Sing us a song, you’re the piano man…
The request for a song has been made consistently over the years to an area family boasting three generations of piano bar performers and an incredibly strong link to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
Recent UW Oshkosh psychology master’s degree graduate Steven Steinert, ’14 and ’17 MS, of Oshkosh, is following in the musical footsteps of his parents, Bill ’87 and ’95 (MSE), and Carol Steinert ’86 and ’93, both also UW Oshkosh graduates, and grandfather, David Bowman, who is regarded as a pioneer of the teacher education program at UW Oshkosh.
“One of my favorite parts of performing is when an entire crowd comes alive because of what I am doing,” Steven Steinert said. “It is an extremely fulfilling feeling to be the center of attention in such a positive and electric environment. When the crowd is involved and active, I have a lot of fun.”
Steinert said as his grandfather’s 22-year career as first dean at UW Oshkosh College of Education and Human Services came to a close, Bowman returned to his role as an education professor and started performing during the 1970s at the Heidel House Resort and Spa in Green Lake.
As he performed, Bowman’s daughters, Nancy and Carol, both students at UW Oshkosh, worked as cocktail waitresses and sang select numbers with him.
Steven Steinert said when his father became involved with his mom, his grandfather–Bill Steinert–encouraged him also to play and sing at the Heidel House. Bill Steinert already was a weekly performer at George’s Steakhouse in Appleton—a role he continues today after 35 years.
Steven Steinert will continue performing at Heidel House and will start at George’s. Bill Steinert is part of a rotation of performers at Heidel House–something he’s done the past 39 years.
Bill Steinert said all three of his children are “musical,” but Steven is the one who really enjoys performing. He said he can pick up songs by ear and first tested his ability to play publicly for several hours in a hospital lobby.
“At the Heidel House, there are several customers who know both my father and grandfather, so it is kind of cool to perform for some of the same people they did,” Steven Steinert said. “They tell me stories about their experiences with them and how I do things similarly or differently. I even bring some of the music books my grandfather used to use.”
The work is exhausting–especially since it’s often constant for three to four hours without a break. Steven Steinert said most of the time he has to have his suit dry-cleaned after a night of performing due to working up a sweat.
The third-generation piano player/singer said piano bar performers are responsible for maintaining and adjusting the mood of the venue throughout the night.
“If I slow down or quiet the music, I can tell the overall mood mellows,” he said. “Conversely, if I play and sing fast and energetic music, the overall mood changes accordingly.”
He said Heidel House and George’s in Appleton are “quite unique,” because they both still operate with real acoustic pianos. George’s features a nearly-150-year-old Steinway concert grand piano in the bar room with a bar top that sits over the top of the piano.
Heidel House also features a grand piano–different than many venues that provide a type of electric piano that Steven Steinert said can be difficult to play and yield a lesser sound.
Piano Man is probably the most requested song, he said, with anything from Billy Joel or Elton John ranking high on the request list.
“People also often request things they can sing along with; songs like Sweet Caroline and songs from Phantom of the Opera are frequent requests,” he said, adding that current songs from Frozen or Wicked are popular as well.
As a two-time UW Oshkosh graduate, Steven Steinert is now interviewing for doctoral programs in clinical psychology. He hopes to eventually go on to become a forensic psychologist–assisting in the legal process or with issues that could benefit the legal system. He is hopeful he can remain active in academic research and apply his training as an expert witness in court.
For the moment, he intends to continue performing. He has played and sung at the Heidel House for about three years.
“Although I was quite nervous at first, with big shoes to fill, I am glad I did it,” he said. “It’s one of the most fulfilling parts of my life, and I truly enjoy the exhilaration of performing in front of an active audience and carrying on my family’s legacy.”
Steven Steinert’s father, Bill, is a first-generation college graduate who completed both his bachelor’s degree in education and master’s degree in counseling from UW Oshkosh and spent much of his career as an English teacher at Oshkosh West High School. Steven’s mother, Carol, obtained her degrees from UW Oshkosh–the same university her three siblings attended. She occasionally accompanies her husband to perform, as she did years before.
Bill Steinert said he and his wife met through music many years ago, while teenagers. He said he hopes they will perform together again as they start nearing retirement.
“I have grown up in awe of what other members of my family can do and it is extremely gratifying to now have the opportunity to do the same thing,” Steven Steinert said, noting he is in a rotation with his father at the Heidel House Saturday nights and at George’s on Friday and Saturday nights.
Bowman, the late patriarch of the family, entertained in New York City night clubs as he worked his way through school. He was naturally gifted at not only reading music but playing by ear. He performed on numerous radio shows including the well-known Fred Waring Show and Piano Playhouse.
Bowman completed graduate work at Columbia University in New York. He attained his first position as professor at UW-Eau Claire. A year later, he began his role at Oshkosh.
He resigned his deanship of the College of Education and Human Services June 30, 1976, to “devote more time to teaching and scholarly endeavors.”
The change also allowed him more time for his lifelong interest in music.
Bowman would be proud to know his family’s legacy as piano bar performers continues today–some 40 years later.