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A realist and a dreamer set out to make history

Alexandria resident Marcia Benson and fellow musician Heidi Hansen formed a business selling the piano music they compose together. They're catchy tunes that children play while learning to play piano. (Contributed photo)

Heidi Hansen and Marcia Benson are in the music making business.

The women are composers and recently started a business selling their piano music.

"We'd like to sell more music and actually make money at it," Hansen said.

"And go down in history with other famous composers," Benson laughed.

They'll be the first to admit: Hansen is the realist and Benson is the dreamer.

The women have been composing together for four years. They are a lot alike and the clip of their conversation keeps tempo with their upbeat, quick, creative music, that is written primarily for children to perform.

One of their songs, called Minnesquito, is a duet piano piece that's written to sound like that all-too-familiar bug - the mosquito.

When asked to explain what the music sounded like for newspaper readers, Benson said, "It starts out like the old indian themes, like low drum beats. Then, it has places where the student playing slaps and scratches like they were bit by a mosquito. The middle section plays a tune like the old Hamm's Beer commercial. Then, it goes round again back to indian drumbeats. At the end, the performer claps as if they've killed a mosquito. It's a good audience pleaser; they giggle. At one recital we even had bug spray used on stage."

So far, they've sold about 125 copies of Minnesquito.

That storytelling theme continues with their latest piece, The Jaunty Jalopy, which will be featured in May at the Minnesota Music Teacher Association's (MMTA) Honors Concert.

That song sounds like this, Hansen explained: "It starts with horns honking and a putt putt putt repeated pattern. Then there's a little tune like you're driving in countryside in the olden days, but then it stops and our thought was that the jalopy had a flat tire. The song winds down, slows down and comes to a halt. Then, it sounds like there's some tire pumping where it slowly builds up and up and they hit the road again."

Where does inspiration for a song like this come from? A canceled piano lesson.

Benson, a long-time piano teacher in Alexandria, said, "When we started composing together, I had a student cancel her lesson to go to a birthday party at the American Girl store. I remember wishing students were as excited about piano lessons as they were about that store. Then I thought, they should have music to go with American Girl dolls. So that was what started this idea. The Jaunty Jalopy came from the Samantha doll. She has an uncle who had a jalopy. So it started as a solo piece, but we made it a duet for this contest."

The MMTA Honors Concert will feature 20 students, ages 9 and 10, two to a piano, playing The Jaunty Jalopy. The students have advanced from a statewide competition to perform in the concert. They'll have three weeks to learn the song, memorize it, practice with a conductor, and then have one "polishing day" on stage before performing for an auditorium full of music teachers.


The women get together weekly to write and create.

"We brainstorm and work on current projects," Hansen said.

"Which usually turns into gab sessions," Benson added and they laughed.

They said they're still learning the finesse it takes to run their business, Dolce Dolls LLC, but they're doing their best to get their names out there. They said they've even been so bold as to walk into music stores to try to sell their music, which has worked a few times.

Schmitt Music has purchased some of their work, which has been featured in workshops that the music store hosts for piano teachers to shop for new music.

Benson said composing and selling music is like raising a child.

"You worked on creating it. Some pieces have taken eight months to actually get onto paper and come up with the cover we want, and then, when someone likes it, it's like your child left home and grew up. You contributed something wonderful and it's really enjoyable," she said.

They both agree that they enjoy the creative process and hope their music inspires young people to keep learning to play piano.

Benson said, "I had a piano teacher friend's husband tell me once, 'A student should know it takes a long time to learn to play, but years later no one says, I'm so glad I quit playing piano. Instead they say, I wish my mother had made me stick it out.'"

Hansen, a church musician in Clear Lake, said, "I really enjoy composing. It brings a lot of pleasure and we have a lot of laughs."

Benson added, "Playing the piano was my salvation through those dark junior high years. You know, getting dumped or getting a zit. I'd go to the piano and play. Everyone would leave me alone and I could cry or express any emotions I had - anger, frustration, fear, sadness. It was a great release and saved my life many times."

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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