Steve Solkela slicks back his hair, which is wrapped in a blue and white bandana, away from his face. He puts his accordion in place and begins playing a song with nine instruments, simultaneously.
Solkela is a sophomore vocal performance major in the College of Performing Arts at Rowan University. He is from a town, in northern Minnesota, called Palo. He knows how to play a total of 17 different instruments.
His act, “Steve Solkela and his ‘Overpopulated’ One-Man Band,” started about two years ago, right after his senior year of high school. He is well known at Rowan for bringing his act to open mics, Profs Spotlights and Battles of the Bands. It takes him about four minutes to set up before a performance.
“I’m just an ambitious person,” Solkela said on his reason for playing so many instruments. “After I learn to be proficient in one instrument, I feel like I could take on a second one and another one.”
He performs and writes his own songs, in English and Finnish, but sometimes he does covers. Being a music major exposes him to other languages, like Spanish and Italian. He can play about 14,000 songs, he said.
Solkela didn’t always take singing seriously. In fact, his original plan was to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps All Star Jazz Band because he didn’t think he was smart enough for college, he said. He auditioned for them with his trombone during his senior year of high school, but they took too long to get back to him.
Meanwhile, Solkela was working and performing in the summer music festival in Minnesota for Rowan music professors, Veda Zuponcic and Dr. Lourin Plant.
When he was about 14, he got a part-time job in the crew at the summer music festival to build and paint the set. One day, Zuponcic, a piano professor, was talking to the crew when Solkela said, “Thank you,” in his deep voice. She was surprised that a boy that age sounded like that.
She did some ear training with him and taught him some Italian to prepare him for the stage. Plant, assistant professor of vocal and choral music, gave him some vocal lessons and sure enough, he was in the choir of an opera at the music festival. He was a part of it every summer and during his senior year, Zuponcic got him an audition for the music department.
“She ended up flying me to New Jersey to audition as an opera singer because she didn’t want my voice to go to waste,” Solkela said. “She believed in me a lot more than I believed in myself.”
Solkela ended up receiving a full-tuition voice scholarship for Rowan.
“He has a very wonderful personality, so it was easy for us to identify him and have him come and join us here at Rowan,” Plant said. “He auditioned and was one of the top auditionees to come into the university.”
Solkela is also a resident assistant for the Whitney Center, so his room and board are covered. He does a lot of different programs for his residents. He also works in the mail room and is in the pep band.
Since he’s from Minnesota, the only times he gets to go back home are summer, Christmas break and if there are any deaths in his family.
“I had a TV that didn’t work…So, I gave it to him to see what would happen. Within a week, he turned it into a table.” – jake nugent
“He’s a fish out of water in many ways,” Plant said. “Being in the east coast and finding his way here, [for example], because things are a little different here than they are in Minnesota.”
Solkela knows a lot about music and playing instruments. However, one subject that always gets under his skin is technology. He does not like it and his friends know it as well.
“I had a TV that didn’t work, but it didn’t look like it,” said Jake Nugent, a mechanical engineering major who is friends with Solkela. “So, I gave it to him to see what would happen. Within a week, he turned it into a table.”
Solkela has recorded CDs of his original songs and sells them. You can hear some of the songs when he performs in his one-man band. He is also currently composing his own opera.
“He’s a great musician,” Nugent said. “Just, he likes playing his originals. After a point, you know them so well.”
Dr. Davide Ceriani, assistant professor of musicology, has seen some of Solkela’s work and believes he could be a composer one day.
Solkela’s future plans include traveling around Europe and singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl.
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