Nathaniel and Julianne Olson are the definition of a “power couple.”
Since getting married in 2014, the two have performed across the country and the world, taught voice at a university in Indonesia, and set the ambitious goal of completing their doctoral degrees together in just three years.
This week, a goal that seems unattainable to most will be realized, as the two vocalists graduate from UNC Greensboro’s Doctor of Musical Arts program.
The Olsons are honest: There have certainly been bumps along the way.
There were two broken laptops their first semester that forced the couple to share a computer for the remainder of the first year.
There was the summer when Nathaniel, now a musician in the Army Reserve, was gone for two months at basic training, and ended up with pneumonia and sepsis.
And there were lots of long days of studying, researching, teaching, and performing.
But it’s been more than worth it. The Olsons are passionate about being both strong educators and skilled performers, and it shows. The energy they have in the classroom is exciting. Because both continue to perform on a regular basis, they often incorporate that real-life experience in their teaching.
They landed at UNCG for two main reasons: the quality of the voice pedagogy program and the livability of Greensboro. For the doctorate-seeking duo, the ability to pay their bills and graduate without any debt was a priority.
But perhaps the best part of UNCG was the faculty mentorship. The two shared a voice coach, Dr. James Douglass, and a voice teacher, Dr. Robert Bracey, who were both highly influential in their development
“The faculty here never tried to make me an artist that I’m not,” says Julianne. “Dr. Bracey has always let me have my voice. He’s worked with what I have and complemented that and allowed me to be me. He never tried to put me in a box.”
For example, Julianne’s dissertation focuses on environmental protest music in Washington state – not the typical research topic for someone studying vocal performance and pedagogy. Bracey and the rest of her committee – Sarah Dorsey and Dr. Gavin Douglas – were supportive of Julianne’s research interests from day one.
Dorsey became like extended family, walking the Olsons’ dog when Nathaniel was in the hospital with sepsis. Douglas and Dr. Nadja Cech, a chemist, are neighbors of the couple, and were always available to help the two navigate teaching and research.
Dr. Robert Wells, who teaches vocal pedagogy, was a great resource for teaching-related questions.
“There’s a lot of faculty mentorship,” says Nathaniel. “Faculty have been especially proactive and supportive in helping us with this next step.”
What is that next step? With offers on the table, what they do know is that they will continue teaching at the college level, performing professionally, and inspiring students to pursue their own artistic passions.
As they prepare to leave UNCG and embark on a new journey, there’s one life lesson that deeply resonates.
“Every single person is capable of so much more than they think. It’s so easy to limit oneself – to think, ‘I can’t sing that high note, we both can’t do our doctorates, I can’t join the Army,’” Nathaniel says. “But you’d be surprised. Every person has so much more potential, and it’s just about not limiting oneself.”
Learn more about the Olsons’ UNCG experience in the video below.
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography by Jiyoung Park, University Communications
Videography by Grant Evan Gilliard and Christopher Bozzano, University Communications