It’s October and we’re back with another Faculty Spotlight! Dr. Nathaniel Olson is the newest member of our voice faculty, along with his beautiful wife Dr. Jules Olson.
Q: Alright so starting off with some background info! Could you share some of your previous experience and your life before Lee?
My primary instrument is the voice and secondarily the trumpet. The educational journey began with a B.M. from the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music in Illinois, then a M.M. from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and finally a D.M.A. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with additional studies at the Franz Schubert Institute, Ravinia Festival Steans Music Institute, and the Army School of Music. I have previously taught as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at Indiana University Bloomington and UNC Greensboro, as adjunct faculty at Radford University and Elon University, as a Lecturer of Music and Coordinator of Choir and Classical Voice at the Universitas Pelita Harapan in Indonesia, and as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Voice at Wingate University. I’ve been very fortunate to have performed in many countries and concert halls across the world especially alongside my beloved wife and brilliant soprano, Dr. Jules Olson.
Q: What courses are you teaching?
As a member of the voice faculty here at Lee, I teach Vocal Literature, Opera Literature, Voice Seminar, and Applied Voice Lessons. It’s a real gift to have so much quality time with students as they each develop their own voice.
Q: How did you hear about Lee? What are you most excited about/looking forward to while working at Lee?
During 2018-2020, Dr. Jules Olson and I applied to many universities across the world as we sought a place to both teach and base ourselves professionally. We accepted the positions at Lee in February 2020 and moved to Tennessee from North Carolina where we were based the last 4 years. One of the things I looked forward to coming to Lee was the ability to teach at one university instead of juggling responsibilities at two or more universities while maintaining a busy schedule with the Army and freelancing. It’s a welcomed change to be able to pour into students and have quality over quantity. The students here are very respectful, kind, and eager to learn. As avid outdoor people, Dr. Jules and I enjoy kayaking and hiking throughout this beautiful part of the country. Get outside students and enjoy this beautiful area!
Q: I know you’re an instrumentalist as well as a vocalist, how do you feel having experience in both fields has prepared you or impacted your life/career in music?
Making a living in music performance is a real challenge. To make ends meet you have to think outside of the box. Personally, this has included being a trumpeter/vocalist at many different types of churches, performing music in many contexts, working all sorts of odd jobs, joining the Army, and finding a niche in baroque performance and higher education. Over the years, I’ve kept up my trumpet chops as I really love brass playing. During our joint doctoral studies, we needed a way to receive health insurance and benefits. I auditioned for the 208th Army Reserve Band based near Charlotte, NC and enlisted in early 2017. During the summers between academic years of doctoral studies and adjunct teaching, I completed Basic Combat Training and Army School of Music training. Being an Army reserve musician has been such a great gift to our joint lives as music professors and performers. It’s a rare part-time gig that comes with great benefits and a musical outlet that reaches every walk of life and part of society.
Q: Lastly, any advice for music students?
During my music studies at Wheaton and Indiana, I was hyper-focused on becoming an opera singer. Some exciting professional opportunities arrived in 2010-2015, and Jules and I performed together in a premiere at the Lyric Opera of Chicago along with tours in South Korea, the Netherlands, and at many opera/orchestra companies across the USA. We were both singing professionally and pursuing that path full-bore. Yet, God had other plans. Seemingly out of nowhere, we interviewed via Skype for two full-time voice professorships at Universitas Pelita Harapan in Indonesia. Sight unseen, we moved from downtown Chicago to Karawaci near Jakarta, Indonesia on the other side of the world in the summer of 2015. The three semesters of teaching in Indonesia changed our lives and catapulted us into higher education. There are many times as musicians that we simply have to get out of our comfort zones and “go for it.” You will fail and you may also succeed, but it is in taking risks that we find rewards. You have to try in order to fail, and it is in falling flat on your face before the Throne of Grace that you find the still small voice of God. I would have never thought that Jules and I would go on to teach at 5 universities together when we got married in 2014 and the precious souls we have encountered along the way. Dear music students, I encourage each of you to pour yourselves into your talents and work hard, be willing to have a career outside of your own pre-conceived ideas, and get out of your comfort zone. Remember to be kind and respectful to each person you come across, you never know who you will cross paths with again this side of eternity.
Thank you so much for interviewing with us Dr. Olson! Welcome to the Lee family!