Sept. 30: Recital Celebrates Seven Decades at the Piano
Solveig Steen has been playing the piano for the last 71 years, but she still gets nervous about recitals.
We caught up with the fiery, outspoken 76-year-old Augustana piano instructor while she was rehearsing for her upcoming faculty recital later this month. She’ll play along with Dr. Rick Andrews, director of keyboard activities, at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30, in Kresge Recital Hall.
The recital is free and open to the public and will feature Bach’s “My Heart Ever Faithful,” Schumann’s “Andante and Variations,” various tangos and other selections.
- Featuring Solveig Steen and Dr. Rick Andrews
- 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30, in Kresge Recital Hall
- Free and open to the public.
A native of Sioux Falls, Steen is a graduate of Washington High School and earned her bachelor’s degree from Augustana in 1957. Here, she studied under icons like J. Earl Lee, professor of music from 1931-1992 and Dr. Leland Lillehaug, professor of music from 1956-1992. Later, she earned her master’s degree in music with an emphasis on piano performance from the University of Michigan. She’s been teaching piano at Augustana for the last 52 years.
Q. How old were you when you started playing the piano? And, what about it intrigues you?
A. I started singing in public at age three and I started playing the piano at age five. I even took violin lessons in the basement of Mark Twain Elementary – next to the big furnace. As a kid, my mom used to tell me that if I practiced the piano I wouldn’t have to dry the dishes. So, I practiced a lot.
I can’t really pinpoint it but, for me, there’s a real emotional connection to the sound of the piano – to music in general. It can bring me to tears.
Q. How often do you practice?
A. I play “air” piano all the time with my fingers – anytime I hear a melody, I play it with my fingers in the air. I never really stop practicing – I need to in order to maintain the muscular skill in my fingers. I like to feel really secure in reading the notes. I’d say I probably practice three to four hours a day. I’ve got to keep these old fingers going!
They say that when you go on stage, you lose 30 percent of your skill due to nervousness.
That means I need to be at 130 percent before I go on stage.
Q. What do you remember most about your experience at Augustana?
A. It wasn’t an easy time. I put myself through school by working summers at John Morrell & Co. At one point, I worked in the sliced bacon area [even though I was a pianist, I never thought twice about using sharp objects]. I think I earned $1.45 an hour, but I was able to pay for almost all of my college education myself. I remember J. Earl Lee vividly. He was tough on me, but he taught me to believe in myself.