Tag Archives: UWF Singers

UWF Singers outline hope, peace in final concert of spring season

By Sydney O’Gwynn

Staff Writer

uwf singers

The UWF Singers and Chamber Choir were joined by the Pensacola Children’s Chorus in its final concert of the season, “A Prayer for Peace.”

The concert, held at First Baptist Church in downtown Pensacola on Monday, April 18, featured many popular songs, including “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Lux Arumque” by Eric Whitacre.

“All of those are forming a framework around the ‘Chichester Psalms,’ which Leonard Bernstein wrote as an American Jew lamenting the loss of life of the Holocaust,” Peter Steenblik, director of the UWF Singers and Chamber Choir, said.

“The Chichester Psalms” is a three-movement work in which each movement covers a specific psalm or set of psalms from The Bible. The first movement is from Psalm 108; the second is from Psalm 23 and Psalm 2; and the third movement is from Psalms 131 and 133.

“As they [The Pensacola Children’s Chorus] sing with the harp, it signifies King David and his harp, singing the psalms,” Steenblik said. “The women of the university group join the Children’s Chorus, signifying the mothers and the innocence, and at one point the men and the percussion come in and, essentially, start barking at them and destroy that innocence. They signify the government and the decisions that are made to destroy people of innocence.”

An organ solo in the middle of the piece can be interpreted as a time of mourning for the souls lost during the Holocaust. The movement ends with a prayer of encouragement and hope for unification and peace.

“It’s so ingenious how Bernstein put this all together, and it’s really fun to sing,” senior vocal performance major Rebekah Pyle said.

The program ended with a piece called “Hope for Resolution” arranged by Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory. The UWF Singers and the Children’s Chorus joined together for the final performance of the night.

This was the last performance for some singers at UWF, including Pyle.

“I’m a little sad because it’s over,” Pyle said. “But I’m also really glad to go out on a really good concert.”

The UWF Singers will have the concert posted on its website until May 8. For more information about the Department of Music, visit the website.



UWF Singers to perform songs of hope and rejoicing for final concert of semester

By Sydney O’Gwynn
Staff Writer

 Many guest artists will join The UWF Singers in the spring concert on April 18. Photo courtesy of uwfsingers.com

Many guest artists will join The UWF Singers in the spring concert on April 18.
Photo courtesy of uwfsingers.com

Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” will be the focal point of The University of West Florida Singers and Chamber Choir’s spring concert “A Prayer for Peace” at 7:30 p.m. on April 18 at the First Baptist Church of Pensacola.

“The program features a number of songs written in circumstances of oppression or circumstances where there is no hope,” said Peter Steenblik, conductor for the UWF Singers and Chamber Choir. “But they are songs of hope and rejoicing.”

The concert will also include African-American spirituals; John Lennon’s “Imagine”; “Hope for Resolutions” about the South African movement with Nelson Mandela; and an Academy Award winning piece from the 1980s film about feminism, “Working Girl.”

Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” was written about the Holocaust and are all in Hebrew. Senior UWF Singers President Rebekah Pyle said learning how to sing Hebrew wasn’t as difficult as one might think. “Dr. Steenblik made it really easy,” she said. “We learned it very specifically in a way that would make it successful when we put it back to the music.”

The movements in the piece are dancelike, but also hold raw emotion.

“The concert carries a powerful message,” Steenblik said. “I am so excited about the concert.”

The Pensacola Children’s Chorus also will join The UWF Singers and Chamber Choir. UWF faculty members also will be involved, including the chair of the Department of Music, soprano Sheila Dunn; voice instructor Hanan Tarabay, mezzo-soprano; and visiting artist Corey McKern, baritone. Other featured musicians are Nicholas DeMeo, tenor; the Pensacola West Percussion Ensemble; Christopher Powell, organ; and Bolton Ellenberg, piano.

“This is a huge collaboration effort,” Pyle said.

