Olson pushes string students to achieve musical greatness


Orchestra teacher Steve Olson conducts the Halloween-inspired concert at CMR in October.

Clara McClain, Editorial Board

Orchestra director Steve Olson has been pushing the limits of the CMR orchestra program for the six years that he has been its leader. He took over the program from Dennis Dell and has watched the students grow both in musical interest and in numbers.
“The students were at a different level than they are now. We’ve improved a lot over the years,” Olson said.
When Olson arrived at CMR, the string program had about 60 students. For the 2017-2018 school year, enrollment is up to about 110 students. The students put on roughly the same number of concerts, but the difference is the type of concerts.
“If I’m going to put a show together I’m going to put a show together. It’s not just a regular concert; it has to be something fun,” he said
Just last year, Chamber Orchestra provided live music for Miss Linda’s Ballet Ensemble dancers, something that the high schoolers wouldn’t have the opportunity to do without Olson putting in the time and looking for new things to tackle.
“Personally I always like to do new different things, and so I figure why not do that with the school, too? If there’s opportunities for us to do things, just take advantage of that,” he said.
With more than 20 years of performance under his belt, Olson is glad to share his knowledge with his students to push them further.
“The way I present [music] is in a way that either gets people excited or they can end up realizing that I do know what I’m talking about and it will come together in the end,” he said.
Junior Bayley Ginnaty can attest to Olson’s influence both in and out of the classroom.
“Without Mr. Olson I wouldn’t be nearly as involved in the music program as I am or evolved so far into my musical career,” she said.
Ginnaty is the president of the American String Teacher Association student chapter that Olson started at CMR. She said that he is always looking for ways to push his students and knows how he can do it successfully.
“When he comes to us with pieces, he knows what he’s doing and he knows how to handle it and how he wants to teach us. Not only has he looked at the music, [but] he’s looked at how we learn as students and really taken that into account,” she said.
Olson said that he doesn’t give pieces that he views as easy or commonly done for his students to perform.
“We don’t do a lot of fluff. We do serious [music] and approach it in a serious way,” he said.
Olson has watched his students grow over the years and start to enjoy classical music.
“I think the students have developed a deeper appreciation for music and especially when it comes to quality music,” he said.
He has also seen students become more interested in learning about the music, instead of just playing it.
“There’s more of an excitement for kids to be interested in classical type music — and not so much just pop music — and that’s through doing what we do,” Olson said.
Unfortunately, Olson is not planning on staying in the Great Falls Public Schools forever.
“Great Falls isn’t the last stop. It’s very much open ended right now.”