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Deb Steinbar rehearses for a multi-harpsichord concert set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the main theater of Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex at Bemidji State University. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall

Steinbar to be featured in harpsichord concert

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When Deb Steinbar moved to Bemidji over twenty years ago, there were no job openings available for nurse practitioners or physician's assistants.

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So, she returned to her former field of interest--music, specifically piano. She went back to college to study music at Bemidji State University to begin a new career.

For Steinbar, music has been a circle which has permeated her life in many different ways. She will be featured in a concert on Saturday, Oct. 17, which will include a performance of four harpsichords, a rarity in performance circles.

"I started out taking piano lessons when I was in the second grade and continued throughout high school," said Steinbar. "In college I enrolled in the nursing program. For many years my piano playing was on the back burner either because I didn't have a piano or I didn't have the time."

When Steinbar began to study music as an adult it was a different experience for her; there were no expectations. She took college classes in music and became interested in music theory.

Steinbar resumed her piano studies as an adult student under the tutelage of Margaret Maxwell. There was a harpsichord sitting in a corner in her studio, something Steinbar had neither seen nor played before. Maxwell must have recognized Steinbar's curiosity because she suggested she try the harpsichord.

"When I started to play the harpsichord for my Baroque music I absolutely fell in love with the instrument," said Steinbar. "There is something so alive about the instrument when it is played because you are actually plucking the strings.

"When you play the harpsichord, you play the key but there is a plectra which comes up and plucks the string. You get that beautiful plucked sound, almost like a harp. she said. "It is a much more intimate experience when you play the piano.  All the Baroque music that I had played on the piano suddenly made so much more sense," said Steinbar.

 Although the harpsichord looks similar to the piano, the feel is totally different. There is also a smaller range of keys and strings and the player is closer to the sound because it resonates more than it does on the piano. When Baroque music is played on the harpsichord, the player feels an original or traditional sense to the performance. 

About 18 years ago, Ed Parmentier from the faculty of music at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor came to BSU for a premier recital of the new Willard-Martin harpsichord, said Steinbar. He also taught a masters class for the students in which Steinbar was able to play for him. Steinbar was invited by Parmentier to attend a summer institute. This was the first time she played with professionals.

"I felt like a fish out of water; here I was playing with people who were teachers at other colleges performing professionally. Many of them had many instruments, including a German instrument for Bach, a French instrument for the French composers, like Franck. I didn't even have my own instrument at the time and felt so apprehensive for the first couple of years.

"Parmentier encourages everyone as long as they are interested in learning.  I started going to the Midwest Historical Keyboard Society meetings and most of the builders would bring their instruments and you could play on them and talk with the builders. I started talking with a retired university professor from the University of Iowa named Ed Kottick and he built my first instrument which is a French double manual," said Steinbar.

A French double manual has two keyboards and is beautifully decorated by the builder. Steinbar's instrument has the obligatory circle of flowers on the board with the initials of the builder, a painting of the tree which gave its life for the instrument, and laurels of flowers with a tiny bee or insect hidden for the viewer to discover.

Through attending workshops in Ann Arbor, Steinbar met the three players who are coming to Bemidji for the Harpsichord concert on Oct. 17.

"We have spent many hours playing with each other, critiquing each other, performing with each other and have really built up a great friendship.

"Bach had written concerti that required four harpsichords. I decided that I would write a grant that would fund the players to come to Bemidji," said Steinbar.

Although Steinbar was unable to get enough funding through grants to give her fellow players an honorarium, her colleagues are still returning to Bemidji. Some are driving far as far away as Kansas to play in Bemidji.

The harpsichord players bring a concert more commonly heard throughout concert halls in Europe. Some of the pieces to be played will involve music for four harpsichords, a rarity in performance circles. Deb Carlson, the organist at First Lutheran Church will join the concert this year.

Although adults will need to pay admission to the concert, the concert is free to music students in Bemidji. The concert is sponsored in part by a grant from the Bemidji Area Arts Endowment, a component fund of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation. 

More information on the players and the concert will be in the Thursday arts column in the Bemidji Pioneer. 

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Pioneer staff reports
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