Kalil Olsen, a 17-year-old high school student from East Lansing, Michigan, was named the first recipient of the Brian Jemelian Award for Outstanding Achievement, following his piano performance at the week-long “Celebrating the Spectrum” at Michigan State University this past summer.
The Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute (YMWI) presented the award to Olsen during a special ceremony held on November 28—Giving Tuesday—at Marshall Music in Lansing, Michigan. It recognizes the exceptional achievement of talented, young musicians across the United States and was established in memory of Brian Jemelian, who passed away in July, having served as a senior vice president at Yamaha and as a member of the board of directors at YMWI.
Yamaha Corporation of America also presented Olsen with a brand new Clavinova CVP-705B digital piano, while Marshall Music donated the move of the instrument to his home.
Olsen, a musician on the autism spectrum, has been playing piano, along with other instruments, since early childhood. He is a senior at East Lansing High School and studies with Dr. Derek Polischuk, MSU associate professor of piano, who also teaches students on the autism spectrum. Last summer, Dr. Polischuk urged Olsen to enroll for a second year with “Celebrating the Spectrum: A Festival of Music and Life,” a program held at the College of Music’s Cook Recital Hall on the Michigan State University campus. The festival is designed to give qualified advanced pre-college students on the autism spectrum a preview of college life.
Olsen’s two-year enrollment in the program was sponsored by MSU alumni Merritt and Candy Lutz, who have a severely autistic son, Reed.
When Lori Frazer, Yamaha consultant to YMWI, met Olsen and his mother, Ann, at the festival, she learned about the dilapidated condition of the family’s piano. It was Olsen’s need and exceptional talent that were the reasons for him being named the first recipient of the award that also remembers Jemelian.
“If Brian were here with us today, he would have been extremely pleased that Kalil was able to greatly upgrade his keyboard and therefore his ability to express himself musically,” said Dr. Barry Bittman, YMWI board chairman, CEO and president. “The stars were fully in alignment, and YMWI is very honored to recognize such a deserving young man with our very first Brian Jemelian Award for Outstanding Achievement.”