Iowa professor says playing organ at church paved way to Carnegie Hall

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Others may respond to the query, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” with “Practice, practice, practice!”

Richard Steinbach of Sioux City points to playing the organ for Mass while in grade school.

Richard Steinbach, pictured in an undated handout photo, recently performed a solo concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The Briar Cliff University music professor's concert in Sioux City, Iowa, evolved out of an international project that he launched in 2013 called "The Fusion Project." (CNS photo | courtesy Richard Steinbach)

Richard Steinbach, pictured in an undated handout photo, recently performed a solo concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The Briar Cliff University music professor’s concert in Sioux City, Iowa, evolved out of an international project that he launched in 2013 called “The Fusion Project.” (CNS photo | courtesy Richard Steinbach)

That was the foundation for his recent solo concert at the New York City performance venue.

The concert evolved out of an international music project Steinbach launched in 2013 called “The Fusion Project.”

“The project began with a solo concert tour of South America in 2013, followed by a new recording project in 2014,” said the music professor, who is on the faculty at Franciscan-run Briar Cliff University. “I had been working closely on the project with Juliet Everist (a prominent supporter of the arts in the region).

“Juliet is the executive producer of ‘The Fusion Project,’ and we decided the most exciting way to release the new ‘Fusion’ CD would be to premiere it at Carnegie Hall in New York City.”

Through the project, Steinbach was able to collect and record a unique set of contemporary music from around the world.

“After submitting the concert proposal to Carnegie Hall, we were thrilled to receive an engagement in Carnegie’s beautiful and intimate Weill Recital Hall,” he told The Catholic Globe, newspaper of the Diocese of Sioux City.

Steinbach credited the Catholic Church and his studies at St. Anthony Catholic School in Sterling, Colo., as setting the stage for his New York City concert.

“Music was a big part of that experience (growing up), of course, and I am so grateful for the support and encouragement I received from the sisters and lay teachers at the Catholic school,” he said. “My first piano teachers were Sr. Phyllis Chang and Sr. Mary Senglaub. Those early years of musical training really inspired me to pursue a career in music, one that involves both teaching and performing.”

Steinbach started a contemporary vocal/guitar ensemble to lead the music at liturgies during his high school years. He was awarded degrees in piano performance from the University of Colorado and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and a doctorate of musical arts from the University of Iowa.

“Since the earliest influences in my life were with the Franciscan sisters, it only seems appropriate that I have dedicated 35 years of my career as a professor at a Franciscan university,” he said of joining the Briar Cliff faculty in 1980. “I was honored to have Briar Cliff’s president Beverly Wharton attend my concert at Carnegie Hall as well as many Briar Cliff faculty members and alumni. It was especially gratifying to have many of my former piano students in the audience.”

Steinbach’s solo debut recital featured the premiere of the new “Fusion” recording.

“I also included some of the late works of French composer, Claude Debussy,” he said. “Both the concert and the new recording focused on contemporary composers from around the world who in some fashion, infuse their music with jazz, popular music and folk music.”

The concert at Carnegie Hall was one of the biggest programs Steinbach has performed, with 90 minutes of music and 14 different composers.

“My mission was to highlight the latest trends in contemporary classical music from various parts of the world,” he said. “So, ‘The Fusion Project’ represents both a fusion of musical styles and also a fusion of international cultures.”

Performing a solo debut in Carnegie Hall was the “absolute highlight” of Steinbach’s musical career.

“We had approximately 160 people fly in for my concert from all over the country, most of them from Siouxland,” he said. “To perform to a packed house in one of the world’s most famous concert halls was both thrilling and humbling. Truly an experience of a lifetime!”

Steinbach is now performing a series of “Fusion” concerts to follow up the New York premiere.

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Fox is managing editor of The Catholic Globe, newspaper of the Diocese of Sioux City.