Closing The Loop: Sylvia Steen

Oct 9, 2015

Listen to Warren Miller interview Sylbia Steen on Closing The Loop
Credit Warren Miller

Sylvia Steen is a Jacksonville native who headed west and then returned ... with a harpsichord. 

Steen said, "I was born in Jacksonville. My parents moved here from Alabama during World War II. My father worked at NAS Jacksonville in the depot and retired from there."

"I studied music at the University of North Florida, and then graduated from Florida State with a degree in medical technology," Steen said.

"You had to do a one-year internship at a hospital. I had visited San Francisco and fell in love with the city. I got to do my internship there, and got a studio apartment on Potrero Hill. I was on the second floor, and the owners of the house lived on the first floor. I had a view of the bay, and the fog came in, it was glorious," she said.

Steen says she had a great, if tiny apartment. But she says even with a profession she couldn't buy a house in San Francisco. She said, "I always wanted a house, but I knew I could never afford on in San Francisco. I couldn't even afford the yearly taxes on a house."

So Steen says she returned to Jacksonville in 1980, bought a vintage house in Riverside and resumed her career at hospital in the area. "I got this house when the neighborhood wasn't popular. I think I paid $40,000 for it," she said. "It was a great location. It took only three minutes to get to work, and I could walk it if the car didn't work."

Steen says she retired a few years ago. "I finished out my work time. Now I can work in the yard, work around the house — whatever I feel like. I love films, and I'd like to travel more. I've been to Russia on a cruise that stopped in different cities, and to Thailand, which was wonderful," she said. 

Returning to music is what Steen most wants to do. She said, "Since I was a little tiny kid, I was in the children's choir or taking lessons on piano, harpsichord, organ, guitar ... especially the harpsichord."

She wouldn't have to travel to return to playing harpsichord. When Steen returned to Jacksonville, she brought with her a harpsichord that she had commissioned to be made for her. "A fellow in San Francisco made it for me," she said. "He's the tuner for the San Francisco Symphony, and he plays very well. He's a craftsman who built all the furniture in his house, too."

The harpsichord needs work to restore it to playability. "Maybe one day, someone will show up. I'd consider giving it to someone who can restore it and play it themselves, that would be fine, too. It's too beautiful an instrument not to be played."