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Artist of the Month - August 2018

Written By Jim T. Gammill
Arts Council Menifee

Joseph Olivarez was born in Fontana California. His parents were real estate investors and due to the nature of their profession, the Olivarez family moved often during Josephs youth. In fact, the family moved around 20 times before Joseph had even made it out of elementary school. Eventually, the family found themselves taking up residence in Oahu, Hawaii where Joseph attended the 4th and 5th grade. It was here that Joseph had his first experience performing music in front of a crowd.

“All of the 3rd and 4th graders learned two songs to perform at the school’s Christmas concert,” Olivarez recalls, “the standard Mele Kalikimaka, and Hot Cup of Cocoa. I would say that it had an impact on me considering that I can still remember the words and the dance moves!”

Eventually, his parents separated and the family moved back to the mainland. Joseph’s father settled in Riverside County, while Joseph and his younger sister ended up staying with their mother in San Diego. It was while attending school in San Diego that Joseph found himself really getting into what would become one of his life’s driving passions... music!

Olivarez felt a connection with the church music that he had heard throughout his childhood and loved the way that the musicians in the church band would play so organically and in the moment. Joseph still remembers the wonder that he felt when he first observed his parents and the other adults in the congregation singing with no ego, vocal insecurities, or embarrassment. As an educator, Joseph uses dancing games and other fun exercises to replicate these same feelings of comfort, joy, and community inside his classroom.

Joseph’s musical horizons truly started to broaden during his freshman year at Torrey Pines High School.

“I bought a Fender precision bass from my friend’s older brother. It was white, old, and awesome. I took a handful of lessons and before I knew it I was memorizing bass lines by ear. Everything from Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Police, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, you name it!”

Joseph loved to ‘jam’ with his friends and one of the bands that he was a member of won Battle of the Bands at The Belly-Up Tavern in Solana Beach. Joseph had found a new love in rock n roll, but his involvement in the church also continued to progress; he played guitar and sang for the youth services, led bible studies, and even taught Sunday school.

After graduating high school, Olivarez moved back to Hawaii, where he found himself doing odd jobs and performing at music gigs while attending community college. This proved to be a challenge at times, especially since Joseph was also trying to satiate his newly formed surf habit whenever he could. During his time in Hawaii, Joseph took on a couple of jobs that would influence his future. One was working as a caretaker for two elementary school kids that had parents with jobs that required them to travel often. As time went on, the job seemed less like work and more like a familial responsibility; one of the kids had skeletal muscular dystrophy and needed a lot of attention. Joseph’s duties included everything from baseball practice, to packing lunches, to math tutoring, and most importantly, constant attention. A while later, Olivarez found himself tutoring Samoans for the American Citizenship exam.

“It was a transformative experience to devote my weekends to tutor people studying to take the US Citizenship test. It was also very impactful. I worked with adults; most were older than me, with much more wisdom and life experience. I made some great friends while I was doing it, and just like with the two kids from before, I got to witness the transformative powers of education,” Olivarez said.

Five years after graduating high school, Joseph decided to begin his college education. It was partly because of the joys of educating others in Hawaii that Joseph decided to pursue both music and teaching in college. He returned to the mainland to earn his undergraduate degree from The University of San Diego. During the course of his educational career, he received several musical scholarships. While in attendance, Joseph also played string bass, studied piano, and played many memorable shows, some of which were international.

Joseph chose to go straight into graduate school upon completion of his undergraduate degree and was accepted into Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There he focused on Music Education with an emphasis in composition. It was at Carnegie Mellon that Olivarez had the opportunity to student teach for the late, Dr. Robert Page.

“He was a musical giant. His impact in choral music over the span of his career was immense. He was a Grammy award winning musician and even gave lessons to professional opera singers. His time was in high demand and his knowledge was sought after all the time. But he always had time to talk to me, to go out for lunch, or have me over for dinner at his house. I feel so fortunate to have spent time with him, witness his teaching methodology and learn from him. He had a huge impact in my music and my life.”

Teaching was a required part of the curriculum at Carnegie Mellon and Joseph taught classes in Pennsylvania as he was completing his coursework. After graduation, Olivarez began teaching K-8 students at Peabody Elementary School where he received recognition as the 2012 Music Teacher of the Year from the Albemarle Family Magazine. Eventually, Joseph found his way back to California, teaching first in Morro Bay and then coming to teach at Menifee’s Hans Christensen Middle School.

Olivarez found himself with big shoes to fill; as former ACM artist of the month recipient, Craig Yancey’s successor. Joseph took the assignment happily and did not miss a step in taking over where Mr. Yancey left off.

“My job is to make them better musicians,” Olivarez says of his students, “but my goal is to help them to be better people in the process.”

Education is something that Joseph takes very seriously and he feels very fortunate to have spent a great deal of time with Bell Mountain Middle School’s recently retired band teacher, Richard Kettner (also a past ACM artist of the month).

“I knew that deep down, the most important thing for me, was to live a life of service. Living a life, where I could give back to the greater good,” Olivarez reflects, “I heard this quote (paraphrased from David Viscott) from Richard Kettner during his last concert and I think that it really speaks volumes”:

“The purpose of life is to find your gift. The meaning is to give it away.”

“I respect him (Richard Kettner) tremendously as a teacher and even more as a human. He lived by this quote daily, and not just in his classroom, but by mentoring other teachers, giving life advice, and being a kind and thoughtful person.“

Olivarez is always trying to give his students the best opportunity to give back to their community and during his first year of teaching at HCMS, he has managed to provide the HCMS Jazz band with opportunities to play at the “MaryChrisMess House”, the Menifee 2017 Christmas tree lighting, as well as a “Breakfast with Santa” event held at the Kay Ceniceros Senior Center. His advocacy for the importance of community outreach certainly does not stop there.

Joseph played a critical roll in helping to make the 2018 Menifee’s Got Talent event a success. He was able to use his past experience with live sound to make Arts Council Menifee’s first event at HCMS an absolute success!

Colleen Ackerman, Arts Council Menifee Trustee and organizer of Menifee’s Got Talent, had the following to say about Joseph Olivarez:

“Joseph was absolutely wonderful helping us with Menifee's Got talent this year. His high level of enthusiasm, can do spirit, and positive energy is only equaled by his expertise in sound and stage managing. He helped make this year's MGT the most successful yet. We are looking forward to working with him again in the future.”

When he isn’t teaching the next generation of musicians or helping with community events, Joseph enjoys practicing Jiu-Jitsu, spending time with his dogs; Fritz and Crosby, and preparing for the birth of his first child with his wife, Kialynn.

Arts Council Menifee is proud to name Joseph Olivarez as August’s Artist of the Month.

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