Astrid Forde was so nervous the day she auditioned for the opportunity to study with acclaimed Polish pianist Countess Helena Morsztyn that she hit a few wrong notes. Forde was still impressive enough that Morsztyn recognized the 16-year-old farm girl's talent and took her on as a student.
That was a major accomplishment, because Morsztyn regularly turned down hundreds of requests. Through study with Morsztyn, Forde developed a deep love and interpretive understanding of the music of Chopin that she would pass on to scores of piano students in the central Minnesota town of Starbuck, said her son Daniel, of Eagan.
"She was always ready to impart her knowledge so they would learn to appreciate how to play good music," he said.
Forde played the organ, directed church choirs and sang at weddings and funerals at three small congregations around Starbuck for 52 years. For her efforts she was named a WCCO Good Neighbor in January 1992.
She died of natural causes on March 26 at the Lyngblomsten Care Center in St. Paul. She was 101.
Forde first tickled the ivories when she was around 9. After eighth grade, she enrolled at the Minneapolis College of Music, where she studied with Morsztyn. She also took classes at the MacPhail Center for the Arts.
In 1937, she performed in concert with her alma mater's orchestra and received rave reviews from Star Tribune music critic James Davies: "Astrid Flack [her maiden name], pianist, contributed the third movement from Saint-Saëns concerto in C minor displaying a flashy technique, warm temperament, musicianship and interpretative skill."
In Starbuck, Forde teamed up with her husband, Gerhard, at Christmas and Easter for 16 years to stage performances of Handel's "Messiah" that featured an orchestra and choir. She also directed choirs at Indherred, St. John's and Immanuel Lutheran churches. When she retired in 1991, it marked the end of 100 years that the Forde family had provided music ministry at the three churches, Daniel said.
Forde gave 40 to 50 piano lessons a week, charging only $1.50 per lesson because "she didn't want cost to be an issue," Daniel said. "She wanted her students to become what they could be."
Many of her students went to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., and Forde would travel there to play with them when they gave their senior recital. Nearly 100 former students showed up last year for Forde's 100th birthday party, Daniel said.
Forde traveled throughout central Minnesota in the 1970s to help introduce congregations to a new Lutheran hymnal.
Forde was extremely proud of her Norwegian heritage and liked to make klokkestreng, embroidered wall hangings. She also enjoyed gardening. Her favorite flowers were gladiolus, Daniel said.
In addition to her son Daniel, she is survived by five other sons, Nels of Pequot Lakes, the Rev. Paul of Fountain, Minn., Mark of St. Paul, Jonathan of Shallotte, N.C., and Michael of Eden Prairie; a daughter, Astrid Anne Young of Midlothian, Va.; 25 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. Services have been held.