USU's Youth Conservatory Has New Director
Thursday, Aug. 05, 2010
A well known composer, author and music educator has been named director of Utah State University’s Youth Conservatory, a nationally recognized piano study program.
Kevin Olson joined the faculty in USU’s Department of Music Aug. 1, where, in addition to heading the Youth Conservatory, he will teach piano literature, pedagogy and accompanying courses. He joined the faculty at USU following a 13-year teaching career at Elmhurst College near Chicago. He began his career in higher education at Humboldt State University in northern California.
Olson brings extensive experience to his new position as director of the USU Youth Conservatory, a program that offers private piano instruction and group musicianship classes to more than 200 pre-college community students. In addition to his experience as a professor and piano pedagogue, Olson is a prominent composer of pedagogical piano materials and has published numerous books teaching students how to compose, improvise and play jazz. In addition to those instructional books, he has books that include collections of original solos and arrangements. He is the composer of shorter solo sheets — original music or arrangements of popular songs for young pianists. His work is published by FJH Music Company of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., a noted leader in the field. He has been associated with FJH since 1994.
Many of Olson’s original compositions are required repertoire for festivals and competitions around the country.
“Kevin Olson is nationally known as a composer and author,” said Dennis Hirst, a faculty member in USU’s Music Department and piano program. “Piano teachers across the country are familiar with his work, and we are pleased that he has joined us at Utah State University.”
Accepting the position at USU provided Olson the opportunity to return to Utah with his wife and four children. He grew up in Salt Lake City and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Brigham Young University in composition and theory. He was also actively involved in the piano program at BYU. He earned his doctorate at National-Lewis University in Chicago.
“Growing up in Utah and participating in piano competitions and festivals around the state, I always knew about the Youth Conservatory,” Olson said. “As I’ve taught around the country, I’ve realized what prominence and recognition this program has nationally.”
In a recent review of USU’s Department of Music, the National Association of Schools of Music included the Youth Conservatory among the department’s strengths.
“The program has become a model for the state and Intermountain area,” the report said.
While a return to Utah brings Olson closer to family, it also provides the opportunity to do something he loves.
“I wanted a challenge, something new in my career,” he said. “I also wanted to work with pianists again. I’ve taught piano since I was 15 and it is exciting to run a program that speaks to my expertise as a piano teacher.”
Olson will not only work again with pianists in the Youth Conservatory, he will teach USU students how to become piano teachers. That, he said, is one of the unique elements of the Youth Conservatory, whose staff of 25-30 includes USU students who receive hands-on training as piano teachers.
“USU has a great reputation for doing this very thing, and that’s what makes it very unique,” Olson said. “There are many collegiate piano pedagogy programs around the country, but what makes Utah State’s unique is that the USU students don’t just learn the theory of teaching; they’re given opportunities through the Youth Conservatory to put those theories into practice.”
The Youth Conservatory was founded in 1978 by internationally recognized piano pedagogue Gary Amano, head of USU’s piano program. The YC functions as a laboratory school for USU students who study in the piano program. Its mission is to train teachers in the traditions of the great pianists and provide the Cache Valley community high quality, enjoyable and affordable piano instruction.
“Leaving Elmhurst College after 13 years was a difficult decision,” Olson said. “But, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to teach with colleagues like Gary Amano and Dennis Hirst. An added bonus is I get to bring my family back to Utah.”
In addition to Olson’s writing for piano, he has composed for choir, orchestra, wind ensemble and jazz band, including works written for the American Piano Quartet, Chicago a cappella, the Rich Matteson Jazz Festival and other ensembles nationwide.
He is also in demand as a clinician, giving dozens of workshops each year at national conferences and for local music teacher organizations.
While he officially assumed his duties at USU Aug. 1, he continues his national work. This summer he has presented at the Music Teachers Association of California, at the Goshen Piano Workshop in Indiana and for music teachers at Wartburg College in northern Iowa. In mid-July embarked on a three-week series on piano teaching in the southeast from Jacksonville, Fla., to Baltimore, Md.
Olson will return to USU in time for the Youth Conservatory’s fall registration to be held Aug. 17 and 31. More information about Olson and USU’s Youth Conservatory is available at its website, or call (435) 797-3018.
Writer: Patrick Williams, (435) 797-1354, email@example.comContact: Kevin Olson, (435) 797-3033, firstname.lastname@example.org