Mike Olson was born to Ben and Cleo Olson on September 18, 1943 at the naval base in Kingsville, Texas. Mike went to kindergarten and 1st grade in Flour Bluff, Texas, and then moved many times during WWII and the Korean War He settled for a time in Sunnyvale, California, where he joined the beginning band. Playing on a smelly, school-owned trumpet, Mike quickly demonstrated a talent for music and this experience began his lifelong love of music and bands. The Olson family settled in Mesquite, Texas where Mike became a member of the Mesquite Skeeter High School Band directed by William E. Hooper. Mike and his sister Becky, a clarinetist in the band, had much fun performing many creative halftime shows. One in particular stands out. At the top of the pop music charts at the time was a tune called, Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. They formed a shapely female figure on the field and stretched two yellow polka-dotted fabrics across strategic locations on the formation. Two of the eight sousaphonists positioned themselves under the top cloth at just the right places as they played the music. By the way, the eight sousaphone players had numerous challenges the week prior to see who would get the honor. Needless to say, the crowd went wild and the quiet rodeo town of Mesquite was abuzz about the previous night’s entertainment. In Mike’s mind, he saw himself as band director, enjoying making music with young people.
In high school, Mike took private lessons from the SMU brass teacher and former principal horn for the NBC Symphony, Alfred Resch. During these weekly lessons he was called, “Dumbkoff and Schniklefritz,” and endured being popped on the fingers with a pencil to return to a good hand position, Mike learned the discipline needed to develop into a good player. Because of good teaching and hard work, Mike made the All-State Orchestra his junior year and made the All-State Band in his senior year. In 1961, he went on to major in music education at North Texas State University, where he was highly influenced by his teachers, Maurice McAdow, John Haynie, George Morey, Leon Brown and Leon Breeden. In his junior year, Mike taught at Lake Dallas Junior High and after receiving the Bachelor of Music degree with a high recommendation from Mr. McAdow, Mike and his wife, Pat, moved in 1966 to McAllen, Texas, for Mike to start a career as a band director.
Mike credits much of his success as a band director to his years in McAllen working with head band director, L.M. Snavely, and the other teachers on the staff, Ronnie Smith, Art Ratley, Ralph Bolls and Hugo Gonzalez. Other influential directors in the McAllen band program that Mike were Garry Garner, Gary Zook and Chris Lang. From the observance of their teaching techniques and their mentoring, Mike developed as a band director. He taught the brass players in the school district, conducted the high school concert band and the Lamar Junior High Band. Students in these groups won many first divisions and many placed high in the region band. The high school band was named the TMEA Honor Band and played a memorable concert in 1969 at the convention. The next morning at the honor band director’s workshop, someone commented on the beautiful playing by the French horn section. Mike will never forget L.M. saying, “Those are Mike Olson’s French horns.” This comment really made an impression on Mike to always give the credit to everyone involved in the success of the organization. He remembers another comment at the session about the wonderful intonation during the band’s performance, followed by a question about what method is used to achieve such good tuning. L.M. answered, “Just listen.” These were the years that formed many of Mike’s ideas about band tone and techniques for teaching. The many talented and close-nit band directors in the Rio Grande Valley had a great influence on him. After the monthly region meetings, many of the band directors would meet at a local restaurant in Weslaco and exchange ideas. In the spring, many of the band directors would help each other by doing section rehearsals for each other. Also during those years, Mike played trumpet in the Otis Claxton Danceband, the Border Brass, and was a soloist for the Lyford High School Band, playing “La Virgen de la Macarena” and “A Trumpeters Lullaby.” The band was directed by W.R. Snavely. In addition, he played in a trio with Garry Garner and Rafael Mendez as part of a concert with the McHi Band. Mike received a Master’s in Trumpet degree from NTSU during those years and in 1969, he and Pat were blessed to have their first child, Traci.
