There are only a select few individuals on Rowan University’s campus whose presence and recognizable aspects rival the Prof owl, Rowan’s mascot. Among those people is Steve Solkela, a senior vocal performance major. His claims to fame around campus include singing and speaking in his deep voice, engaging with random people, playing an accordion in various spots, writing original songs, riding a tandem bike with his friends around campus, riding a tandem bike with a skateboard trailing behind it, embracing his Finnish and Minnesotan roots, and playing in his band called Steve Solkela and his Overpopulated One-Man Band.
As a part of his senior year and final marks on his Rowan legacy, Solkela starred in his final solo performance at Rowan during his senior recital on March 6.
“This was definitely the grand finale of my time as a Rowan music major,” Solkela said. “Every performance I’ve done up until here was in preparation for this.”
However, it was no ordinary recital. As if reflecting his impact on Rowan and its people, the recital hall in Boyd went over capacity that night, forcing people to sneak in to get a glimpse of the highly-advertised event and the man, the myth, the legend himself.
Performing with Aaron Fagerstrom, a senior double major in piano performance and music industry, Solkela sang in several languages. This is a requirement of most opera recitals.
His first set of songs were sung in Italian, indicated by the change of the little flag resting on the piano. After a few solo songs, Solkela then joined forces with freshman Laura Nolan in a duet to tell a story of young love.
Nolan and Solkela first preformed their duet in a class called opera scenes, and then publicly at a concert last semester. For Nolan, it was her first introduction into opera singing.
“He was pretty encouraging for me to just go for it, even if I don’t know what I was doing,” Nolan said. “It was pretty natural at this point.”
The tone (and flag) quickly changed thereafter to a set of German songs, more robust and angry sounding and marked by sharper gestures. Next came a set of songs sung in French, which touted an almost Shakespeare-esque monologue, complete with Solkela’s touch of hysterical laughing. The next set of songs were sung in his native tongue, Finnish. The last solos of the night were sung in English, including the opera songs “Heaven is One Beautiful Place” and “The Indifferent Mariner.”
“When I’m talking about the wind and the rain [in ‘The Indifferent Mariner’], I would tap my head and mimic the wind pushing me. I didn’t really plan that, I just saw that the audience was intent and listening, and sometimes laughing at stuff. That’s what you feel naturally when you are connecting with the audience,” Solkela said.
The performance rounded out with a 14-person ensemble piece called “Ballad for Americans,” a piece using many Rowan students to display the hopeful message of America.
“It was so hard to get us all together,” Solkela said. “Like all music performances, they’re scared at the beginning. So that’s why we had dress rehearsals, so they got more confident as time went on. The second time we ran it, it was beautiful and inspirational.”
At the end, Solkela credits his teachers, friends, classmates, supporters and family that have supported him through the years. This summer, Solkela’s band plans to tour Finland, Florida, Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
As he continues his endeavors in comedic novelty, a term he uses to describe his act as a comedian, musician and stuntman (listed on his business card).
“I’ve never felt so loved and appreciated. I feel like I am such a welcomed puzzle piece to this university, and I’m going to miss the hell out of it,” Solkela said.
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