Marlene Martens: Music as my Christian Witness

Marlene Martens, mother, grandmother, homemaker and pastor’s wife, has farmed with her husband Cornie for over fifty years. She has been accompanist in the Saskatchewan Hoffnungsfelder congregations of Rabbit Lake and Glenbush for over 55 years. 

“My parents purchased a piano from Eaton’s. I had decided that I’d play “Jesus Loves Me” on it, so immediately after it arrived on the train and was set into place, I eagerly attempted to play that song by ear. I was successful! That piano became mine, with a special place in our home. Playing it continues to bring me pleasure and comfort.” 

Marlene took piano lessons for only three or four years and began playing the pump organ for church services as a teenager. At that time, pianists were not given the hymn selections in advance, so she was quickly forced into learning to sight-read. One song leader loved German chorales. Those were a challenge for her because she couldn’t read the gothic script well enough to know if her notes and the printed words matched. However, the congregation was gracious, they always accepted her mistakes and kept singing.

As an adult, Marlene taught herself to play guitar and recently has taken violin lessons - something she would like to pursue further. 

Music making is part of her heritage and carries on to the next generations. Her mother and extended family sang together a lot. As she and her older sister walked to their country school, they practiced singing in harmony. She and Cornie began singing duets shortly after getting married and they continue in this ministry to this day, singing at funerals, anniversaries and at church events. Twelve years ago they made a gospel CD of their songs, entitled “You’re My Best Friend.” This reflects their relationship to each other and to their Lord Jesus Christ.

Marlene formed their five children into a singing group which performed in the church and community. The Martens children even won an Amateur Hour competition!

Now she is a strong encourager of her grandchildren in their piano, voice and other instrumental lessons - expressing an interest in what they are learning, helping with their practises if needed, and attending their performances. She sang a great deal to and did many action songs with Marijane, her Down Syndrome granddaughter, when Marijane was little. Today, twenty years later, Marijane plays piano, love to listen to music and joyfully performs action songs for the congregation.

Marlene says, “It’s my love of music that motivates me to sing and play: praising God, soothing my soul, being my Christian witness. The words and music speak to me and hopefully to others of God’s grace and comfort. On a cruise, Cornie and I sang “The Love of God” during the Sunday service. We knew no one and had no accompaniment, but wanted to honour God by singing of God’s love in that setting.

Playing and singing in public is very humbling - my mistakes are there for all to hear. And I know that there are others who can do it better. So I pray before every occasion that God will help my hands and head to work together as I play.

An old favourite of mine is “I know Whom I Have Believed” because it affirms my faith. A newer favourite, “God of the Mountain,” reminds me of God’s presence in all circumstances. I love four-part singing and hope the next generation will cherish such hymns too.                        

I have lots of good musical memories. A poignant one for me was when my cousin Victor Braun, an operatic baritone, joined in the hymns at his dad’s funeral. Vic sang along, using his talent in a very meaningful tribute to his father. As the sound of his voice grew and enveloped everyone, I longed to stop playing and simply listen.