In 1972, Mike was hired as the head band director at Lampasas High School. In his second year, the band made the first sweepstakes in its history and made first divisions at Six Flags Over Mid-America, where one of the judges, William D. Revelli, stated, “A very good sound - well conceived and rehearsed - excellent quality and sensitivity. You are a superior teacher.” The Badger Band was also honored to perform a marching show as the visiting band at Baylor University’s first home game. The three very successful years of the Lampasas High School Band were due in part to the fine teaching by Dwayne Bishop and later, by Joyce Snow. At TBA before summer band started, Dan Gibbs and Ronnie Smith kidnapped Mike to their hotel room and spent a day teaching this young band director charting with colored pens, how to use segues in the show design and how to organize instrumental squads. Mike left TBA with a box of charts and invaluable ideas to improve his marching band. In the early years, before Mike arrived on the scene, the band was well on its way when W.R. Snavely was band director and then Wayne Tucker.
In 1975, the Olsons, now numbering five, with the addition of daughters Teri and Tristin, moved to Corpus Christi where Mike became the head band director at Tuloso-Midway High School. The students were very hard-working and enthusiastic and made the school’s first sweepstakes that first year. A team-teaching approach was implemented in the T-M band program with the band directors at every class and a band curriculum established for 6th-12th grades. Talented teachers such as Wanda Robinson, Dwight Behr, Raymundo Gonzalez, Dennis Huthison and Ed Wasson were responsible for the band program’s success. Some of the accomplishments of the T-M High School Band were receiving consistent 1st divisions at UIL and band festivals in Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, Tennessee and Florida, and winning many “Best in Class” awards. The band advanced to the area and state marching contests, was designated TMEA Honor Band finalist twice, was featured band at Disneyworld, featured band at the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, marched in the Cotton Bowl Parade, and was one of the two featured bands at pre-game and halftime. The T-M bands were in a very strong, competitive region of the state and the friendly rivalry between Jim Vanlandingham and the Gregory Portland bands, as well as Jeff Stone and the Callallen bands kept all of us, teachers and students, striving for the best in ourselves.
In 1992, Mike became the Tivy High School band director where the band continued its winning ways and kept alive the school’s motto, “Tivy Fight Never Dies.” In 1996, Mike went to Boerne to be the assistant band director, where he helped with the marching band, the middle school bands and conducted the high school concert band. In the two years as conductor of this group, the band made 1st divisions in UIL Concert and Sightreading.
In each of these 32 years of teaching, one of the great pleasures for Mike was teaching beginners. In 1998 when he taught beginners in the Comal ISD at Arlon Seay Intermediate School, the beginner enrollment went from 115 to 250 students. In 2003, Mike taught beginners at Hernandez Intermediate School and then retired in 2005 after 39 years as a Texas band director. He is a past president of Texas Bandmasters Association and a member of Phi Beta Mu, having served on the Board of Directors and several committees. Mike also is a member of Phi Mu Alpha, TBA, TMEA and a charter member of TMAA. He has been on the UIL Advisory Board, TMEA Region Band Chairman, UIL Delius Award Nominee, in Who’sWho of American Teachers and is a founding advisor for the Foundation for Music Education. He is kept busy as guest clinician, adjudicator and consultant both in and outside of Texas. Mike is presently the associate conductor for the Heart of Texas concert band, performs with his trumpet in the San Antonio area and is very active in the New Braunfels Presbyterian Church.
Mike’s greatest achievement is to have kept his wife Pat happy for 45 years and to have three wonderful daughters, Traci, Teri and Tristin; two handsome sons-in-law, Richard and Joe; and five and a half energetic and smart grandchildren - Scott Michael, Brett William, Taylor Elizabeth, Erin Avery, Cole David and ??
Many people, besides the band director, are responsible for the success of any band program starting with the students, the community, the teaching staff and the many other band directors who help along the way. Mike has learned from many persons mentioned above, but additionally, the clinicians of the WTSU band camp, the clinicians of the TLU band camp, and in particular, Bryce Taylor, Fred Junkin, Dr. Gary Garner, J.R. McEntyre, Bill Dean, Dan Gibbs, Rey Meza and Glenn Richter.
Mike is truly honored to take his place among the many great band directors of the Phi Beta Mu Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame.