Golden strings: Matthew Olson teaches all ages

Matthew Olson teaching Islay Ross of Friday Harbor.

Matthew Olson teaching Islay Ross of Friday Harbor.

When practice equals gelato, it’s hard to put down that violin.

Matthew Olson, director of the Orcas String Studio, has creative ways of encouraging his students to play their instruments. In addition to rewarding his young musicians with ice cream at the conclusion of a semester, a violin-playing mouse named Reepicheep is always present, hiding his instrument for students to find, leaving footprints on the walls, and writing a blog.

“I have more ideas than I know what to do with,” said Olson, who made an Indiana Jones-style film trailer outlining the “practice=gelato” contest.

From his studio behind the main stage at Orcas Center, he teaches violin, viola, and fiddle to 20 students whose ages range from four to 55.

“I have a growing number of adults interested in taking up the violin – especially the fiddle,” he said.

Olson is on Orcas from Tuesday to Thursday, giving one-on-one sessions and bringing all of his pupils together for group classes. He has a studio in Bellingham on Mondays and Fridays.

“My younger students require a lot of parental encouragement,” he said. “Parents are the home practice coach. They come to the lessons, watch, and take notes. The more involved the parent, the more progress a student makes.”

Several of his more advanced younger students have formed the “Allegro Performance Group.” Olson is on the look-out for community events where the group can perform. All of his students will be on a float in the July 4th parade with Gene Nery on double bass.

Olson was trained by some of the top Suzuki teachers and educators in the country. The Suzuki method begins with learning to play music by ear and later progresses to reading music. Olson has been performing since the age of three as a soloist and chamber and orchestral musician across the country and abroad. He was Concertmaster of the Kansas City Ballet Orchestra and Associate Concertmaster and Assistant Concertmaster of several orchestras and chamber orchestras.

Olson has been teaching on Orcas for nine years, but his new space at Orcas Center is the first official studio he has set up.

“Developing a studio is a slow process,” he said. “The best studios grow by word of mouth. I now have a spread of students and it gives you so many options for performing.”

Olson has also been the musician-in-residence for the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival for the past two years, sending him into the Orcas public school music program to work with the students of Pamela Wright and Martin Lund.

“I started teaching and realized that it’s what I really love – helping someone take a difficult process and turn it into achievable steps,” Olson said.

To reach Olson, call 317-4145.