Doris Bakken of Kerkhoven has a piano lesson session with Dion Simon of rural Kerkhoven this past spring. Bakken has been offering lessons in her house since 1954.
At 82 years old, Doris Bakken of Kerkhoven, teaches piano out of her home three days a week to seven students. Music has been a part of her life since she was young, and she totally loves it.
She’s been teaching out of her home since 1954. “It’s been a long time, and I’ve been playing the organ at the Kerkhoven Lutheran Church for most of that time too.”
Bakken began teaching at home because the Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg choir director needed a piano teacher for a number of her students. One of the students she had that first year was Carolyn Bauman Anderson. Another was Janie McLouth. “They remember coming upstairs in the Nelson house, where we had an upstairs apartment that first year. I had a piano so I could do that.”
It can be challenging to teach young kids, Bakken said, but it’s something she really enjoys. “I wouldn’t keep doing it as long as I have if I didn’t enjoy it. It was nice to be able to do that and be at home when we had our kids.” But, she said, there are times when she wishes her students would have practiced more.
It’s so much fun to teach them, she said, and not only does she teach them, she has them playing piano in festivals and recitals as well. There were festivals in Willmar, she said, but she didn’t start with that until in the 70s. Her students would memorize two pieces, then play them at the festival and have a chance to earn a gold cup. “They had to have 15 points in order to earn a gold cup, and I have several kids that earned gold cups over the years. In fact, one of them earned her third gold cup, Kathy Rice.” Rice took lessons from the time she was 5 years old all the way through her senior year, Bakken said. Other students she taught now teach piano as well, she said, and one of them has a daughter in college that has also started teaching piano.
“I’ve given recitals every year, I haven’t missed a year. The first one was held at the Baptist Church because I had a number of students from the Baptist Church.” She’s also held recitals at the Lutheran Church in Kerkhoven, but most of the time she opts for the Kerkhoven Civic Center. “It’s been so nice to have that civic center because they set up the chairs for you.” It is a lot of work to get ready for a recital, she said, noting she serves lunch at those recitals as well. “I am sure there are many piano teachers who do not serve lunch, but in Kerkhoven they did so I have served lunch ever since.”
Today she’s still putting on recitals at the Civic Center, and serving lunch. “After the last one I was kind of tired after lugging everything down to the Civic Center. I had more students last year, and this year I’m going to ask some of them to help me a little bit more with it.” She said her granddaughter sang in the festival in Willmar so she had her sing in Kerkhoven as well. “I have had other students who were really good singers sing at the recitals too.”
Bakken recalls how the first years she had Christmas parties for her students at her home, and a couple of them at the Civic Center. “They would play a Christmas piece, I would have some games for them and serve them lunch.” They all enjoyed that, she said.
Bakken used to teach almost every day, and generally, it’s after school, but right now it’s three days a week. Her next recital will either be the end of May or the first part of June. Bakken said she doesn’t make her students memorize whatever they’re going to play for the recital because they worked hard for the festival, which was in February. “That used to be in Willmar but it got so huge, 700-800 students, so they broke us up into Willmar West, the Litchfield Group and the Spicer Group. We had ours in Clara City for most of the years, now it has moved to Montevideo because the main teachers at Clara City were not teaching any longer or had only one student they were sending.”
At the recital they will play one or two pieces, and at most of them a duet as well. Bakken, who belongs to the Minnesota Music Teachers Association, said she can enter students in an ensemble festival playing duets. “It can be other instruments other than piano, but basically I’ve entered piano students. Each year now for a long time I’ve had students playing there in November. They will also play another duet – I really think the duet playing helps teach them more about music, so mostly that’s what they do.”
Bakken also gives out awards, like the Gold Cup. “They would get a certificate saying they had taken part in the festival, and they get certificates for taking part in the ensemble festival in November.” She hands them all out and serves lunch she’s prepared herself. “I hope the students are happy with it. I hope it’s a good experience for them, and what I hope for mostly is that they will continue to play later in life, and I think a lot of them do.”
Bakken said some day she may quit teaching music but has no plans to do so at this time. “I just think music is so good for kids, and I think it helps them in their school work. It’s been shown that music lessons help them, particularly in math, but in other areas it does help them too. I think they get more poise.” Having recitals is important, she said, as is having them involved with the ensemble festival. It’s the poise of having them get up in front of people. They have to bow after they’re done – it’s a good experience for them.” A lot of schools have had to cut in music areas, she said, and that’s a shame, because music is very important. “I absolutely love music.” Bakken said she also has an adult student she thoroughly enjoys. “She’s been taking piano for a number of years, and I enjoy having her come.”
Bakken said music has always been part of her life. Her mother’s side was musical more than those on her father’s side. “He didn’t really think they should buy a piano for me because his sisters had taken piano and had not learned how to play or didn’t do anything with it, but my mother, whose sister helped encourage her, wanted a piano.” Bakken said she doesn’t know if her mother helped buy the piano but she got a piano, and she started taking lessons. “For my very first lessons I practiced on the neighbor’s piano. It wasn’t too much longer when we got the piano.”
About 10 years ago, when Bakken was 72 years old, she went with her aunt, who was 96 at the time, to visit some cousins, and during that time her aunt told her that her grandfather had traded a team of horses and a bull for a piano. “I never knew my grandfather because he had died before I was born, but I remember the piano in their house. Later I asked another cousin of mine about it, who is still living at age 103. He said he remembers hearing our grandfather playing the piano.” Bakken said she had uncles that played the violin.
“I love music. I played in the Concordia band – that’s where I met my husband. I also sang in a chapel choir one year, played one hour at band and one hour at chapel choir, and I was also taking organ lessons. She took piano the first year at Concordia then organ the rest of the time.
Bakken said her mother loved music, and that’s probably why music is such a big part of her life. Bakken grew up in Starbuck where she sang in groups in church and school. There was an emphasis on music, she said, and Starbuck even had a community band that would play in the band shell way back then. “There was a lot of emphasis on music in the community.”
Bakken and her husband lived in Kenmare, N.D. for a time, then moved to Kerkhoven to be closer to relatives. “There was an opening in Kerkhoven, and my grandmother was still living at that time near the West Lake Johanna Church. So the fact that there was relatives in the Sunburg, Brooten, Glenwood and Starbuck areas were part of the decision to move to Kerkhoven.
She didn’t move with the intention of teaching in the KMS school. “Perhaps if that choir director hadn’t had those students I maybe would not have done that. I did end up doing quite a bit of subbing at the school. It’s funny all the things that just happen, and you go with it.”
She’s happy that music is a big part of her life, and she loves teaching piano to her seven students. It puts a smile on her face and memories in her heart.