NISSWA — Today is special for Nisswa resident Lois Jensen.
Friday, June 12, celebrates 60 years of joy and happiness brought to her life as well as others from her playing the piano and organ at various churches in the Brainerd lakes area.
Jensen, who will celebrate her 78th birthday Wednesday, has been playing for churches since she was 18, graduating from Brainerd High School in 1960. Her music playing schedule that spans over the six decades has been booked solid, and whichever church contacts her first is the privileged one to have her play for its congregation. Churches she’s played at include First Lutheran Church, Trinity Lutheran Church, Zion Lutheran Church, Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church, First Congregational Church, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Park United Methodist Church and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, all in Brainerd; Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa; Crosslake Lutheran Church; Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Backus; and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Outing.
Jensen still plays, but currently is on a break because of the coronavirus. She said she will get back at it once it’s practical.
“It's uplifting,” Jensen said of playing for parishioners. “It’s rewarding to know that a church really needs (piano or organ music) to be a part of their worship service ... and to have someone leading the music really augments the worship service when there is a talented organist/pianist who can help you play all the hymns and the liturgy.
“I have a piano at my house not only to practice at home, but I love to sit here and play for myself. If the weather is OK, I open my windows and play for the neighbors. I just enjoy playing for people. I think the greatest joy is knowing the difference between well played music, and people who are worshipping don’t want loud music. The song should be soft and meditative. I can play very loud and authoritatively, but most people come to church to meditate and think about what is going on in their lives. They don’t want you banging on the keyboard.”
Jensen learned how to play the piano at age 7. Jensen’s parents encouraged her and her siblings to play, as they loved music. Her mother taught herself how to play piano. Jensen really enjoyed the lessons and has played ever since. Her sister took lessons through her senior year of high school and her brother quit after a few years to play the trumpet.
Jensen, who grew up in Brainerd, said she had two piano teachers before she met the teacher who really made a difference in the impact playing the piano would have on her life.
“I met Mrs. H.C. Henneman, who was on Kingwood (Street),” Jensen said. “She was a wonderful teacher because of her background and training. She studied in France. ... She just knew her music and taught us classical music. She was firm, but fair and she had an upright piano in her living room. We had our half-hour lessons on Saturday mornings so there was no sleeping in. We had our lessons and what she taught us was amazing.”
Jensen recalls all the recitals she performed when she was young. Some recitals, she wore formalwear and for others, the students dressed according to the theme of the recital, including when they had a Halloween recital.
“(Henneman) taught us that we are performing for the audience who was there, even if it was our parents and siblings,” Jensen said. “She taught the importance of honoring them for coming. When we were done performing she also taught us how to bow or curtsy, as a thank you to people for coming. She had such good etiquette.”
A song called “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” is special to Jensen. It is a song she played when she was fighting cancer. The Nisswa woman was diagnosed with lymphoma in September 1998. Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which helps the body fight infection and disease. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she was considered stage 4, meaning the cancer was considered widespread.
She went to the Gift of Life Transplant House in Rochester and needed to have someone with her 24 hours a day. Several of her friends took turns to help her out.
Jensen said she went from a healthy active woman to barely being able to walk. She spent three months in Rochester for a stem cell transplant. During a treatment, Jensen and her sister were in an elevator when her sister told her she should play the piano. Jensen replied she didn't have the energy to do it, but the two sisters have always been competitive so her sister talked her into playing — and it was wonderful. She played for 30 minutes and then every night after dinner she played for herself and other patients.
“I didn’t think I could do it,” Jensen said. “Well I did it. ... (Playing the piano) has been a really nice gift. Sometimes you don’t know what you can do until you are pushed to do it.
Today she is cancer free, but since 2004 she has had infusions done every four weeks as her immune system is weakened.
“I am more healthy now,” Jensen said. “I am protected.”
Jensen’s shelves are filled with music books she has collected over the years. She said the songs that are harder for her to play are the syncopated ones. She can play them if she practices, but said it's tough to make them sound right.
Jensen plans to play piano for as long as she can, and also passed on some of her genes to her children. She has a son and a daughter, who both took piano lessons when they were young; and she taught her four grandchildren to play.
“They were on my lap when they were born and their fingers were on the key,” Jensen said.
“It is so fulfilling to share my music with my family and with people at church. My favorite music is the classical and sacred songs.”