BSU Sings…Literally: Olson Produces Vocal Coaching to Schools Across the Nation

Dr. Jennifer Olson

Dr. Jennifer Olson, BSU assistant professor of music.

Bemidji State University music professor Dr. Jennifer Olson has used the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to bring music to more than 11,000 high school students with a video series called BSU Sings!.

“We’re operating in a virtual world, but that doesn’t mean that students should lose out on the opportunity to continue learning about singing and participating in choir,” the assistant professor said.

Knowing the pandemic would likely affect music programs across the nation disproportionately, Olson started BSU Sings!, an educational resource for vocal music educators teaching middle and high school students.

“Generally speaking, music programs have to recruit students into their programs from the general student body,” she said. “Through BSU Sings! I can help encourage students to join their music programs.”

BSU Sings logo

Currently, there are two seasons of BSU Sings! and each season correlates with the academic semester with episodes released every Friday. Season one, which began in August 2020 and ended in Dec. 2020, covered topics including performance anxiety, intervals and preparing music. Season two, beginning in Jan. 2021, has so far covered vowels, consonants and vibrato.

What started as a modest, one-person production quickly grew into a national resource series in more than 95 schools in a matter of months. Reaching 60 schools and over 6500 students on Olson’s work alone, the growth and success of the program called for additional support.

Now, four Bemidji State students are helping Olson with production, videography and subscription management.

Hailing from Bemidji and pursuing degrees in mass communications and music education, BSU senior Madeline Hodgkins joined Olson’s team in Fall 2020 as editor and producer. Her fall semester participation not only advanced BSU Sings!, but also fulfilled her capstone experience in the Department of Integrated Media.

Senior Carolyn Smith, a psychology and music student from Grand Forks, North Dakota, is the head of subscriber development for BSU Sing! and is strategically compiling a master list of all secondary music educators.

“The pandemic has been tough on many teachers, but this is a project that can provide a little relief to the chaos of flex learning,” Smith said. “We are now connected with 110 teachers who use BSU Sings!”

Karley Hansen, a mass communications sophomore from Grand Rapids, Minn., and Megan Majewski, a social studies education junior from Elgin, Illinois, are the newest members of the BSU Sings! team and are working as assistants to Hodgkins and Smith.

“We are systematically working through each state and have almost doubled our impact since I’ve gotten help,” Olson said. “The program started with only schools in Minnesota but we now have schools from North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Arizona subscribed.

Currently, subscriptions to BSU Sings! are limited to those who are contacted by the subscriber development team. The next phase of this endeavor will include in-person meetings with subscribed schools, Olson said, and phase three will invite students to Bemidji State to interact with a collegiate-level music department.

Phase two of BSU Sings! will begin quicker than Olson expected on March 19 with a visit to Hibbing High School where she will work with faculty- and student-subscribers in person.

“BSU Sings! offers BSU the chance to reach into the void and provide a desperately needed service to music educators,” Olson continued. “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.”