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Check Out Olivia Diercks and Karla Colahan’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Olivia Diercks and Karla Colahan.

Hi Olivia and Karla, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
We have played our instruments since we were four and five years old. We played all through our childhoods and both decided to study music at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa — where we met. We played in both the symphony and chamber orchestras together as early as freshman year, but really began to get to know each others’ style of playing after forming a hip-hop string group called Strangz. Yes – with a ‘z’!

Our junior year, we attended an Eileen Ivers concert as part of Luther’s Center Stage Series. The joy and passion she exuded on stage stopped us in our tracks, and we came away from that experience wondering if we could ever experience something like that. Olivia went back to her dorm that night and wrote the opening to our very first tune — Naomi and the French Toast.

The summer between our junior and senior years (and the minute we got back on campus) we wrote music together, sending recordings back and forth and holing up in practice rooms. Our first concert was in the fall of 2012, featuring eight original tunes. The feeling we had after that first show is really indescribable. But it was such that Karla took Olivia out for coffee the next morning and basically said…we’re doing this, for real. How can I convince you, and how can we make this work?

The rest is history! We spent a couple years geographically apart but continued writing via Voice Memos and playing shows throughout the year and touring in the summers. We’ve been in Minneapolis as a duo since 2015, and are celebrating our 10th anniversary this year!

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
It depends on how you define smooth! To be honest, there hasn’t ever been a time that either of us have doubted our commitment to the duo or our passion for writing music together. And luckily, (and thanks to Karla’s diligence and coaching) our communication has only improved over the last 10 years. So in those respects, things have been smooth. But there have been many trying circumstances, disappointments, and doubts of our career path that have created difficulties along the way, and we’ve had to work through them. The pandemic has certainly been one of the toughest periods of our career to-date. While many musicians speak of the pandemic as a very creative, experimental (albeit dark) period for them, it was the opposite for us. We both currently work a couple additional part-time jobs to supplement our music, when in 2018-19 we had our strongest financial year ever, playing music full-time. That was a difficult blow, and one that we haven’t fully recovered from. There have also been many an audition, showcase, conference, agent tria periodl, what have you, that haven’t gone the way we’d hoped, leaving us feeling a bit defeated and wondering if what we’re doing is really something people are interested in.

The silver lining in all of this is that, as we said before, we have always come back to our commitment and passion for what we do. When we think of our favorite artists, or really our favorite human beings, they are those who can’t seem to contain the excitement and joy their craft brings them (whether or not their craft is their career). That joy is toxic, and it is just that kind of joy our world so desperately needs. Especially when it is a shared experience with others in the same room. If we can offer that experience to a single person who sees or hears us play, we feel we are making a difference in the world. And that has always steered us in the right direction, even when all else has seemed uncertain.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
We are a new-classical crossover, cello-violin duo based in Minneapolis, MN. We primarily write and perform original music, and also arrange folk tunes and other familiar songs. In addition to writing and performing, we are extremely passionate about residency work, and educational outreach with students of all ages. Currently, we are extremely proud of our improvisation clinic, which we have been offering for a few years. We have honed and refined it and feel it is one of our most successfully executed outreach offerings. By the end of the clinic, every single participant understands that improvisation is a skill that can and should be practiced — not a talent that is bestowed upon a few lucky candidates. Participants are also given three simple steps to practice to craft a solo, breaking a solo down to its very minute elements and, we hope, removing some of the intimidation.

What we hope sets us apart is our authenticity and realness with who we are and what we do. We do not set out to be Irish fiddlers, or bluegrass players, or jazz improvisers. We are who we are — a conglomeration of all we see and hear and love about the music and musicians that stir us. And we bring that authenticity into the classroom and onto the stage, relating with students and audiences on a personal level.

Risk taking is a topic that people have widely differing views on – we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Building a career in a creative profession is always a risk. There are no corporate ladders to climb, no roadmap for financial success, and the harsh but present truth that no one is as invested in our music as we are. However, our success is thanks to our families, the community of people who love our music, and a healthy dose of stubbornness. To be successful in anything requires a stubborn, sometimes blind, belief in what you do. We also feel extremely fortunate that the support for our music has grown over time and provided us with steady wind in our sails even as our live performance opportunities have dwindled in the last few years due to COVID.

We have also strived to prioritize the goals we have for our lives outside of our career, like starting families and raising children. Olivia has a 3-year-old son, Charlie, and is welcoming a baby girl at the end of May. Karla is a proud mama to two golden retrievers, Lucy and Franklin. Our musical life has never been the kind where we want to be gone for months on end touring, and while it has been a risk to grow our families while building a less-than-lucrative creative career, we have yet to be disappointed with our choice to place importance on relationships and family while simultaneously pursuing our music.

And lastly, our goal to be authentic in how we present ourselves and our music has occasionally been risky. It would have been easy to “wear more sequins” instead of our traditional uniform of jeans and boots, or play covers of popular tunes instead of our own original music, as was suggested by “industry professionals” to appear more palatable. We do not feel the need to bend to what “sells” in order to be successful and have instead found that it is precisely the authenticity and relatability of ourselves and our music that wins audiences over, time and again. And we refuse to believe audiences cannot or will not come into a performance space with an open mind, ready for surprise and vulnerability. It is always a risk to be truly and unabashedly yourself on stage, and for us, that’s part of the thrill.

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Image Credits

Jessica Holleque
Cheryl Dietmeyer

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