Olivia Diercks and Karla Colahan are not music educators. They do not have music education degrees. They studied cello and violin performance at Luther College, respectively.
However, if you were to follow them around last week, you’d find them educating students in music in Alexandria Public Schools.
The two are professional musicians in a new-classical crossover duo, the OK Factor, and as part of Classical Minnesota Public Radio’s Class Notes Concerts program they visited the district’s six elementary schools.
Classical MPR’s Class Notes Concerts program brings Minnesota-based artists to schools across the state so elementary and middle school students can learn about and experience live music from professionals.
Besides performing, the OK Factor also taught students about music, composing and instruments. The duo selected student volunteers to come up and create their own music by singing melodies and patting a rhythm their laps.
Diercks and Colahan both shared a love of educating, which inspired them to want to become a part of Class Notes. This is the second time they’ve been a part of the program. They also launched their own education initiative last summer, Atlas.
“This Class Notes program, even more than the one we did two years ago, really resonates with what we are passionate about and what we most want students to understand,” Diercks said.
The two women met in Luther College’s orchestra in 2009. They weren’t friends until 2012 and that was when they started performing together as a duo.
“It took us a long time to figure out what our offerings could be,” Colahan said.
They now live in Minneapolis and have both been playing their instruments for 24 years. They have dedicated their lives to music; their full-time job description is to perform and educate at schools, perform at concerts or venues, run a business, write music and practice together.
The two try to tell their story of who they are and connect and reach their audiences through the music they write.
The best part about traveling around to schools throughout the state has been the kids, Diercks said. This particular age group, K-6, is ideal because they’re not too cool for school quite yet.
“They’re still fun and they still are excited and willing to come up and volunteer and not super ashamed or bashful,” Diercks said. “That makes our program all the more fun. We really feed off of their energy.”
Colahan said the fact that students can interact with their performance makes for a more memorable experience.
“We could come up here and play for them, but we want them to be a part of the musical experience and see that there’s not one right way to do things; to see that they have their own unique musical voice,” Colahan said.
Alexandria district music teacher Ray Noble arranged the visits. He prepared the students for the performances with lesson plans from MPR.
“It was really cool to see the kids’ reactions for just how long they had been playing and maybe putting themselves in their shoes if they want to try an instrument,” he said.
Noble said the program benefited the students and showed them that they can make a living performing music.
Morgan Scherber, third grade teacher at Carlos Elementary, said her students didn’t know what to expect initially. She got the students excited, and they ended up loving the OK Factor.
It taught students they can easily create music and that everyone can do it, she said.
“They really liked being able to create the rhythm and the melody and they actually got to create with the girls rather than just having to listen the whole time,” Scherber said. “They were really engaged with that part of it.”