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Life by the strings

Colonie Central grad and cellist inducted into school's Hall of Fame

Kenneth Olsen (right) performs with Yo Yo Ma at the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago in May.

Kenneth Olsen (right) performs with Yo Yo Ma at the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago in May. Submitted photo

— Since 1994, the high school has honored more than 55 graduates in the Hall of Fame. This year, Music Department Chairman Peter Cannistraci nominated Olsen, who began playing cello in third grade at Shaker Road Elementary School.

“I’m thrilled that he’s been accepted. I think it’s overdue,” Cannistraci said. “Music is such a competitive field. If someone goes into music performance, they have very little chance of making it as a performer. Kenny is the only one I know that has been able to do that.”

Cannistraci said when Olsen was his student in his senior year of high school, it was his modesty that stood out.

“Sometimes kids who are very good think highly of themselves. Kenny wasn’t like that at all. He was very unassuming,” Cannistraci said. “You would never know the caliber of his musicianship because he wouldn’t tell you. But you would know when he started playing.”

Picking up the instrument seemed second nature for Olsen. After he’d been playing the cello for a short time, his music teacher called his parents, both musicians themselves, to suggest private lessons.

“I think he realized it was something I was going to excel in. I think it was something that came naturally to me,” Olsen said, adding he listened to classical music as a child.

He started with a private tutor and when she moved away, he began traveling down to Poughkeepsie every Saturday to take lessons with Luis Garcia-Renart, a professor at Bard College.

Starting to feel connected to his instrument, Olsen began playing in a long string of groups. He joined the Empire State Youth Orchestra in seventh grade. Every summer in high school, he tried a different musical program, including the New York State School of Music Association at Skidmore College and Boston University’s Tanglewood Young Artists Orchestra.

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