Mother, traveler, peformer, composer and teacher are just a few words that describe Donna Rollene, a voice coach of 10 years at John Brown University.
The 1977 graduate of John Brown University has been around the country and the world sharing her gift with many. But after her time teaching here in Siloam Springs, she has decided to move on to a new chapter in life.
“Music in itself is a gift, it’s about what you do with that gift that affects what it looks like to other people,” she said. But there is more to this woman than meets the eye– or the ear.
Rollene’s skills as a vocalist have taken her places she never would have imagined. She won a first place award from the American Friends of Austria and the Austrian Consulate General, who allowed her travel to Austria. There, she studied and competed with other top musicians at the American Institute of Musical Studies.
Rollene remembers the people and experiences that have shaped who she has become. She fondly recalls singing as a young girl with her mother and two older sisters.
“I’d be in the middle on a chair, and they’d be standing next to me. I’d always sing the soprano, they’d sing the other two parts and my mom would play,” Rollene said. “But when I think of music I think of my mom crying whenever we would sing together… it was something that brought us together as a family.”
Rollene has three daughters of her own: Jessie, Becky and Olivia. The youngest of her girls is Olivia, a junior at the University. Olivia fondly remembers the backyard drama productions her mom would organize for her, her sisters and the neighbor kids.
“She loves to bring the family together through music in any way that she possibly can,” said Olivia with a chuckle. “Music has always been a part of our lives.”
But Rollene’s own family is not the only one that has benefitted from her musical gifts. After having kids with her husband Jerry, Rollene’s heart moved to the children of the world that are without parents.
This led her to travel to Romania on a mission trip to raise funds for orphans through the Romanian Evangelistic Medical Mission.
In Romania, Rollene traveled with a small group of young adults, singing and putting on concerts to raise money for orphanages there.
“When I sing I give my face, I give my voice. I give myself… And I always knew that I was never really good enough to give,” she said. “But that doesn’t matter because I was given a gift, and I am meant to give it away.”
After going to Romania, Rollene continued with the mission in her own way. She made an album of original orchestral arrangements of hymns, as well as compositions of her own.
These CDs accommodated both American and Romanian listeners, with one version entirely in English while the other contained hymns in Romanian. For several years, 70 percent of the profit from each CD sold went straight to an orphanage in Beius, Romania, which is run by the Romanian Evangelistic Medical Mission.
“My mom puts everything that she has into her work, as well as being a mom,” Olivia said. “Everything that she does, she does whole heartedly– and I love that about her.”
One of Rollene’s voice students, junior Kaitlyn Russell praised her work ethic and commitment.
“I think Mrs. Rollene always goes above and beyond for her students,” Russell said. “I think that she gives 100 percent to get the best out of the student and I think that’s just really important.”
Rollene will be leaving the University at the end of the year, but for Rollene, the adventure doesn’t stop. She is looking forward to teaching more private voice lessons, composing more music and exploring what is in store for her with her husband Jerry, whom Rollene said has been a terrific support.
“I continue to teach full time here at JBU this semester until May,” Rollene said. “I teach Applied Voice, which includes teaching a Studio Class, Vocal Pedagogy, Drama I and Vocal Literature.”
Rollene’s students have seen the lasting effects she has made on their lives, and realize how blessed the school’s community has been with her teaching here.
“JBU is very lucky to have had such a godly woman and a wonderful teacher for as long as they did… She and all her amazing gifts will be greatly missed” said sophomore Kaitlyn Carlson.
After May, Rollene still plans to stay involved with the University as JBU is her alma mater, and her husband, Jerry Rollene serves as the Director of Alumni and Parent Relations.
“It’s been a tremendously valuable growth experience, and just the wonderful relationships that I have been able to make… I will treasure all of those memories,” Rollene said. “I’m planning on staying connected with JBU, so I don’t see this as an end, I see it as a next step to whatever the Lord has in store.”