Evelyn Ruth Sorensen Lauritzen
1922 - 2020
Evelyn Lauritzen, a pianist, organist, and composer, knew by the time she was five years old that she wanted to be a piano teacher. At that age, she began study on the instrument and became so enthralled with it she could think of little else. That interest and a later one in voice led to a career that included giving lessons for over sixty years to countless students at three colleges, an academy, and in her home.
Evelyn was born on January 24, 1922, in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, the ninth of eleven children of Maurice and Petra Sorensen, who both had natural musical gifts. Her father had played violin in Denmark before emigrating to the U.S., and although he had not brought his instrument with him, he enjoyed singing for his own pleasure in his new life in America.
The children all sang and learned to play instruments and participated in music ensembles at home and in school. At Christmas time the brothers would sing choir music they had learned in school while they and their father cleaned up following the holiday meal, while the women visited in the next room.
Evelyn and an older sister, Mae, took piano lessons from a series of teachers who periodically visited their town. Lessons were infrequent and both sisters essentially taught themselves to play. Both possessed considerable musical talent, including absolute pitch and innate improvisational skills, and became proficient pianists as well as singers.
The last of these itinerant piano teachers for Evelyn, Florence Bergstom, was important in her development as a pianist. She gave her challenging music, such as a Schubert impromptu, and insisted on her playing with close attention to detail and using correct technique. Recalling the experience in later years, Evelyn would regard her lessons with Bergstrom as an excellent preparation for her academy years.
Her father served as president of the Minnesota Creamery Men's Cooperative. When it became his responsibility to organize a state convention near where they lived, he wanted her to play special music for that event, specifically requesting that she play a Chopin waltz that was a favorite of his. For a young person just entering her teens, it was an exciting experience and the enthusiastic ovation that followed her playing would remain a vivid memory decades later.
From 1932 through 1936, the mother and children joined the Seventh-day Adventist church. When Evelyn left home to attend Maplewood Academy, an Adventist school, from 1937-1940, her musical interests, and extensive involvement in music there led to a friendship with Adrian Lauritzen, music teacher at MWA. She later recalled,
It was a sensitive situation since no teacher/student relationship of a personal nature was tolerated. Although there was a feeling and closeness that developed over time, nothing verbally or physically was ever expressed. It was simply a close friendship that continued through the time I graduated.
In the summer following graduation she played piano for camp meeting where her ability to improvise chordal accompaniments after one hearing of the solo proved helpful, a skill that would serve her well for the rest of her life. She attended McPhail College of Music for a semester that fall and then had to return home to help because her father was ill. During her stay at home, she gave piano lessons.
When she and Lauritzen married in 1942, two years after she graduated, Evelyn taught music lessons at the academy and in 1944, when Adrian accepted a position as chair of the music department at Union College, she also assisted in the piano and vocal areas.
In 1946, they returned to the Minneapolis, Minnesota, area to be near his parents, who were having medical problems. While there, Adrian was hired to teach classes in music at MacPhail College of Music, where he had earlier completed his undergraduate and master's degrees. Evelyn also taught at MCM during this time, giving lessons in voice.
They moved to the Chicago area in 1948 when Adrian began doctoral study at the Chicago Musical College. Near the end of his work at CMC, Southern Missionary College, now Southern Adventist University, asked him to chair the music program there, an offer he accepted in 1952. Evelyn assisted in the vocal area during their five years there.
They returned to the Minneapolis area in 1957, where Adrian was asked to serve as the Dean of MCM. She began teaching lessons at home and continued her studies in music at MCM, taking classes and lessons in voice, piano, and organ. Because of the increase in students taking lessons from her in all three areas at home, as many as 46 lessons a week, and her role as a mother in raising two sons, Jeffrey and Barry, her study at MCM was slowed.
Evelyn was active as an organist during these years, completing a B.Mus. in organ in 1965 at McPhail. While in attendance there, she was a member and an officer in Sigma Alpha Iota, an honor society. As a teacher and organist, she was also a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and the American Guild of Organists (AGO).
Beginning when her children were very young, Evelyn was active in working with the cradle roll and kindergarten divisions of Sabbath School. She became known for her expertise and creativity in working with these age groups, wrote a monthly column for those who taught in those divisions, and frequently gave workshops throughout the Minnesota Conference and at their camp meetings. She also wrote a number of songs for use at this level, some of which were published by the General Conference. In 2000, she was named Woman of the Year by the Minnesota SDA Women's Ministries.
Through the years, her reputation as a teacher led to a lesson load at home of over 40 students at times. Although she particularly enjoyed working with the very young, her studio included students of all ages. She was living in a suburb of Minneapolis when she died on August 21, 2020, at age 98.
Sources: Conversations and interviews with Evelyn Lauritzen, 2004 to 2009; personal knowledge; email notification of her death by Jeffrey Lauritzen.