FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — “I teach and play music to share my love of music with others — that’s why I joined the military — I knew I could make music for the others quite significantly.”
And last month, SPC. That’s exactly what Douglas Olenik, tuba player of the 399th Army Band and sound leader of the Route 66 Brass Band, led two high school bands at two different gigs: one at the Pennsylvania Music’s District 5 Junior High Festival Educators Association. in Greenville, Pennsylvania, and the other at his alma mater, Norwayne High School, in Creston, Ohio.
In the fall of 2021, Dan Danch, the PMEA District 5 festival host and group director at Greenville High School, contacted Olenik and asked if he could lead the district’s 94 ninth-grade honor group students. during the event.
According to Olenik, students from District 5, which includes Beaver, Butler, Lawrence and Mercer counties in western Pennsylvania, auditioned for the honor band. A committee of area band directors – many of whom attended college with Olenik – organized the set based on these auditions and formed a band that performed at the festival on March 29 at Greenville High. School.
It’s “kind of like putting together an ‘all-star’ team of student musicians,” said Olenik, who has a bachelor’s degree in music education from Youngstown State University and a master’s degree in music performance from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Rehearsals went all day, starting at 9 a.m., and the concert was at 7 p.m. – a long but fun day.”
On the eve of the PMEA District 5 festival, Olenik conducted two rehearsals with the band at Norwayne High School. This opportunity came after he heard that the group’s last concert could be postponed following the resignation of the group’s manager, he said.
“I emailed the manager and asked if there was anything I could do to help – noting when I would be driving in the area for the PMEA honor group which was already scheduled,” did he declare. “(The principal) asked me if I would be leading the high school orchestra on March 30, and after adjusting my TDY (temporary displacement), with the help of the command team, we were able to make it happen.”
Olenik said leading the Norwayne High School Concert Band was a unique experience.
“As an alum, it was kind of surreal to go back into the building and conduct in the hall where I used to go for music class 19 years ago,” he said. he declares. “I was honored to be there, hope to help them get excited about making music and see what an alumnus of the band does.”
It was also an emotional experience, he said.
“I owe so much of my music career to Norwayne, it was great to give back,” he said. “Note – one of the substitute teachers was my first band director – Mrs. Diana Kobs handed me my first instrument in 5th grade so there was a lot of emotion with the experience.”
Principal Doug Zimmerly said Norwayne is always happy for alumni to come back to school, “and especially when they’re in the military or ex-military.”
“I had Doug as an alumnus and I remembered him being the ‘tuba guy,'” Zimmerly said. “Our students and our community were honored to have a member of the military band work with them and conduct during their concert.”
The audience that night also moved Zimmerly.
“I was touched to see former classmates of Doug in attendance that night and very proud to hear his message to students and the community,” he said. “Many members of the community also wanted photos with him after the performance.”
According to 399th Army Band Commander, Warrant Officer Brian Dorgan, engagements like these are important for a number of reasons.
“First and foremost, from a talent management perspective, this shows that groups across the military and military are focused on finding, hiring and retaining soldiers/people with the talent needed not only to be experts in their craft, but to be trained and competent soldiers,” Dorgan said. “Spc. Olenik, like many other junior soldiers in the army music field, has years of teaching experience and other credentials that could rival some of our most senior leaders in the field.
Another big aspect, according to Dorgan, are the real face-to-face engagements with the audience.
“Spc. Olenik was able to talk to veterans in his hometown,” Dorgan said. “He listened to their fond memories of service, but also had the opportunity to answer their questions about his military experience and to let them know about all the great things happening here at Fort Leonard Wood.”
To help prepare for the two gigs, Olenik credited his educational background and former teachers.
“When I heard about these two opportunities, I was able to prepare for them quite quickly,” he said. I am grateful to all the great teachers I have had in my life to help prepare me for opportunities like these.
Prior to joining the military, Olenik was director of music at the local Ottawa-Glandorf School District in Ottawa-Glandorf, Ohio, teaching music from grades 5 through 12 – he is currently on leave from that position while he serves in the army. Prior to that, he worked as a conductor at Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky.
He said it’s exciting to share music with future music teachers and performers.
“The skills students learn through music also apply to many other facets of life,” Olenik said. “It’s so exciting to see students light up when we make great music together. Being in front of the honor band really took me back to my teaching days and reminded me how much I love sharing music with young music makers.