When Ken Olsen left home to become a professional cellist, he had no idea how rough life could be.
Until his bank account dropped to $90 last February, and he was beginning to grow tired of living out of a suitcase and spending many nights on the couches of friends. Still, he did whatever he could to ensure he got a full four hours of practice in every day, even if it meant practicing while his friends watched television.
Olsen had a hard time finding the orchestra he would call his family, though close friends say he never lost sight of his true calling in life. He tried out three times for openings in the cello section in the Boston Symphony Orchestra and twice he auditioned for the principal position, a position Empire State Youth Orchestra Manager Julie Shapiro labeled the highest honor a cellist can receive, in the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the San Diego Symphony.
Finally, he auditioned for a position as assistant principal, the second highest honor, in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Olsen received a call that he had got the position, and his life changed.
My life did a total 180 in one day -- upside down. I was freaking out, thinking, 'Here I am, in the cello section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and last week I didn't have a job, an apartment, or much of anything else,' he said.
While Olsen was surprised to have earned such a prestigious and high-paying title, old friends of his who knew him when he was younger, were not shocked to hear that he had made it to the top.
"I knew his teacher, and she said she'd never seen anyone play this well," said Shapiro, who used to manage Olsen while he was playing in the Empire State Youth Orchestra.