Olney Central College music student Sydney Zumbahlen is elated to be expanding her musical horizons at OCC.

Zumbahlen is a college freshman from Newton, Ill., who plays piano and flute in in the OCC Concert Band, Pep Band, Commercial Band, Contemporary Band, Jazz Band.

She said, “Music is what keeps me going and what gets me through my day. I couldn’t imagine not having music in my life.” 

The young musician has played piano for twelve years and flute for about nine years. Zumbahlen met OCC Director of Bands Wade Baker during her audition in May 2018. She said, “Because of music, I love every day and it’s what makes me a positive person.”


The musician recalls early challenges of learning music theory as a first grader.
She said, “Music theory is the basic structure of music. Analyzing it down to the core, explaining why everything works the way it does. A very simple pop song on the radio would take a long time to analyze.”


“I really want to be able to understand it as best as I can because I’m going to be a music teacher.”


Since childhood, Zumbahlen has been influenced by the music of Billy Joel. “I love playing his songs and listening to him,” she said.

As a high school senior, Zumbahlen was uncertain about her future. She was inspired by the amount of fun and joy her band directors seemed to derive from their professions.

She said, “I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do. I figured there was nothing better music-wise to do than to teach kids about it and share that with them.”

Zumbahlen recalls her first exhilarating performance experience as a member of fifth grade marching band. She loved marching in the streets and hearing people cheer along the parade routes.

She said, “I didn’t feel nervous. … I felt important, like I’d finally started doing something that people were recognizing music-wise.”

Musical pursuit have brought Zumbahlen new perspectives, new experiences, and even new family members.

She said, “My band is like a family to me … Everyone you’re playing with has got your back … I could call them in the middle of the night and they would answer ... I care about them too.”

The young musician is thrilled about performing in the OCC Concert Band at Carnegie Hall in New York City in June.

“I can’t believe it honestly. It seems more like a dream,” she said.

In addition to musical pursuits through OCC, Zumbahlen enjoys playing piano and singing at New Hope Church in Newton. She appreciates that music is a universal language, with an often unifying effect.


“People from all races and religions can bond over it,” she said.

Zumbahlen is grateful for her parents who have been supportive of her musical interests, and for the guidance of Wade Baker.
She said, “Wade wants the best for all of us. He really just talks to us about learning the most that we can, so we can apply that to our lives, so we can get the most of school and what we’re going to do later on … He’s looking out for us all the time.”
Zumbahlen feels that there are many misconceptions about the quality of education at a community college. She recommends that prospective college students consider a community college first.
Music lovers hear Zumbahlen perform regularly with the OCC Commercial Band at Babalou’s in Olney.
She will also be playing in the pit for the musical production of Cinderella, held at by Newton Community High School March 21-24.