by Kaye Bennett

Kalamazoo, Michigan:  A hub in the national music scene?  Not so farfetched at all, according to a recent survey published by theatlanticcities.com.  The survey, conducted by Toronto-based research group Martin Prosperity Institute, ranked Kalamazoo eighth nationally among smaller metro areas for its musical scene, citing it specifically as the former home of Gibson guitars and the site of major classical music festivals (such as the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival).

Joanna Steinhauser ’02 can understand the city’s recognition.  The music scene in Kalamazoo is seemingly endless, Steinhauser says.  “There’s a ton going on here. The funding for and interest in the arts [in Kalamazoo] is surprising.”  And Steinhauser should know, because she’s right in the middle of that endless music scene. 

A talented violinist who started playing at age 5, Steinhauser was drawn to Kalamazoo College by Barry Ross, professor emeritus of music at K, whom she met at scholarship competitions while she was in high school. Ross, says Steinhauser, “paid a lot of attention to me.”

Add to that a mom who is a K alum, (Ruth Doezema Steinhauser ’71), academic interests that ranged beyond music, and a desire to study abroad.  Result:  Steinhauser opted for the liberal arts and sciences over the conservatory education.  At K she majored not only in music (she was one of just three music majors during her undergrad days, she recalls), but also in Spanish.

Her study abroad program took Steinhauser to Cáceres, Spain, where the city’s music conservatory was located in a medieval monastery.  From there, she located a violin teacher with whom she studied while in Spain.  Taking music lessons in Spanish was a new experience, she says.

But it was while she was on the K campus that Steinhauser had the opportunity to really stretch her wings.  “K is a very nurturing and incredible place for music majors,” she says.  “Music students at K get a lot of attention and chances to perform all the time.”  She says that good musicians at K are valued and get to play with great ensembles, thanks to faculty like Ross and Les Tung, chair of the music department (with whom Steinhauser now plays in a piano-violin duo).

After graduating from K, Steinhauser earned her master of music degree from Michigan State University, studying with Dmitri Berlinsky.  Her doctor of music arts degree came from Louisiana State University, where she studied violin performance with Kevork Mardirossian and Espen Lillenslatten.  Her liberal arts background served her well in graduate school, Steinhauser says.  “The academic stuff was no sweat,” she laughs, acknowledging that the study habits she’d developed at K gave her an advantage over some fellow students who’d done more practicing than studying in their undergrad days.

When she finished her doctoral program, Steinhauser got a call from Tung: Associate Professor of Music Andrew Koehler would be taking a sabbatical during the winter 2010 quarter, and Tung wanted her to fill in during Koehler’s absence.  So Steinhauser found herself back in Michigan, serving as visiting professor of violin and chamber music.  Then, in spring 2010, she began working as K’s music department recruiting liaison, speaking to high school musicians, asking them what they were looking for in a college and telling them about the advantages K has to offer.  Today she is artist-in-residence in K’s music department.

Living in Kalamazoo again has also given Steinhauser the opportunity to pursue another of her passions:  teaching.  She started teaching violin while she was in graduate school.  Today she teaches at both Crescendo Music Academy in Kalamazoo and the Citadel Music and Dance Center in Benton Harbor (her hometown).  Her students range in age from toddlers to octogenarians.  A student in his 70s brings his granddaughters along to his lessons, Steinhauser says, and another of her students started taking beginning lessons
"K is a thriving place to experience...all types of music."
at age 84.

Steinhauser plays with Kalamazoo Philharmonia, the Kalamazoo College and community orchestra, founded in 1994 by Ross and today directed by Koehler.  She also performs with symphony orchestras in Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and Lansing.  With the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, she had the opportunity to play with Yo-Yo Ma in 2011 and with Lang Lang in 2012. 

Ten years after her study abroad program, Steinhauser returned to Europe, this time to perform with Tung.  Their tour included Clermont-Ferrand, France, with a detour to Cáceres, where the duo performed a recital at the conservatory and gave master classes.  The trip gave Steinhauser a chance to reunite with her Spanish host family and her old violin teacher.  The Steinhauser-Tung duo has upcoming recitals scheduled in the United States this year. 

As a Kalamazoo College alumna, Steinhauser is pleased with the opportunities her alma mater offers aspiring young musicians.  “K always has been a very special place for students willing to think outside the box or to take a less-traveled path in their career,” she says.  “Despite the small average number of music majors, it is a thriving place to experience music on many levels and in all types of music.”

As a professional musician, Joanna Steinhauser is happy to see Kalamazoo receive national attention for its music.  Between Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University and the downtown venues, she says, “there is no shortage of music festivals or concerts to check out, any time of the year.  Many of my classical musician colleagues perform in more popular musical groups.  Barry Ross also regularly performs jazz violin in downtown Kalamazoo.”

You can listen to Joanna Steinhauser’s violin performances by visiting her website. And she will perform with Les Tung at the Atlanta alumni event on March 12.

Photo 1 - Joanna Steinhauser
Photo 2 - Joanna and Les Tung

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