive ongoing partnership that has allowed students to perform in Germany.

“He has left an indelible legacy on the fine arts programs at Downers Grove North High School, one which is sure to endure,” Piekarz said.

That legacy is evidenced by the response to a tribute performance some of Teague’s colleagues have been planning as a send-off for his retirement. Jessen Smith, the band director at Downers Grove North, and a few others at the school have commissioned a piece to commemorate Teague’s impact on the community and that piece will be performed by a band made up of Teague’s friends, family and former students.

The tribute concert will be at 4 p.m. April 29 at the Downers Grove North High School’s Clarence Johnson Auditorium.

The band will consist of only 50 or 60 members, Smith said, but because the response has been so overwhelming, it means the band will be composed of an incredibly talented group of musicians. Smith said the response to the event is a great example of the impact Teague has left on so many of his students.

“One thing that’s important to me in putting this together is to make sure he is getting the recognition he deserves,” Smith said. “He is incredibly humble, but I want this to be an opportunity for him to live in the appreciation and admiration he’s garnered in his years here. This moment, this concert is yours (Teague), and you deserve to feel every emotion because this is more than deserved.”

Gina Wych will succeed Teague. Wych teaches four concert bands as well as the marching band and jazz band in Minooka Community High School District 111, where she has worked since 2008. She has guided the band to more than double in size during her tenure. Under her direction, the school’s wind ensemble was selected as the grand champion at the Midwest Music Festival in 2020, according to a District 99 news release.