Happy retirement: Adrienne Olsen brought the joy of music and song to Hart students for 21 years 

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Happy retirement: Adrienne Olsen brought the joy of music and song to Hart students for 21 years 

June 03, 2021 - 23:15
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Adrienne Olsen

Adrienne Olsen, who grew up in Homewood and went to school in the area, will say goodbye to her longtime profession in June. She graduated from the University of Illinois with her degree in piano and in teaching. Since then, she has taught music to students in K-8 in California, Chicago Heights and Homewood. 

Some of the moments in her career that she is most proud of came out of producing musicals with her students. Last year Olsen and her students presented “Frozen Jr.,” which told the story of sisters Elsa and Anna and a magical land of Ardendelle. 

She recalls a point in the musical where cast members were gearing up to sing “Let it go.” Everyone in the gym joined in. 

“It was so cool,” she said. 

In addition to moments like these, she said she enjoyed the time she spent with her students as they prepared. Plus with musicals, she likes how “you can just create everything.”

“Not just the sound or the singing but the scenery, the costumes and everything that puts it all together,” she said. “It’s a big job but it’s well worth it.” 

Adrienne Olsen accompanying the James Hart choir at one of its performances. (Provided photo)

One of Olsen’s accomplishments while teaching at James Hart has been her effort to create a music lab for students. Around 2016, the music department wanted to reimagine how and what they taught.

“The department as a whole said some of the things we’re teaching the kids aren’t relevant to today’s world,” she said. “Music is not created by writing it on a piece of paper with a grand staff.”

That’s why she pushed more opportunities for composing electronically on programs like the GarageBand app. Funding from the District 153 Foundation, the Parent Music Association and a single private grant from a donor helped the school create the lab and actualize that vision. Now, the lab contains about 20 work stations, where kids can use Apple computers to compose and modify music and create podcasts on GarageBand. The lab also is home to 12 keyboards. 

Olsen said she has enjoyed seeing the kids work with GarageBand the most. 

“It’s a small version of what all the professionals make in the studios but it allows them to take something, record it and say ‘I want this louder, I want this softer, I want to have this special effect here and drag stuff in, figure out if they like it, erase it,” she said. “It’s like a brand new toy and they’re not sitting there with a pencil and paper going ‘where’s G on the treble clef?’”

When asked what she will miss the most about teaching, she said “the kids. No question.”

“It’s also the staff and the environment but it will really be the children,” she said. 

She isn’t sure what she wants to do in her retirement. But she said she will find something because she’s “one of those people who can’t stay home.”

She is thankful for the children and the families she’s worked with for making her job so enjoyable, calling the administration and District 153 “amazing.” 

“Nobody ever says ‘you can’t do that’ and nobody ever says ‘don’t do that.’ Everybody works together, so it’s really a great place to work,” she added.