Karla Dietmeyer ’13 looked over her violin at dozens of little hands raised in the air, fingers wiggling, and felt what she calls a “magical moment.” She and her partner in music, cellist Olivia (Hahn) Diercks ’13, had taught a room full of second-graders something about musical sounds—and in a fun way.
Diercks and Dietmeyer are the new classical crossover duo the OK Factor. In March, they wrapped up a year with the Class Notes Artist program, part of a classical Minnesota Public Radio initiative called Music for Learning. The free program brings Minnesota musicians into classrooms to perform and talk about music, instruments, and composers.
In an MPR interview in March, Diercks and Dietmeyer described the wiggly fingers as one of the year’s highlights. They had created a lesson based on Béla Bartók’s techniques for composing with traditional folk songs, which they’d learned through doing a project in a 20th-century music history class at Luther.
The second-graders started by listening to original folk tunes that Bartók recorded—youcan hear a lot of them online—so the kids could hear the difference between recordings then and now. Later in the lesson, the OK Factor performed an original composition based on the folk tune “Wayfaring Stranger.” When the kids recognized the tune on its own, they raised one hand. When they heard an accompaniment to the tune, the other hand went up. And when they could hear bits of the original tune weaving in and out—which the duo dubs “all the pieces mixed up”—there went the wiggling fingers.
“Any kind of movement from the kids showed they were enjoying themselves and that, at the end of the day, was what we wanted more than anything—for them to be inspired by music in general,” Diercks says.
She and Dietmeyer started composing together in college, but the process, the way they still often work, was relatively unstructured. “One of us has an idea for a melody or one has an idea for a harmonic or rhythmic aspect and we’ll bring it to the other and just kind of build with each other,” Diercks says. The Bartók project at Luther gave them another tool.
They officially formed the OK Factor for a performance in Decorah while still at Luther and were immediately hooked on the idea of making performance a career. Dietmeyer told MPR, “I remember after our first performance in college, I went up to Olivia’s dorm room and stood in the doorway and was like, ‘We have to do this.’ I made her go to a coffee shop with me and we sat down and talked about how we could make this happen.”
They did perform together off and on over the next couple of years, spending the summer after graduation together in Minneapolis. But later they lived in different states—Diercks in Tennessee and Dietmeyer in Colorado—which was tough on their collaboration. Eventually, Diercks moved back to Minneapolis with her new husband, University of Northern Iowa grad Jonny Diercks, and Dietmeyer persuaded her fiancé, Gavin Colahan ’13, that they should also move to Minneapolis.
Now Diercks and Dietmeyer are well on their way toward full-time music careers, playing mostly their own compositions. They have enjoyed returning to Luther as instructors for the Dorian Summer Music Festival and are also teaching private instrumental lessons. Diercks teaches at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church and Dietmeyer teaches through the school partnership division of the MacPhail Center for Music. They perform as much as possible, doing their own vocals in addition to violin and cello. Besides inspiring wiggly fingers in schools all over Minnesota, they have provided music for lots of weddings and even a murder mystery party this spring. Club dates have included Minneapolis’s renowned Dakota Jazz Club and Aster Café.
The duo has released several albums, including the recent That’s Enough of That, produced by Steve Kaul of the Brass Kings. Fans can follow Diercks and Dietmeyer’s progress and see upcoming performance dates on Facebook and Instagram, TheOKFactor.com, and the Bandcamp app, where people can support their work and get a behind-the-scenes look at their writing process.