Despite the pandemic, Brooke Thoen – known to music fans as Brooke Elizabeth – is moving forward with a career that has been her goal since she first picked up a guitar.
The 13-year-old with a blue acoustic guitar who first performed here eight years ago is now a 21-year-old professional with a recording contract and an original song featured on the TV soap opera “General Hospital.”
Family support, local training and unique opportunities all played important roles in getting Brooke where she is today.
Brooke still enjoys playing the blue Fender that was a gift for her 13th birthday. She felt an immediate connection with that instrument.
“I loved it,” she said, and promptly started lessons in an Ellsworth church basement. “There was so much about music I wanted to learn.”
Enter Mike Arturi, drummer for The Lovin’ Spoonful and founder of the Universal Music Center in Red Wing. Brooke’s big sister told her that a music school was opening in Red Wing after hearing him speak at Ellsworth High School.
One visit was all it took to convince the eighth-grader it was the place for her. “I loved that there would be opportunities to perform and to learn,” she said. “I started right away.”
Instructor Mark Woerpel recognized her potential. “She’s unique,” he said, citing both her voice and her style. “She came in as a guitar lesson student” but quickly advanced to working on arrangements of cover songs. From there it was a simple step to writing her own songs.
“She was 13, with no experience,” Arturi recalled. But when he and Woerpel saw what Brooke was trying to do, they became her mentors. “We helped her do it.”
Brooke learned quickly, and in summer of 2012 she opened for The Lovin’ Spoonful at the Rollin’ River Music Festival in the Central Park Bandshell, performing “Let It Be.” That was just the first of many local appearances at Red Wing area festivals and concerts.
“There were so many opportunities to get up on stage,” she said. And for her, “Seeing all the other students, being excited for each other, supporting them and cheering, like a family,” was equally memorable.
Woerpel, a recording artist who performs with Them Pesky Kids, taught her about crafting and recording music; Arturi helped her with stage presence.
Brooke’s unique sound was always encouraged.
“She has her own style, which is evolving with every new song,” Woerpel said.
“I have always recognized just being my own person,” Brooke said. “Music helped me become that person. So when I started writing music, that style seemed to happen naturally.”
“’Paradise’” -- her first song -- “just came out.”
Her style is hard to describe, Brooke said, calling it “indie with a touch of pop – not mainstream pop. … It’s personal. I write what I feel.”
Brooke continued studying at UMC for more than four years, with essential support from her parents, Karen and Steve Thoen, and siblings. Her mother came with her to recording sessions.
She was about 15 when she recorded her first songs, with Arturi on drums, mostly for the experience. But using that demo, she soon began booking gigs and performing at wine bars and vineyards, restaurants, bookstores and weddings. From local venues, she expanded into the Twin Cities market.
She graduated from online high school in 2017. Although she is no longer a student at UMC, she remains involved with the school and appears in some of its shows, including performances at Treasure Island Resort & Casino.
Brooke decided to pursue voice lessons and connected with singer-songwriter Keri Noble in the Twin Cities. “She helped me improve my own style.”
Those lessons led to a unique opportunity when Noble invited 17-year-old Brooke to join her on stage during a performance at the renowned Dakota Jazz Club.
“Everywhere I would play I would meet people,” Brooke noted, and they would refer her to other opportunities. “I wanted it so bad,” she said. “Performing was my favorite thing – and writing. … I want to do this for the rest of my life.”
Brooke traveled to California to attend Artist Maxx, an artist development convention where she continued to learn and to network. At 19, she opened for the band Lovely at Cities 97’s Live at the Lake, after which the radio station featured her song “You.”
Another accomplishment came about because of Woerpel’s relationship with In the Groove Music in Minneapolis, a publishing house that provides music for television programs, movies, sports channels and the like. He’s a writer and producer.
In the Groove was looking for female solo artists, so he recommended Brooke. At their request, she wrote and recorded 10 songs about relationships in fall of 2018 and February of 2019.
To Brooke’s surprise, her royalty statement in September of 2020 revealed that the TV soap opera “General Hospital” had picked up one of the songs, “Go Away.” It played in the background while two female actors sat in a restaurant talking.
“She’ll get paid every time that episode is played” on any streaming service, Woerpel said.
Brooke competed in the 2018 Celebration of Music sponsored by Sun & Sky, an independent label headquartered in Florida. She was not a Minneapolis winner, but the company later reached out and invited her to come to California and be part of their national show on PBS.
Like other musicians, Brooke was affected by the pandemic. “I stopped performing,” she said, and she struggled creatively. “Writing comes from experiences, and I was not going out in the chaos of the pandemic.”
However, she said, “I adjusted.” She did patio concerts for a while, but that ended when the weather got cold.
A Minneapolis resident now, she is working four days a week as a nanny for a Twin Cities family and attending school virtually, studying psychology with a focus in child and adolescent development through Southern New Hampshire University.
Earlier this year Sun & Sky had her do a YouTube video – an interview with Ethan Bortnick, during which she performed a couple of her songs. In July, her relationship with the company blossomed into a recording contract.
Now, she said, “I’m working on a new EP with pandemic songs” to be released in 2021, and Sun & Sky is talking about a tour when Covid 19 allows. And she’s taking advantage of social media opportunities.
Sun & Sky released three singles, “Outside,” “scared of me” and “Where Are We Going,” which are available on streaming services. The latter two songs were placed on Toposify playlists on Spotify. Fans can also find her on You Tube, on her Website and on Instagram, at brookelizabethmusic.
Brooke maintains her connection with Universal Music Center because she appreciates that they enabled her to explore her own talents and prepared her for a career in music.
“I went out into the music world with all these tools that I learned here,” she said.
It’s really all about her, Arturi said. “Brooke has natural ability. I remember watching her fingers on the guitar -- graceful, effortless. She just has music in her.”