No one ever said life was going to be easy, and for most musicians, that statement frequently goes double. Then there is the case of pianist Jennifer DeFrayne whose life threw enough stumbling blocks and obstacles in her way to meet the requirements for a half dozen artists! That this talented woman has not only persevered but has emerged triumphant is a testament to the adage that when life gives you lemons, well, you all know the rest.
Born amongst the stark (and, in winter, savage) beauty of Michigan's Upper Peninsula (U.P.), one of the cradles of Finnish heritage and culture in North America, Jennifer (Palosaari- her Finnish given name) came to love playing piano by the age of five. She eschewed the more typical classical lessons, opting instead for crafting her own original melodies, inspired by the surrounding beauty of her physical world as well as her emotional connections to her family. During favorable weather, neighbors would request that the family leave their windows open to allow Jennifer's melodies to reach into their homes. One (of several) musical turning points came when, while playing at a local art gallery as a teenager, the gallery owner compared her music to George Winston's (who was unknown to Jennifer at the time). Needless to say, the discovery that others "out there" embraced her style of music propelled her to explore a more concrete vision of performing and recording, leading her to college studies in music management, where professors, friends, and performers all offered more encouragement.
Her dream was halted when the family experienced a series of tragic losses in succession (Jennifer's father, sister, and uncle). She funneled her grief and sorrow into her music, and to this day, she uses hardship and suffering to fuel her creativity, as well as offering a healing outlet from tragedy. Putting aside her musical career aspirations, Jennifer started a family, and all was going well until adversity intruded yet again. She suffered a debilitating stroke, impacting her movement, memory and speech. Her truest companion, her beloved piano, had to sit silent even as melodies continued to spring forth in her still active mind. Over the course of several years, Jennifer gradually "reemerged" from her stroke's cocoon, and reconnected with the beloved instrument. While recovering, she also came to discover an affinity for the physical healing arts, and she began studies in Massage Therapy and Reiki, uncovering in herself a deep-rooted desire to aid others in their respective healings (through both her therapeutic practices and her music).
In 2012 Jennifer posted one of her original piano pieces on TuneCore and New Age Music Circle where she was "discovered" by Australian pianist and recording artist Fiona Joy who then put Jennifer in touch with legendary producer/guitarist Will Ackerman (founder of Windham Hill Records). To make a long story short, in 2013 Jennifer journeyed to Ackerman's Imaginary Road Studio and recorded her debut album, By A Wire, in the process winning not just great acclaim, but also the Best New Artist award from Zone Music Reporter, the premier website devoted to acknowledging contemporary instrumental music recordings.
A 12-year stay at home mom by this time, in addition to the release of By A Wire, 2013 proved to be a pivotal year for Jennifer in other ways. After discovering her affinity for the healing arts and her desire to make it her vocation, she received her Massage Therapist license and began practicing, relishing the opportunity to help others as she had been helped while recovering from her stroke and a prior neck surgery (also through massage). She expanded her healing capabilities by becoming both a Reiki Master and a CranioSacral Therapist. With these newfound successes and happiness, you can well imagine what was just around the corner. Here came her old friends, trial and tribulation. A series of painful skin reactions and discomfort led to a diagnosis of a severe allergic reaction to many of the chemicals every massage therapist comes in contact with. Feeling disappointed that her calling to that segment of the healing arts was lost to her, Jennifer has continued her Reiki and CranioSacral practices instead because she refused to let anything derail her desire to help others heal in whatever way she could. It was time to start composing her “Sisu”.
Recalling her childhood in the U.P. and her Finnish heritage, Jennifer reflected on how the Finnish concept of sisu has continuously flowed through her life, instilling in her the strength and the courage to face any challenge and adapt or even flourish as a response. Sisu can best be defined as a uniquely Finnish quality used to characterize the Finnish spirit—a mindset that enables an individual to reach beyond their present limitations, take action against all odds and transform struggles into success. As Jennifer states "It is a universal capacity which we all share: Perseverance, Courage, Endurance, Determination, Grit, Fortitude, Bravery, Spirit, Resilience and Inner Strength." Perhaps it could be referred to as "the Finnish Force."
Amidst all the hardships of recent years, serendipity gifted something wonderful to the talented pianist and healing arts practitioner. As a result of recording By A Wire, Jennifer met Grammy winning producer and engineer Corin Nelsen. The meeting bloomed into friendship which evolved into much more and the two are now happily engaged. Jen and Corin reside in Oxford, Michigan with Jennifer's two children where the couple balance their musical careers with parenthood and whatever else life throws their way.
Jennifer DeFrayne's second recording, Sisu, inspired by all that the Finnish quality epitomizes, was released March 3, 2017. Produced by both Corin and Jennifer, it marks the next phase of her musical career and is already receiving praise from noted reviewer Bill Binkelman who stated " Jennifer DeFrayne's Sisu is not just better than her debut, which is already high praise, but it is a work of such emotional depth, technical artistry, and self-assuredness, that I am left wondering 'Where has this remarkable woman been all this time?' "
"Sisu is a deeply personal musical voyage that you will want to take many times, exploring the nooks and crannies in each track."
Bill Binkelman – Zone Music Reporter