Grandma Yonkman with Dad at the Piano

Grandma Yonkman with Dad at the Piano

Grandma Yonkman was born in rural northern Michigan to Dutch immigrant dairy farmers. After getting a basic education, she married the son of a local Dutch dairy farmer. Grandpa noticed her walking home from church one Sunday and offered her a ride. The rest is history. Together Grandpa and Grandma built a dairy farm of their own. Grandma bore seven children, worked hard, worried a lot, and took me fishing when there was a break in the constant press of running a family farm.

She was also an incredibly talented musician.

As far as I know, she never took music lessons. She never performed in public that I’m aware of. Nevertheless, she kept a small electric organ in the living room. She would come home after worship on Sunday and play all of the music the the paid, professional church organist had played note for note. She also played piano, accordion, and guitar.

Grandma was my first guitar teacher. Sitting together on the couch, she taught me traditional folk songs like “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain,” “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” and “Danny Boy.”

When I was 9 or 10-years-old, she bought me a child-sized accordion and a book of hymns written for accordion. I spent hours rehearsing “My Faith Looks Up to Thee.”

Many years later, my daughters rehearse for their piano lessons on Grandma Yonkman’s piano.

Music has been a big part of my life. I began singing in church as a child; I took piano and voice lessons for many years; I studied music at Calvin College; I’ve sung in numerous choirs and musical groups; I’ve played in rock bands; and most recently I’ve been using voice and guitar as tools in my ministry–playing worship music for small gatherings of Christians and doing music programs for nursing home residents and school children.

What’s important to me is that Grandma used music as a way of connecting to God, to her family, to me. And for me, that remains the most important thing about music: it is a means of connecting with people and building community. I’m grateful Grandma took the time to share the gift of music with me. I’m grateful for the opportunities I have to pass it on.

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