Cheney Free Press -

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Bet paid off in MLHS's Olmstead's love of music

Service in Marines, and their band, is next percussionist hopes


Last updated 3/5/2020 at 10:05am

MEDICAL LAKE — There might not be much that Medical Lake music student Riley Olmstead can one-up her teacher, Craig Johnson, on, except, perhaps an ancient middle memory.

The senior percussionist, Olmstead was recently accepted into the first-ever All State Percussion Ensemble, vividly recalled how she was persuaded to take of a wide array on instruments that reside under that banner of making music by hitting things.

When she joined band in middle school Olmstead didn’t actually play percussion. But she learned fast.

“Before one of the concerts, we didn’t have any metal percussionist and Mr. Johnson said, ‘Hey, I’ll give you a candy bar and you can learn this piece on the bells,’” Olmstead said.

No pressure, right, until he told Olmstead, “You’re playing at the concert tomorrow night. I was like, ‘Okay, and ever since then I played percussion,’” Olmstead said.

The fast learning curve was easy to conquer because for Olmstead, music has been a part of her life as long as she can remember. “I started playing piano when I was like, super little, and I played it for a long time,” she said.

Percussion spans a wide array of the musical world.

From B to X — bongos to xylophones — and many other instruments in between like marimbas and wood blocks just to name a couple, Olmstead immersed herself in that genre after Johnson make her a deal.

“There’s mallet percussion, which is like vibraphone, xylophones and all the keyboard looking instruments,” Olmstead explained. “Then you’ve got drums and auxiliary percussion like snares or bass drum.”

Also in the percussion mix are things like shakers, wind chimes and the triangle.

“Marimba is my favorite,” Olmstead said and she got to try it at the top during All State Percussion.

“I do like marimba the best. When I was there, I got to play marimba one or two or two of the tunes, and then I played some vibraphone while I was there, and low Tom’s (drums) for one of the pieces.

Olmstead’s name might be familiar from her athletic efforts in the fall in cross country. However, she’s playing a different tune in the spring these days. Running is a year-around sport she said. “I was just trying to mix it up.”

“I’ve been doing tennis — I did a season and golf — but after that I did tennis and this will be my second year and I really like tennis,” Olmstead said.

Olmstead’s likely counting the days until she receives her diploma which opens the door to the next chapter in her life.

Olmstead’s future is no real top military secret. “I want to join the Marine Corps and after boot camp I want to go to the music school in Virginia,” Olmstead said.

“I’m actually in the process right now of auditioning for the Marine Corps Band,” she said. “My uncle did it so he kind of got the idea in my head.”

Paul Delaney can be reached at


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