Augustana Mourns the Loss of Solveig Steen

The Augustana community is mourning the loss of longtime piano instructor and Augustana alumna Solveig Steen. Steen passed away in a house fire earlier this morning in her home near campus. The cause of the fire has not been determined.

A native of Sioux Falls, Steen was 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 had taught piano at Augustana for the last 52 years. She was planning to retire this spring.

View memories of Solveig submitted by friends and former students.

A memorial service will be held in Augustana's Chapel of Reconciliation at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16. The funeral is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 17, at Bethel Lutheran Church, 1801 S. Valley View Rd., in Sioux Falls.

A pianist for more than 70 years, Steen gave a recital on campus in fall 2012, alongside Dr. Rick Andrews, director of keyboard activities.

Prior to that recital, she talked about her time at Augustana, her music and the power of performing.

Q. How old were you when you started playing the piano? And, what about it intrigues you?
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?
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?
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.

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