During the pandemic, many have taken on new hobbies and passions like baking, cooking, exercising, and writing, to name a few. Laurel Springs rising senior, Oliviana Halus-Griep, took what she already knows best—music—and used her skills to make a difference in the lives of those impacted by COVID-19. Along with her friends, she put together “Slow the Spread Stream-a-thon,” a livestream YouTube event to support Flatten the Curve, a Los Angeles-based organization that delivers essential items (gloves, masks, and disinfectant supplies) to families and individuals affected by coronavirus. For the stream-a-thon, Oliviana crafted original lyrics for a song parody called “Covid Isolation.”
This is not the first instance of her talent and kindness at play. Oliviana’s compassion and commitment to helping others began at an early age, when she became a founding member of the Junior Advisory Council of the Small Wonders Foundation, which provides housing and surgeries for children with congenital anomalies. Over the years, she has served as Secretary and Co-Chair and even found ways to incorporate her musical gifts. “One of my favorite parts of being involved with Small Wonders is our annual benefit concert, Small Wonders Rocks! This past year, my band LOLA and I wrote and performed a song, inspired by the charity, and we had so much fun.”
After attending an Altadena, California school for 14 years, she transitioned to Laurel Springs in fall 2019 to dedicate more time to her true passion—the arts. As a music and dance student outside of schoolwork, she has a schedule filled with orchestra practice, ballet, jazz, tap and hip hop classes at Los Angeles Ballet Academy, and charity advisory council duties. To keep up with her busy lifestyle, she has a passion that makes things happen and an education that fits her personal and academic needs.
Music to Her Ears
When asked about the role music plays in her life, Oliviana expressed her pure love and joy for the art that makes her heart skip a (drum) beat. “Music IS my life. I love everything about it. Playing, composing and even just listening to music brings me great joy. My mom is a singing teacher and my dad is a pianist, so I always thought that everyone either sang or played the piano! I don’t know what I would do without music in my life. It has helped me through so much.” After coming to Laurel Springs, she joined the Colburn Youth Orchestra, led by the accomplished Maestro Maxim Eshkenazy, with whom Oliviana also studies conducting (currently working on Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”).
In October 2019, Oliviana’s original musical Valentine’s Day (for which she wrote book/ music/ lyrics) was the winner of the Foundation for New American Musicals’ ten-minute musical competition ShowSearch, and was performed at UCLA. In January 2020, she studied lyric writing at UCLA Extension, with renowned lyricist Marty Panzer (his credits include Kenny Rogers’ “Through The Years,” Barry Manilow’s “Even Now,” and work on the Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World and The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride soundtracks).
This has been a whirlwind of a year for Oliviana, but joining Laurel Springs School has helped her to turn her passion into a true lifestyle. “The flexibility of Laurel Springs has definitely helped me have more time to focus on my music without the hour-long commute to and from school every day.”
What’s Next for Oliviana?
Her musical achievements and aspirations are inspired in part by her godfather, Lew Spence, a songwriter whose songs were recorded by Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Fred Astaire, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin. Lew would have turned 100 years old this June, so Oliviana used his song “Love Looks So Well on You” to audition for The Great American Songbook Foundation’s Songbook Academy. She was accepted into the program set to be held in Carmel, Indiana in July, but the Songbook Academy will instead be hosted online due to COVID-19. “Thanks to LSS, I’m very comfortable learning online, and while I would have preferred to meet everyone in person, I’m confident we will connect and make beautiful music together.” She plans to log her journey on Instagram for all to see her growth and adventures.
Oliviana is entering grade 12 at Laurel Springs this fall and is excited for what lies ahead. She is certain that she will be happy as long as the arts are a part of her life. “I definitely want to pursue a career in the arts, since I have been so passionate about them from a very early age. I love to perform, but also to write music, and one of my biggest aspirations would definitely be to write and star in my own Broadway musical! I look forward to beginning my senior year at Laurel Springs in the fall, and know that as long as I am actively participating in the arts, I will be happy no matter where I end up!” Whatever lies ahead, there is no doubt that she will continue to fill the world with music and make a difference with her passion and pursuits.