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Union member Sue Nelson continues 12-year gig as organist for Minnesota Twins

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, May 21, 2010

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS — Amidst all that’s new at the new Minnesota Twins ballpark, fans will experience something familiar: the sound  of the live organ music accompanying the game. The musician at the keyboard is Sue Nelson, a member of Twin Cities Musicians Union Local 30-73.

Keeping live music at professional baseball games is an important tradition, Nelson believes. “It sounds like old-time baseball,” she says.

Nelson has played live at Twins games for 12 years. For Nelson, the move from the Metrodome to the new ballpark brings her out of a small private room and into the middle of the Twins Pub located at Terrace 213.

“It’s really different for me to be right in the middle of a bar,” Nelson says. “It’s really different for me to have that many people around.”

Nelson plays a Yamaha E Series electric organ which she believes made the move from the old Metropolitan Stadium to the Metrodome and now to the new ballpark.

At first, set up in her new work station, she could only see the pitcher’s mound. “I have to see the batter,” she notes. At Nelson’s request, the organ was put on a riser. Now, she says, “I can see home plate. It’s a wonderful view of the game.”

Nelson follows the game closely and draws from a repertoire she has developed to play a few notes to accompany a base hit, or when the catcher walks up to the mound, or for the out that ends an inning, and so on. “You have to be concentrating on the game when you’re playing — you can’t be looking at your fingers or music or anything.”

Organist Sue Nelson, a member of the Twin Cities Musicians Union, is in her 12th year performing at Minnesota Twins games. She loves the new ballpark. “It’s our field of dreams.”

Nelson loves when she gets the crowd clapping along with her music. “I’m a cheerleader, that’s all,” she says. “I’m not even a good musician.”

Local sports fans likely would disagree: going back 29 years, they have heard Nelson play for the former Minnesota North Stars hockey team, the former Minnesota Strikers soccer team, the Twins, and now the Minnesota Wild hockey team. The games just wouldn’t be the same without her live music.

 Nelson grew up in the small town of Nicollet, Minnesota. “I started piano lessons when I was little — piano lessons from the pastor’s wife.” She graduated from high school in New Ulm and attended Dr. Martin Luther College and Mankato State.

She landed a job in a local music store. “Then I started teaching people in the music store,” she relates.

She played supper clubs in southwest Minnesota and a piano bar in Fairmount and later moved to the Twin Cities.

Nelson joined the Twin Cities Musicians Union in 1972 so she could take work as a substitute playing for the North Stars. She later became a lifetime member of the union. She now is in her 12th year playing for the Minnesota Twins.

“I credit the union a lot,” she says. I wouldn’t have been able to keep this job without them.” The union’s contract with the Twins stipulates that the union will provide an organist for all Twins home games.

Nelson wishes someone now was watching her play at Twins games the way she learned from her mentor, Ronnie Neuman. “I’m afraid when I’m done, there won’t be anyone else to do it.”

In addition to performing at Twins games, Nelson is a goodwill ambassador for the Twins at special events and rallies. Nelson also volunteers to visit schools, about 10 visits a year, bringing an electric keyboard and playing the national anthem and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

She encourages kids in the schools to practice their instruments, she says, “but it’s hard for me to encourage people to be a musician because it’s a hard life.”

“But if you are a musician,” she continues, “you’re not happy doing anything else. You can’t do anything about it.”


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