Pyle said that, while the “Chichester Psalms” was written as a commentary on war, she said she believes the piece could also be a commentary on humankind’s struggle against evil. She also said that without the percussion, the piece would not be as successful. “The percussion adds such a huge element to the piece,” she said.

This will be the final concert for the seniors in the choirs, including Pyle.

“I’m really glad that this is the stuff we’re singing for my last concert as a UWF student,” she said. “The last three years have flown by, and we’ve gotten to sing some incredible music, but I think that this concert — the entirety of it — is my favorite.”

“I hope it’s a concert they can be proud of,” Steenblik said. “Things we learned in August are being displayed next week. I hope it’s one that will display the best of what we all can do.”

Pyle said she is excited not only to perform the concert, but for the concert to be heard.

“People are going to come and they are not going to walk away unmoved by the performance,” she said. “It’s impossible; even if you come in with your mind and heart completely closed, it will be opened and you will be moved by what you hear.”

The concert is free and open to the public. For more information about the concert or the Department of Music, visit the website.

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.



UWF Singers, PCC Ensemble combine for winter concert

By Sydney O’Gwynn

Staff Writer

UWF Singers

Despite the stormy weather, the University of West Florida’s Singers and Chamber Choir didn’t disappoint with the concert “Praises!” on Monday, Feb. 15, in the Music Hall in the Center for Fine and Performing Arts.

Three different choirs performed: both the Singers and the more advanced Chamber Choir, formally called the Madrigals, directed by Peter Steenblik; and Pensacola Christian College’s Chamber Ensemble, directed by Cleusia Goncalves. This was the first time the groups have performed together.

“It was definitely a unique concert,” senior voice major Rebekah Pyle said. “We hadn’t done anything like that before; it was fun.”

All three choirs had a chance to perform individually, but the last song, “Saints Bound for Heaven,” saw the Singers and PCC’s Chamber Ensemble performing together. Between the two choirs there were approximately 100 singers on stage.

“It was fantastic,” junior piano major Nyasha Brice said. “I haven’t been on a stage with that many singers in a long time.”

Steenblik said there has been tremendous growth in the choir, doubling since he started. He also praised them on the execution of their opening song, “Lux Arumque” by Eric Whitacre, which he described as a “difficult” piece.

“They’ve grown so much,” Steenblik said. “To have done that piece after only five weeks of rehearsal is absolutely remarkable. I’m very proud of what they’re doing.”

Pyle is the Singers’ president, and said that, despite the lack of seniors, these individual students have come together to form a choir.

“Everybody is passionate about putting on a good performance,” Pyle said. “It’s a fun group to be a part of.”

Brice said she sees something special in this group of singers.

“In this semester in Singers there is a lot of drive to want to be better,” Brice said. “We have a group that’s willing to work for it.”

Steenblik got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The University of Utah. He performed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for four years and taught high school music for 10 years in Salt Lake City before going back for his doctorate from the University of North Texas. This is his first year directing the choirs, and he is already making his mark by adding choir officers and section leaders.

“By appointing officers, there’s a sense of buy-in from the students,” Steenblik said. “It’s their choir.”

Brice also said she feels the togetherness brought by the new leadership roles.

“It gives us more accountability over our group,” Brice said. “It’s not his group, it’s our choir. We work together.”

Pyle also said that the new director gives the choir a fresh feeling.

“It was cool because he had all this experience but he was also just out of school,” she 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.”

In April, the Singers will be collaborating with the Pensacola’s Children Chorus in its spring concert “A Prayer for Peace.” The concert will be at First Baptist Church of Pensacola and will center on the “Chichester Psalms” by Leonard Bernstein. Steenblik said this concert was a “stepping stone” for the spring concert, which he called an “insanely collaborative concert.”

A video of the full “Praises” concert will be available on the UWF Singers website between Feb. 22-March 7. Archives performances may be found here as well.

For more information on the Department of Music, visit the website at uwf.edu/music.