Forty-seven years ago, the Ericksen sisters - Marie, Helen, Virginia and Elaine, then young women in high school and college - played a joint piano concert in Logan.
A few weeks ago, the Ericksen sisters - Marie, Virginia, Elaine and La Vona (replacing now-deceased Helen) made the grand tour, performing a series of five piano-vocal concerts throughout the West.They have not become world-class artists in the meantime, nor have they spent their lives polishing great techniques. They are simply four sisters through whose lives the joy of playing and sharing music - with each other, their families, their friends and their church - has entwined like a shining thread.
Meanwhile each sister has married, and each has raised five children. Among them they have 45 grandchildren and, surprisingly, no one is yet a widow. Marie E. Bigler lives in San Diego with her retired accountant husband, Clarence; Virginia E. Rigby's husband Don is a farmer in Bancroft, Idaho; Elaine E. Green's husband, Harmon, is an engineer at LDS Hospital; and La Vona, married to Nevada Supreme Court Justice Thomas L. Steffen, lives in Carson City.
Accordingly, the tour took the sisters to San Diego on Sept. 28, Carson City on Sept. 30, Salt Lake City Oct. 4 and Bancroft on Oct. 6.
On Oct. 8 they came full circle, playing in Beaver Dam, Box Elder County, in the same rock LDS chapel where they attended church as children. The chapel now has an addition that doubles its size, but the stone matches to perfection. In the same way, the women have grown and developed over the years, but the Ericksen essence remains.
"When we first thought of doing this tour, we wanted it primarily to be a living tribute to our parents, and to the sort of home in which we were raised," said La Vona. "That's why we chose Janice Kapp Perry's `Love Is Spoken Here' for our closing number; but we changed to past tense, `Love Was Spoken There,' for that was exactly the spirit of our home."
"We can't remember any crossness from our parents," Marie agreed. "Oh, Mother wished she could have a load of gravel near the door to cut down on the mud, or a place to put her washer. We had a normal home, and our brothers fought like any other boys. But our parents were never cross, always united."
In the little Bear River Valley hamlet, Mary La Vona and Joseph Alma Ericksen raised nine children on a dry farm. "The Depression was going on, and we were poor but we didn't know it," said Virginia. "We slept sometimes three in a bed, but there was always plenty of food, and everyone else was in the same boat in the little country school where most of us attended eight grades in two rooms."
All the children went to Bear River High School, and all four sisters went on to Utah State University for at least three years before marrying. Virginia stayed to finish a degree.
But Depression or not, music was a necessity not to be neglected in the Ericksen home, where the mother had a fine contralto voice and the father served as cheerleader, often adding a rousing chorus on the mouth organ.
The family was not long in finding its way to Prof. Samuel E. Clark, a graduate of the New England Conservatory and teacher of piano at Utah State University, who gave all five girls lessons.
The women have fond memories of the professor, a courtly man who always taught in suit and tie. Mostly they took lessons in the summer, when travel to Logan was easier, at the lordly sum of $2 a lesson. "Our parents became good friends with Prof. Clark, who never expected to be paid until after the wheat crop came in," said Elaine.
"After awhile Marie began to teach the younger ones," said La Vona, the "kid sister" during those hard years of the '30s. On winter mornings the girls began practicing as early as 5 a.m., taking turns getting up earliest.
"Prof. Clark used to spend what seemed a lot of the time telling stories, and I wished he would get on with the lesson, but now I know he was telling me important things," said Marie.
Since then, all the women have kept up their piano proficiency to a great extent. Many an accompaniment has flowed through their fingers, and Elaine has become a competent organist as well. Marie has enjoyed attending workshops and keeping up on what went on in the piano world. La Vona, the only singer in the group, studied with Gene Jorgenson of Tremonton and later with Florence J. Madsen at BYU. And Virginia, who has recently resumed piano lessons, travels 60 miles each way to study with Brent Johnston in Ashton, Wyo.
The concert program took shape last February, when all spent a week with La Vona and brought their music along. "We planned to do our tour in April, but everything fell apart, with sickness and family problems. We had to postpone until September," said Elaine.
"We spent a week at Marie's in San Diego before the concerts to polish things up, and it was a wonderful experience for us as sisters, being together for three weeks like that."
Even so, the undertaking was major: practicing, arranging the halls, programs and flowers, getting the extra pianos moved in, and having them tuned.
"But we had the full support and encouragement of all our husbands," said La Vona with satisfaction. "If even one of them had been hesitant it would have put a damper on the idea, and we couldn't all have been involved."
The program of solos, duets and even a quartet contained a little Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Chopin, and some nostalgic airs from the past - things like "Old Vienna" by Godowsky, "Island Spell" by Ireland, "The Lotus Land" by Cyril Scott, "Serenade" by Toselli, "The Last Spring" by Grieg, "A Spirit Flower" by Campbell-Tipton.
You had to be over 50 to remember "Sing Me to Sleep," a old lullaby sung by La Vona and Marie. No one was a brilliant virtuoso, but everyone played accurately and with the sort of feeling that showed they know what music is all about.
"We decided from the start that we wouldn't let little mistakes upset us, we would just go for the spirit of the thing," said Virginia. "We had a wonderful response at every concert. We played for about 250 each night, for a total of more than 1,200 people.
"The musical spark in our families has not died out," said Virginia. "I and my husband still play duets, and each of us sisters performs at our family reunions. A few of our children are good pianists or singers, and we hope we have shown them that it's never too late to enjoy music, or to be a musician."