Piano professor’s passion pays off

Caroline Oltmanns at a Steinway event in China. Photo courtesy of Caroline Oltmanns

By Scott Chittock II

A Youngstown State University piano professor recently received a national award for educational excellence.

Steinway Artist and YSU Head of Piano Studies, Caroline Oltmanns, was recognized by musical instrument company Steinway and Sons in February with a Steinway Top Piano Teacher Award for 2022. Oltmanns said the award was a surprise.

“The teacher award came out of nowhere. I had, as a matter of fact, practically overlooked it in my inbox because I get a lot of email[s] from Steinway as a Steinway Artist,” Oltmanns said.

Oltmanns said it’s nice to be recognized, and her students appreciate the award as well. 

“At first I just showed it to them and then, ‘Oh, you must hang it. Oh, you must hang it in your studio. How about there?’ And so on, and that was even more meaningful maybe than my initial reaction,” Oltmanns said.

Oltmanns’ whole career is based on the piano. She started playing when she was just three years old — before she could even read.

“I started before I was able to read letters, which threw me off a little bit,” Oltmanns said. “The musical alphabet, if you will, starts on C, and that’s the alphabet I learned basically. And then I got this kind of awakening that the alphabet starts on A, which was weird.”

Oltmanns’ older sister was taking piano lessons at the time and began teaching her. She said having older siblings playing the piano is what also influenced her interest.

“We had a piano and everybody played in this, multiple siblings, so you can imagine the attraction if you’re a younger sibling. Like, everybody is always at that thing so I also want to be on there,” Oltmanns said.

Oltmanns, originally from Germany, attended the University of Southern California in Los Angeles for her graduate education. While she was there, a friend of hers took a class on how to get a job at a college. Oltmanns said this is what led to her job at YSU.

“I didn’t take the class and I helped out [with] the assignments, and then we both did the assignments together and thought, ‘Why not send this stuff?’ because it was literally making an application package for a college teaching job,” Oltmanns said. “I remember sending that out, and then I got the job.”

Oltmanns began teaching at YSU in 1994 and currently teaches applied piano.

Oltmanns has traveled the world, both for guest professorships at other universities and to perform. This includes countries such as China, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, her native Germany and many others.

Oltmanns has also judged about 150 different piano competitions throughout her career. 

Other notable events from her career include performing on a cruise ship, being featured in an episode of a documentary series called ‘Living the Classical Life,’ and giving lessons in medieval castles in the English countryside.

Oltmanns said that music is something people should appreciate in their daily lives. 

“I really think that through listening to music and not viewing something, but only listening, that is an experience we just don’t have enough,” Oltmanns said.