SIOUX CITY | Richard Steinbach's cousins taught him to play popular songs of the day on their pianos.
When the 5-year-old was spending more time than he should have been tickling the ivories at the Catholic school he attended in Sterling, Colo., his kindergarten teacher suggested his parents buy a piano and enroll Steinbach in lessons. His older sisters also played.
Years later, as Steinbach, 61, prepares to give his first concert at Carnegie Hall, that bulky upright piano proves to have been a wise investment.
"I always loved it," he says. "I think I probably annoyed my family by practicing too much."
Around seventh grade, Steinbach says he knew he wanted to make performing and teaching music his career. He says a group of Franciscan nuns shaped his ability during the first 10 years of his studies. Sister Mary Senglaub stands out in his mind as a mentor who greatly inspired him to become a professional pianist.
"She was a vivacious, inspiring teacher for me to work with," he says. "She introduced me to French music and a lot of new repertoire in junior high and early high school."
Steinbach went on to earn degrees in piano performance from the University of Colorado/Boulder and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. He obtained his doctor of musical arts degree from the University of Iowa, while teaching at Briar Cliff University where he has instructed students since 1980.
"I had great teachers not only early on, but also through my college training," he says. "I think I looked up to them and decided that's what I wanted to do is teach at the university level."
When it comes to his students, Steinbach says he tries to impress upon them how much time and commitment music demands. There are no short cuts in music or the arts, he says.
"I try to instill in them an inner driver and a deep love of music so that they will feel compelled to put in the amount of hours upon hours that it takes to really master a performance," he says.
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Steinbach sits at a Steinway in Briar Cliff University's recital hall on a Tuesday afternoon. His fingers quickly move up and down the length of the grand piano's keyboard. His head and neck move in tandem with the notes of the Brazilian piece.
After his debut concert in Paris in 1996, a French pianist came up to Steinbach and said to him, "You not only played with your fingers, you played with your heart." That comment stuck with Steinbach, who says it's easy to get caught up in work and forget about communicating with the audience.
Steinbach is practicing four hours a day to prepare for the June 12 solo concert that he says is a life-long dream of his.
"It's probably safe to say that every musician dreams of playing in a place like Carnegie Hall," he says.
The dream began becoming a reality after a South American solo concert tour in 2013. Steinbach traveled to Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Brazil, where he performed his own music while collecting new music from South American composers. He also worked with students at schools and music conservatories.
Steinbach's project entered phase two when he started recording the music for a CD titled "FUSION -- New Music For A New Age." The music on the CD, which is being produced by Juliet Everist, a supporter of the arts, will premiere during Steinbach's Carnegie Hall concert.
"She is putting together this Carnegie Hall concert and a whole weekend of activities," Steinbach said.
Some 150 people from Sioux City and other parts of the country will travel to New York City for the concert, which Steinbach said will mostly feature music written in the last 10 years that incorporates either jazz, folk or pop music.
"That's where the name 'fusion' comes from," Steinbach explained. "It's an exciting program. Most of this music will be unknown to audiences."
Siouxlanders who can't travel to New York City will have a chance to hear Steinbach play next fall when he plans to perform a CD release concert at the Orpheum Theatre.
For more information visit RichardSteinbachPiano.com.