Musicians in the Family

I am the first to admit, that while I wish I had some musical inclinations, I was born without any of those genes.

However, I definitely have at least two musical ancestors.

First is my 3X great grandfather, Johannes Jensen. I’ve written extensively about him, as the Jensens in Copenhagen were one of my brick walls for over 30 years.

Johannes Jensen was dealt a really tough hand in the cards of life, being given up for adoption two days after he was born in the unwed mothers’ hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark on 27 April 1810.

I believe his adoptive father, who was a master tanner and likely would have apprenticed Johannes, died before Johannes was five and he likely then went to live in the city orphanage.

A month before his 16th birthday, Johannes entered the Danish army and spent his adult life as a soldier stationed at Rosenborg Castle, where the Danish royal jewels are housed.

Army Barracks at Rosenborg Castle
Source: My Personal Photo

Either Johannes had a natural affinity for music or else one of his ancestors passed on the musical gene because Johannes became the company drummer and fiddler. He was a career soldier, finally retiring from military service c1852.

Grandmother (Hazel Coleman Adams, 1901-1995) never mentioned whether her grandfather, Frits (Johannes’s son) or her own mother, Anna Elizabeth (Johannes’s granddaughter) were artistically or musically inclined. However, Grandmother loved painting and playing the piano.

I don’t remember her ever painting freehand, but she loved tole painting and stenciling furniture.

Mostly, I remember her piano, kept in the basement of both the houses she lived in during my lifetime:

Unfortunately, this is the best photo I have of the piano, since the piano itself was never the subject of a picture! You can see the sheet music out and I remember Grandmother playing beautifully for her own enjoyment.

She taught me a few keys and I learned how to play My Country Tis of Thee, but that is as far as I ever got musically on the piano. Of course my grandparents lived in Massachusetts and I was in New Jersey. Perhaps if we lived closer together, more of Grandmother’s musical ability would have rubbed off on me.

From grades 1-3, Mrs. Tiessen came to our classroom every so often and we learned to sing songs AND play the autoharp, which sits flat on a table and is strummed like a guitar to enhance singing. I enjoyed the times I was chosen to play one of the autoharps, but strumming along only necessitated paying attention to which song words needed the accompaniment.

In fourth grade, I excitedly came home from school with information about taking music lessons. My friend, Sharon, could already play the clarinet and I wanted to learn how to play, too. The lessons were free, since it was part of music education at school, but renting the instrument did cost money. I have no memory about how much it was, but my mother said no because she didn’t think I’d stick with it even though the instrument had to be rented for the entire year. Money out the door for nothing.

About that same time, and maybe in response to being told no, I received a small electric table-sized organ as a gift, probably for Christmas. I remember that it was a yellowy brown colored wood (or fake wood) and was probably no more than 18 inches or so wide. I did have a small music book and learned to play two or three songs, but soon gave it up. I guess Mom made the right decision about the clarinet.

Also about the same time – 4th grade – everyone had the opportunity to learn to play the tonette. It was a small, black instrument that all the students had to buy. I think it cost all of $1.00 or so! We had weekly lessons, but I don’t remember if a music teacher came in (I don’t think so) or if our classroom teacher had to teach us, which I think was the case.

To summarize, my 3X great grandfather, Johannes Jensen, and his great granddaughter, Hazel Ethel Coleman, definitely had the musical genes. My mother never showed any artistic or musical tendencies and, although I was able to dabble with the piano, autoharp and tonette, I think those genes passed my by, too!

How about you?


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