Pan Harmonia Creates Jobs and Audiences


By Elizabeth Gaston


It is remarkable to be a classically trained musician in 2012. The job description: the ability to read and interpret the subtleties and magic of musical language; to create work for yourself and other musicians through concerts and festivals; to share the music with students and audiences who may not be familiar with the beauty of instrumental music; and to respond to the tug in your heart that urges you to practice your instrument every day for years, and decades.


“I don’t think about why I do it,” says Kate Steinbeck, Artistic Director of Pan Harmonia, “I just do… it’s my life’s work now.”

PHOTO: Lisa Ringelspaugh-Irvine

Kate Steinbeck, flutist, works hard at creating work. Her recent venture, Pan Harmonia, is built firmly on years of experience as a performing artist. After organizing the Keowee Chamber Music Festival in Asheville, she decided to redefine her purpose as a performer and music producer. One of her goals is to create jobs—for herself, and for her colleagues around the state. Pan Harmonia offers work to musicians, many who travel to Asheville to play in her events.


Since 1997, she has employed over 100 touring artists in and out of the state of North Carolina! In this economy, as presidential nominees talk about creating jobs, Kate Steinbeck has put her own plan for self-sustainment into action in Western NC, where her work is also her passion.


Being associated with Pan Harmonia is to share the beauty of music with people who have been traditionally underserved by the high arts. In 2009, Kate was awarded a NC Arts Council grant to tour the state, and introduced 10,000 school children to the music of Latin America. Recently she decided to focus on offering concerts in prisons, halfway houses, and homeless shelters. Her motivation is to build rapport and relationship with people through music over time. She is keenly aware of the challenges of some folks who may be struggling with family and financial issues and are traditionally cast aside. Ms. Steinbeck hopes to shine light on their humanity and dignity. She believes that classical music is the way to connect with the thoughtful, inner lives of all people.


“Practicing an instrument is a private ritual,” Steinbeck says, “and one that results in developing awareness which may then be shared with others.” Most audiences are not concerned with the technical aspects of playing music, but they know what they like. The smallest musical gesture, in the hands of an artist like Steinbeck, can create an experience that often results in stunning silence at the end of a piece of music, and a collective “ahh” of the audience. Kate Steinbeck struggles with the ancient Buddhist conundrum: if a tree falls down in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? “What if there is no audience?” she laments. Lucky for us, her audiences and donor base continue to grow from year to year, making it possible for her to stay and thrive in Asheville and throughout Western North Carolina.


Finally, Pan Harmonia fulfills Kate’s desire to bring new music to life. She is a tireless worker who likes to rehearse—and bring the best possible performances to her devoted audiences. It is her work ethic that separates her from others, and makes it possible to create wholly new works of art out of seemingly random dots on a page.


On Sunday, October 14th, she will be premiering a piece of music written for her by Dana Wilson of Ithaca College. Her husband, famed flute maker Chris Abell, commissioned the music on the occasion of Kate’s birthday.


The piece, entitled “And Longing to Be the Singing Master of My Soul,” is based on poetry by Yeats.
Ms. Steinbeck premiered a number of Mr. Wilson’s other works, most notably “Luminescence” (in 2007) which is also the title track of her second CD. “Longing,” a three-minute piece for flute and piano is abstract and requires some pyro-technical skills of the performer. “I like to play music people don’t often hear or even know they’d like to hear. This beautiful new piece is atmospheric… the flute is dancing in the distance.” Kate strives to find works that the audience would otherwise not hear—or even know they’d like to hear. She is a communicator of feelings.


How remarkable is it to be a classical musician in 2012? “Everyone is craving contact. Music is a way of coping with the enormity of life and finding our common humanity.” Those people who work at what they do best don’t look like they are working at all—but rather, they look like they are playing. For a creative spirit like Kate Steinbeck, it is impossible to do otherwise.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker