The Healing and Connecting Power of Music – Katherine Doepke

Katherine Doepke

Everything about Katherine Doepke goes back to her love of music. Even the large, hooked rug in her living room, which she completed years ago, is musical. It has a structure, colors and tones, and is pleasing to the eye.

Katherine has lived at the Kenwood since 2013. Her husband had died, and macular degeneration was increasing its toll on her vision. She felt she needed to be among people. While visiting a fellow AAUW member at the Kenwood, she realized that, as her son said, “these are your people.” She likes having conversations with “well-educated, well-traveled people who don’t talk about their health all the time.” Although she never had a sister, she feels that many of the women she has met at The Kenwood are like her sisters, and that The Kenwood is a “wonderful place, my home, my family.” She is a positive woman with a musical voice, and a laugh that often doubles her over.

More than a hundred years ago, Katherine was born in Michigan. Her minister father was called to Fosston, Minnesota when Katherine was about 16. In Fosston Katherine blossomed as a musician. She played the pump organ in church, sang in the choir, played clarinet in the school band, and took piano and voice lessons. Making and listening to music for her was and continues to be “a thrilling satisfaction.”

Katherine was amazed  when she scored highest in her class on a music test. She just assumed that everyone had her ability. She went on to Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, where she took pipe organ and voice, and then to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, achieving a BS in voice, minor in piano, and ultimately, a master’s degree in Music Education. Katherine married, and once her four children were all in school, Katherine became a music teacher for Minneapolis Public Schools, a job she held for 20 years. One of her students at Central High School was Prince. She quickly realized he already knew a lot about music and that she wouldn’t be able to teach him much. He was her only student who asked her to teach him music theory, and even that he master quickly and easily. And she can say she once played with Prince because she loaned him a school synthesizer (against the rules) but figured if she was there, it would be all right. She played the maracas and tambourine with his band.

Katherine has a long list of other musical credentials. After retiring she formed a group, the Gray Aires, which performed different shows at retirement communities like The Kenwood. She is a longtime member of the music fraternity Mu Phi Epsilon and was its international president for a time. She was a president of Thursday Musical, a non-profit organization which promotes local musicians. She was the choir director at her church for 40 years and was also president of the congregation.

But for The Kenwood Retirement Community, perhaps Katherine’s most important musical contribution are the almost daily concerts she performs in the Parlor. And during the COVID crisis, Katherine would play “Kitchen Concerts” so that kitchen staff could enjoy her music while preparing dinner for the residents.

In addition to attending every musical activity offered at the Kenwood (concerts, sing-a-longs, and MacPhail classes to name a few) Katherine also makes a point of attending other activities such as yoga, exercise classes, book club, the Great Courses. She tries to go to everything she can to support the culture of lifelong learning at the Kenwood.

This spring, Katherine and her son produced a CD “Hello Kenwood Friends” in celebration of her long life. In it, Katherine plays piano, tells stories, offers wisdom, and exudes positivity. She is amazed that she has “lived this well, this long,” and remarks that “The Lord has a job for me to do, to help people here (at the Kenwood) by lifting their spirits. Despite her low vision, Katherine lives her basic advice to
“keep moving.” She believes that “Music is healing. Music holds people together.”

Thank you, Katherine, for sharing the healing power of music, and connecting the Kenwood residents and staff together.

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