Philip Olsen - Retired Faculty & Staff - McDonogh School

Philip Olsen

For 30 years, Philip Olsen has given McDonogh the gift of artistic excellence. He arrived on Foxleigh Hill in 1991 and began by perfecting a program that included the Concert Choir and Senior Singers, and grew with the addition of the Women of Note, the Gentleman Songsters, and the Foxleigh Hill Singers. 

He infused the music program with courses in conducting, music theory, and composition; and he planted the seeds of what have become signature Upper School traditions such as the Concert Choir tour, Il Maestrillo, the Vocal Residency program, Singing Telegrams, Songfest, and the Stewart Senior Honors Award Program.

Under his direction, young voices have become those of confident artists, and his concerts are pure examples of his trust in what students can do. 

From rehearsal to performance, there are two things you can always count on from Mr. Olsen: his incredibly high standards and his love of working with students. One colleague says, “With his quirky, delightful sense of humor and raised eyebrow, Philip finds a way to coax remarkable sounds from his proteges who become totally immersed in the beauty of song.” 

Mr. Olsen is deeply loved by students past and present who remain devoted to him long after Commencement. In fact, each year at that event, adoring alumni race to the front of Childs Memorial Terrace to join the choir in singing the Dedication Hymn—for which he composed the arrangement. His consistency in training is why the 2020 Virtual Choir performance of the hymn by more than 100 students and alumni was a huge success. 

This year, when Mr. Olsen directs the choir for a final time, it will seem as if the lyrics, composed many years ago were written for that moment: So that when at last he leaves us, he shall leave us grander still; Nearer as thy founder dreamed thee, dear McDonogh on the hill.

Thank you, Philip, for sharing your gift with so many. It’s been a privilege.