Peter Steenblik: The new face of the UWF Singers

By Sydney O’Gwynn

Staff Writer

 Peter Steenblik is the conductor of the UWF Singers and Chamber Choir. Photo courtesy petersteenblik.com

Peter Steenblik is the conductor of the UWF Singers and Chamber Choir.
Photo courtesy petersteenblik.com

If you’ve been to a University of West Florida Singers concert over the past year, you’ve seen him. He conducts the performance; he might even speak to the audience a little to introduce the pieces about to be performed. But Peter Steenblik is more than just a choir director.

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Steenblik is the second of five children. He has been involved in music his whole life, beginning with playing piano since he was a boy.

He said he had no idea when he started playing the piano that it would one day turn into a career. “People ask how long I’ve played the piano and my standard response is ‘I can’t remember now,’” he said.

In addition to conducting two UWF choirs – the Singers and the Chamber Choir — Steenblik is the director of choral activities for the Department of Music and teaches two courses in basic musicianship as well as a music literature class. Steenblik came to UWF in the fall of 2015.

Steenblik graduated from Skyline High School in Salt Lake City and went onto the University of Utah, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in music education. He led backpacking trips in the Cascade Mountains in New York when he had summers off during college. After finishing his undergraduate, he left Utah to serve a church in the Philippines where he described some of his living conditions to be dirt floors, tarps for roofs and river water to drink.

“I lived with some of the poorest people in the world,” he said.

After two years he returned to Salt Lake City and taught high school for 10 years at Jordan High School while working on his master’s degree on nights and weekends.

“After 10 years of watching my students graduate and leave, I decided I wanted to go with them,” Steenblik said. “It was finally my turn to graduate the high school and leave.” He went to the University of North Texas and earned a doctoral degree in choral conducting.

“It was cool because he had all this experience, but he was also just out of school,” Rebekah Pyle, a member of the UWF Singers, said. “So he knows what it’s like to be in school and have all the stresses of school. He is very much on our side.”

As to how he ended up at UWF, he cites three conversations. The first was with his junior high school theater mentor. When his mentor asked Steenblik what he wanted to do for a living, Steenblik said he wanted to travel and perform, but his mentor had something else in mind.

“He said, ‘I think you will happier educating people in that environment, where the applause isn’t for you, but the applause is for the product of your students,’” Steenblik said. “I took that advice.”

The second conversation was with a piano teacher who encouraged him not only to educate others, but to take his skills to a university level. Steenblik said without that advice, he wouldn’t have ended up at UWF.

“It took me a while to do what she said, but I did it,” Steenblik said.

The third conversation happened while Steenblik was in the Philippines. He asked a fellow peer why he was pursuing a degree in art where there is no money. Steenblik said the peer’s response was that if he studied and worked hard, just like any other student in any other major, there would be work for him.

“I’d never heard that perspective,” Steenblik said. “So when I returned from the Philippines I applied myself in school like I never had before. I saw doors open that wouldn’t have opened otherwise.”

Steenblik was also a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for four years. Composed of 380 singers and more than 150 orchestra members, all voluneteers, the choir goes on tour every other year. Steenblik toured with them twice: in the summer 2011 when he traveled from Norfolk to Toronto, and in the summer of 2013 when he traveled from Cincinnati to Minneapolis.

“It was a thrilling experience,” he said. “It was truly extraordinary.”

Steenblik was also a frequent soloist for the choir.

“I don’t understand why I got so lucky,” he said. “It was such a neat time [and] such a neat experience.”

In addition to the UWF choirs and classes, he is also the chorus master for the Pensacola Opera, where he coaches the ensemble with its music.

Jerry McCoy, one of Steenblik’s mentors when he was a student at North Texas, showed him how to be “a director who strives for excellence yet also is very human and approachable,” he said.

He also said the most rewarding part of his job is one that others might see as the most stressful: the rehearsal process.

“The rehearsal process is my sanctuary,” he said. “And I advise the students that rehearsal should be a place of refuge.”

Though he has reached the university level, Steenblik still has goals for the future.

“I am here to bring the choral program into a place of prominence, locally and nationally,” he said.

So the next time you see him, whether it be in the hallways of the Center for Fine and Performing Arts, in front of class or even conducting the UWF Singers Spring concert “A Prayer for Peace” on Monday, April 18, just know he isn’t just a teacher or conductor. He’s so much more.