Paynesville Press - March 23, 2005

Community Perspective

A View from the Bench

By Paula Geier

(Editor's Note: March is Music In Our Schools Month, and the Press - with help from the music faculty - will feature perspectives on the importance of music this month.)

How do I begin to explain the importance that music has played in my life?

I guess it all began with my Grandma Baalson's piano. Although my mother had taken piano lessons for a short time she never kept up with them, so after she married my dad the piano remained at grandma's house. Every time that we'd visit she would sit down and plunk out "Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater" whenever I would ask.

When grandma moved off the farm and into town, there was no room for the piano, so it was moved to our house. I started piano lessons in second grade with Mrs. Genevieve Baalson; yes, she was related through marriage to grandma! Although I enjoyed my time with Genevieve, and especially the milk and cookies she'd provide after lessons, I never developed a liking for the classical music that was so much a part of piano lessons back then.

By the time I'd finished sixth grade, my mother was tired of all the tears and badgering that we both went through every time she tried to get me to practice, so she reluctantly agreed to let me quit. However, I was asked to accompany the junior choir in seventh grade, and that led to a six-year stint accompanying the choirs all through junior and senior high school. Although I was no longer taking lessons, I was receiving valuable on-the-job training and the music was a lot more fun to play!

I remember my elementary school music teacher vividly; her name was Mrs. Rolfsrud, and her enthusiasm for music made our daily classes a time to look forward to! She offered guitar lessons, so I learned how to play, and in sixth grade our class, with six guitarists, was featured on the morning show on the local Alexandria TV station.

At the age of 12, we all felt like real stars!

When I was 15 years old, Genevieve approached me about learning how to play the organ. At that time, she had been our church organist for over 50 years, but her fingers were knotted with arthritis, and it was becoming very difficult for her to play, so she was looking for help. That summer I met with Genevieve once a week for lessons on the old church pipe organ; I believe I had a total of probably a dozen lessons, and that is the extent of my formal organ training.

Although Genevieve clucked her tongue at my unwillingness to wear organist shoes and my unwillingness to heel-and-toe correctly on the pedals, she stated that I had a real "feel" for the organ, and by that fall I was playing that old pipe organ at Sunday services. Thus began my career as a church organist.

During high school, some youth in my church decided to form a singing group, and I was able to sing as well as play guitar and piano for them. We were lucky enough to be able to perform in various churches in our area as well as travel to places like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio, a very big deal back in the 1970s.

We even made recordings of two of our concerts, another very big deal back then!

Through our music, we were able to touch the lives of people whom we ordinarily would never have met. As I look back at that time now, I appreciate what a blessing that was.

As I write this, I realize how lucky I was to be exposed to a variety of music: milking cows while listening to the Albany radio station (dad said the cows produced better to old-time music, although we kids later proved that they produced just as well to tunes from KDWB); elementary, junior, and senior high school music programs; Sunday school and church music; and community music programs.

Music for me has been a lifelong learning experience. How many of us learned our ABCs by singing them? I've learned a foreign language through Norwegian songs that grandma taught me. I don't remember much of my early English lessons, but can still remember my favorite Schoolhouse Rock songs like "Conjunction Junction, what's your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses."

Although I really dislike housework, I've learned that scrubbing the bathroom becomes an almost enjoyable experience while listening to the soundtrack from the movie "Footloose."

I have learned the values of patience, teamwork, commitment, and perseverance, and that it's okay to make a mistake (once in a while!). I've learned that there's almost nothing that compares with the sound of a congregation singing "Beautiful Savior" in four-part harmony. I've learned that any organ or piano bench becomes uncomfortable after an hour. I've learned that, while I may not be as technically accomplished as I would like - how I wish now I had stuck with piano lessons! - I can still share my love for music and inspire others through that love. So . . . what ever happened to grandma's piano? I inherited it, and it has moved with me wherever I've lived. The keys are yellowing and cracking, and the music stand is broken, but it still sounds the same as it did when grandma first played it for me.

Last May, I was the organist at grandma's funeral and played her favorite hymns on the same old pipe organ that I'd first learned to play more than 28 years ago. What a special experience it was to give back to her what she had first inspired in me.

Aldous Huxley once said, "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is Music." How lucky we are to live in such in such an expressive community: we have wonderfully talented music teachers; school, church, and community choirs and bands; and an auditorium where we can watch classics like "The Sound of Music" brought to life.

Please join me in thanking all the wonderful people who work so hard to continue expressing the inexpressible right here in Paynesville!

Geier is the church organist at Paynesville Lutheran Church.

Would you like to participate as a Community Perspective writer? Call Michael Jacobson at 320-243-3772 to get scheduled as a writer or e-mail him at

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