As vocal performance major Nathaniel Olson ’11 walked onto the stage of Pierce Chapel for his senior recital, he looked out on a unique collection of people.
Ranging in age from 6 months to 92 years and including family, fellow students, and residents from local senior citizen homes, the gathering represented lives touched by the soon-to-be graduate of Wheaton’s Conservatory.
“It was completely and utterly overwhelming,” says Nathaniel. “I walked through those doors, and I was blown away.” Having been involved in many capacities on campus, Nathaniel was also the founder of the Senior Music Ministry, which enables Conservatory students to reach out and provide musical performances for local senior citizens.
“I come from a family that loves and cares for senior citizens. My mother has either volunteered or worked for a hospital my entire life, and my Dad has worked for not-for-profit senior housing. It came naturally.” Nathaniel started giving concerts while visiting his parents at work—beginning on the trumpet at age nine, then with vocal performances at age 13.
When Nathaniel arrived at Wheaton he soon realized the busy life of a Conservatory student, with its rigorous practice schedule, left little time for outreach. “I came to college in the fall of 2007, and there wasn’t a specific ministry catered to music majors, so I began brain storming with Dr. Payne, Director of the Conservatory, and Sue Lee, Assistant Director of the Office of Christian Outreach. By April 2008, we held five concerts [at nearby senior homes], and the Senior Music Ministry was created.
“For a typical concert, we get there early, have fellowship with the seniors, and perform all kinds of music—everything from jazz to hymns to opera. Concerts are our bridge to these places, to share Christ’s love in these places. And the fellowship before and after is probably more significant than the concerts themselves.”
Since its creation in 2008, the Senior Music Ministry has grown consistently each year and now includes a rotation of 6-12 students giving concerts at each of the four nursing homes in the Wheaton area. The ministry allows Conservatory students an opportunity to serve the community and to practice their performance pieces for an audience each month.
“It’s amazing to see the intergenerational friendships that develop,” Nathaniel states.
Recognizing the need to keep the ministry sustainable, Nathaniel slowly began turning his leadership responsibilities over to other students as his senior year approached. “It is continuing on, and for that, I am so thankful.”
Dr. Carolyn Hart, his voice teacher and mentor throughout his four years at Wheaton, says he has been an incredible encouragement to others. “For our voice studio, he organized regular email prayer requests; social events such as pancake breakfasts; and mentorship to the younger singers. As well Nathaniel offered free voice lessons to fellow Glee Club members.”
Nathaniel describes his time in the Conservatory with deep appreciation. “Musically its’ been an incredibly rich time. I am forever grateful to Dr. Hart for her influence on my personal, my spiritual, and my musical development.” Nathaniel spent two summers performing at the Brevard Music Festival and has made it to the finals of many major competitions, including the Met Auditions.
Dr. Hart and Nathaniel continued to meet after his graduation in preparation for Nathaniel’s participation in Franz Schubert Institute in Vienna. While in Vienna this summer, he studied the German song, or Lieder, in master classes with notables such as Elly Ameling. This fall, he began the Indiana University’s Jacob’s School of Music to obtain a Masters in Music.
“Where ever I am, wherever God takes me, I’m taking it day by day. It would be really easy to just play it safe, but I feel like a faithful life is a pretty dangerous life. It's putting it all on the line and asking, ‘What do You have in store, God? What do You want to do? Let’s do it.’”