Wanda Olsen loves to sing and her passion is sharing the power of song with others.
She has been singing barbershop, a very challenging unaccompanied style of harmonizing, since she was a child growing up in Osgoode, outside of Ottawa.
“The first time I heard my uncle and cousins sing barbershop, I knew that is what I wanted to do,” she says. “The harmony is really what I love and the challenges of being four voices together.”
Olsen sang with Sudbury’s Delltones for more than 20 years. When the chorus disbanded, she became a founding member and associate director of Nickel City Sound in 1996. For the past seven years, she has been the director of the popular Sudbury women’s chorus.
With Olsen’s guidance, women with very little musical training or experience can enjoy making music and friends. Numerous studies report the physical, social, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits of singing.
“For every woman who claims she cannot sing, Wanda has welcomed her and shown her otherwise. For every woman who has said she cannot perform on stage, Wanda has encouraged and applauded her progress,” wrote members of chorus in their CBA nomination package.
“Olsen has championed the philosophy that a chorus is a place where all women can belong, making Nickel City Sound an organization where many individuals have found their personal voice as well as their singing voice.”
She was hesitant to take over directing the chorus because she did not have formal training. Still, she took up the challenge and under her direction, Nickel City Sound finished in the top 10 at international competitions six times. Last year, the 45-member chorus finished first in Ontario.
Nickel City Sound is a member of the international organization Harmony Inc.
Olsen, a retired administrator at Falconbridge Ltd., is well respected by the barbershop music community and she has generously given her time to help coach women in other northern communities.
Nickel City Sound performs many benefit concerts during the year and also performs at seniors’ homes.
“When we go into the seniors’ home to sing, it is so nice to see them singing too,” Olsen says.
Well known for the singing valentines they deliver, Nickel City Sound is currently working on a Christmas music CD.
For several years Olsen and chorus members formed coaching teams that taught community groups the art of four-part a cappella singing. The groups then performed at the When I Sing concerts. The title of the project was based on the song When I Sing with lyrics that go on to say, “I just feel a lot better when I sing.” Nickel City Sound was lauded by the city for its contribution to community wellness in 2013.
“That was probably a highlight for me. It was so much fun,” she says.
Olsen is an example of this city’s extraordinary volunteers.
“How do you charge for something you love doing?” she asks.