Cover photo for Sonja Louise Peterson Behrens's Obituary
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Sonja Louise Peterson Behrens

Sonja Louise Peterson Behrens, died peacefully at Hospice of Lancaster County , Lancaster, PA on Friday, February 24, 2012 following a lengthy illness.

Born in Medford, OR, on April 13, 1938 she was the daughter of the late Emil and Catherine Reese Peterson. Sonja was the devoted wife of Jack A. Behrens whom she married August 31, 1962. In addition to her husband she is survived by a sister, Randi Reese Peterson Woods wife of David of Sacramento, CA.

At the age of four she began accordion studies in Medford where she entertained World War II troops, and also started violin and piano studies at an early age.

She was a graduate of Willamette University, Salem OR where she held the prestigious Nancy Black Wallace Scholarship and earned a Bachelor of Music degree in 1960. While a student at Willamette she held various offices in Pi Beta Phi and Mu Phi Epsilon.

Sonja was a scholarship student of the renowned piano pedagogue, Adele Marcus, at the Juilliard School where she received a Master of Science degree in piano performance in 1962. From 1967 to 1969 she pursued doctoral studies on Canada Council Grants at Boston University where she was the recipient of the 1967-1968 Aaron Richmond Piano Award for the “Outstanding” graduate student of Piano at Boston University’s School of Fine and Applied Arts.

She spent the majority of her career as an artist teacher at the University of Western Ontario Faculty of Music from 1976 to 2003, where she administered the Friday at Noon lecture-performance for many years. Following her retirement she taught piano as a sabbatical replacement at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick from 2003 to 2004. Prior to teaching at the University of Western Ontario she taught at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, at California State University, Bakersfield and as sabbatical replacements at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver and Western Washington University, Bellingham.

For several summers she taught and performed at the Courtenay (British Columbia) Youth Music Centre which was known as “Canada’s Summer Community of Musicians.” She performed Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto” both at Courtenay and with the Kern County Philharmonic in Bakersfield, CA. She was a chamber music enthusiast who performed the Brahms Violin Sonatas with Roam Totenberg and The Beethoven Cello sonatas with Malcom Tait. With her husband she performed Olivier Messiaen’s rarely heard “La Vision de l’Amen”, an hour long two piano composition on which they practiced for two years. On several occasions she performed of the CBC the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

She enjoyed practicing on her walnut Steinway Concert Grand and often reminisced about visiting New York’s Shall with her longtime friend, John Cage, to show him the instrument she was about to acquire. Her final days were enlivened by visits from former students now residing in St. Thomas , Toronto, Vancouver and New York City. She also corresponded with many friends and former students whose lives she enhanced.

She was a member of the Grace United Methodist Church in Millersville.

Private services will be held at the convenience of the family. Memorial contributions in Sonja’s memory may be made to the Traditional Music Fund at Grace United Methodist Church, 163 W. Frederick St., Millersville, Pa 17551, to the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, P.O. Box 852, Hershey, PA 17033-0852 or to the University of Western Ontario Don Wright Faculty of Music, London, ON N6A3K7 to underwrite lectures and recitals pertaining to piano and chamber music, especially that composed during Sonja’s lifetime.
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