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Dynamo music teacher leads Towson High students to perform at Disney

In addition to his duties as a member of the Towson High music department, John Olin has developed at least one other — unrelated, yet necessary — talent.

"People kid me and tell me I could have been a travel agent," said Olin, referring to his spearheading the recent trip the Towson High marching band, chorus and orchestra took to perform at Disney World, in Orlando, Fla., over spring break a couple of weeks ago.

The 32-year-old Towson resident was the take-charge guy who organized the trip for 192 students and 42 adults on the five-day excursion to the Sunshine State.

The bus left at noon on Friday, April 11, and arrived in Orlando around the time the park opened the next morning.

The idea behind the trip was to give the students a unique performance experience in a fun atmosphere.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime event," Olin said. "Most of the kids will never have another opportunity to perform in place like that with their peer group. There's a performance and social aspect that draws people to it."

The marching band had the biggest crowd watching it play the school's adopted fight song, "On, Wisconsin" and a tune popularized in the 1980s by David Lee Roth, "Just a Gigolo, I Ain't Got Nobody," for the night parade in the Magic Kingdom at the renowned theme park.

"There were so many people lining the streets," said Rose Alon, 16, a Law and Public Policy magnet student from Pikesville, who plays the bass drum. "You could see some of them wearing their (Mickey) Mouse ears. That's the most nervous I've ever been for a parade."

Fellow sophomore Caitlin Pattanashetti, also 16, a member of the rifle line, said she had trouble hearing the music as she marched near the head of the band.

Even so, the Towson resident said, "It was a magical night, with the castle all lit up."

The band members were even allowed to feel like they were part of the Disney World performance troupe when they entered a pre-show room to prepare for their performance.

However, there was downside to the behind-the-scenes peek when they watched the performer inside the Mickey Mouse costume securing the iconic cartoon character's head in place.

"It was cool to be part of the performance, but it was kind of sad, too, to see the characters getting ready," Pattanashetti said.

Meanwhile, the orchestra and chorus enjoyed their big moments at Epcot Center, giving 30-minute performance on different days.

The orchestra's rendition of "Titanic composed" was especially memorable because it was performed, April 14, the 102nd anniversary of the night the supposedly indestructible ocean liner struck an iceberg in the frigid North Atlantic.

On April 15 at Epcot, the chorus sang six songs, the last of which ("Bridge Over Troubled Water") also featured an aquatic theme.

"Both performances went very well," Olin said.

His next mission was to shepherd the travelers back to Towson for a few days rest before classes resumed two days after Easter.

Afterward, it was not difficult for Olin to return to normal routines of a music department that has never been more popular.

Musical camaraderie

Of the school's 1,400 students, 607, or 43 percent, have requested to enroll in a music class for the 2014-2015 school year.

And that is a tribute to Olin, department head Dave Rhen and chorus director Derrick Jackson.

"We're like a team," Olin said. "And just like a team, we have camaraderie and spirit."

Completing the team theme are student stars, such as accomplished oboe player Jasper Igusa, who will study music at Olin's alma mater, Northwestern University. Top guitarist Chase Gordon is heading to the University of Maryland while advanced percussionist Emily Ciaccio will attend Shepherd University in West Virginia.

The program's most notable recent alumnus, Nico Sarbanes, will open for Dianne Reeves at the Montreal International Jazz Festival this summer while still studying at the acclaimed Schulich School of Musica at McGill University in the Canadian city.

"There is a fantastic chemistry between the three of us and we all bring a unique approach to music education," Rhen said. "We collaborate well to offer the best experience we can for the Towson students and we spend time together outside of school to plan and discuss the department's needs and goals."

Watching Olin teach a class playing the titular song from "Beauty and The Beast" on either a violin, viola, cello or bass, showed how students are allowed to flourish in his class.

When he started to sing the wrong lyrics, students gently guided him through the correct verses while he, in turn, made adjustments to their instrumentation.

After about 15 or 20 minutes of the give-and-take, with more deft prodding from Olin, the song's sound came out beautifully.

"He cares," Alon said. "You can always talk to him. He makes time for you."

Pattanashetti says that Olin's handling of the orchestra makes everyone better.

"You can see it his face," she said. "He says, 'My gosh, you guys are getting so much getter.' "

Towson High principal Charlene DeMino describes the department in glowing terms.

"Mr. Olin's passion for teaching inspires students on a daily basis," she said. "He recognizes the potential in every student and taps into the unique abilities and talents of every Towson General. Mr. Olin, Mr. Rhen and Mr. Jackson represent the 'Towson Trifecta', an embodiment of talent, leadership, and dedication."

Olin began playing the piano as a 5-year-old.

Yet when he discovered the trumpet in the fourth grade at Pot Spring Elementary School, he chose a new musical path to follow.

Considering his mother, Jane Marvine (French horn), and father, James Olin (trombone), are longtime members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra brass section, it hardly came as much of a surprise that their son's musical interests would more or less mirror their own.

John Olin says that once he started playing the trumpet, he "never stopped."

After graduating from Towson's archrival, Dulaney High School, he majored in music education and trumpet performance at Northwestern before earning a master's degree in music education at Boston University.

Since then, other than making sweet music at Towson, Olin and his wife and childhood sweetheart Rebecca are raising one daughter (Claire) and anticipating the arrival of another (Olivia) in June.

His kids, he says, will be encouraged to "find their own path" in life.

"It is OK with me if they don't do music, as long as they have something that keeps them engaged in school and puts them in a healthy social network," he said.

Olin's own teaching career, though, will continue to move in the same positive direction.

"You may not remember every class you attend in high school, but you will probably remember a music performance trip to DisneyWorld," he said. "I hope students taking music at Towson High School are getting the same great music education experience that I had as a BCPS student, (and) I am working hard to ensure that they are."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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