Olson’s Virtual Vocal Coaching Comes to Campus for a Day Full of Music

Olson instructing a masterclass with a BSU Sings! soloist

Olson instructing a masterclass with a BSU Sings! soloist

In Fall 2020, Bemidji State University music professor Dr. Jennifer Olson used the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to bring music to high school students across the United States by creating a BSU Sings! video series. What started as a modest, one-person production quickly grew into a national resource series serving almost 30,000 students in more than 312 schools across 13 states.

On March 16, Bemidji State welcomed its first cohort of more than 80 high school students from Clearbook-Gonvick, Chanhassan, Bemidji and Trek North High Schools to a full-day of workshops with music professors.

Dr. James Bowyer and the BSU Sings! choir preparing
Bowyer and the BSU Sings! choir

“BSU Sings! offers BSU the chance to reach into the void and provide a desperately needed service to music educators,” Olson said. “Our ensemble directors have strong ties to the teachers in our communities – they are our respected colleagues and the gatekeepers of our future students so BSU Sings! is a mutually beneficial relationship.”

The day began with a welcome ceremony and brief performance by BSU faculty members. Students were then split into vocal groups and attended sessions with music faculty including Dr. Dwight Jilek, associate professor and director of choral activities, Eric Sundeen, an adjunct instructor, and Olson. Topics ranged from choral instruction, performance anxiety, acoustical vowels, rhythm and a masterclass. Students also worked with Bemidji State’s Dr. James Bowyer, composer and associate professor, who arranged his composition “Daybreak” specially for the BSU Sings! event.

“It was a comfortable atmosphere,” Lillian Douglas, a BSU Sings! student and junior attending Bemidji High School, said. “I felt encouraged to really explore my skills.”

Dr. Jennifer Olson masterclass with soloist
Olson instructing a masterclass with a BSU Sings! soloist

While BSU Sings! began as a pandemic resource, Olson said the project evolved into an overall classroom and music resource that she hopes will continue to support music educators across the U.S. for years to come.

“This year we marketed the program as an extra tool to be used with substitute teachers, for students who need extra help, for students who want to be challenged, and as an assessment resource that instructors can use in the classroom,” she said.

Helen Bartlett, a junior at Bemidji High School, plans to pursue the vocal arts in the future and said the BSU Sings! program has given her insight on how to pursue her dreams.

“Being able to experience this mentorship has given me a sense of appreciation in my musical growth as well as my peers” she said.

The day came to a close with a culminating performance held in the university’s Beaux Arts Ballroom.