Today’s DYKYAGO features the Councillor for Region VI, Jan Kraybill. Jan talks about life outside of organ as well as the technological advances in her region (as well as the region’s blog). Enjoy reading onward and then enjoying the rest of your Memorial Day celebrations!
Thank you for agreeing to be a part of our DYKYAGO series, Jan! Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself?
Thanks for the invitation to contribute to this series! I’m the Principal Organist at the international headquarters of the Community of Christ denomination in Independence, Missouri. I also am in my third and final term as AGO Councillor for Region VI, serving Guild chapters and members in ten states in the north central U.S. And I have recently been named as the Conservator for the Julia Kauffman Casavant organ in the exciting new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City.
How did you begin to learn about the American Guild of Organists?
There was a student chapter at Kansas State University when I earned my bachelor and masters’ degrees. I was not majoring in organ at the time – my first two degrees are in music education and piano performance – but students in the music department were quite supportive of each other across disciplines, so I learned a lot about organ playing from them and the organ instructor there, Dr. Mary Ellen Sutton. I had a church organ job and also accompanied the university’s choirs at the organ. Dr. Sutton encouraged me to become a Guild member.
When did you begin to learn how to play the organ?
Like many organists, I began playing because my church needed an extra organist. I had been taking piano lessons since I was three years old, and had played the piano at various church functions many times. Our small Presbyterian church in Colby, Kansas, was fortunate to have a Reuter pipe organ. At fourteen, I became interested in organ lessons, and Velma Lippoldt, our church organist, was my first organ instructor. She gave me a foundation of good service-playing technique and an appreciation of the organ’s wide variety of tonal color.
Have you done anything else as a career besides organ?
Funny you should ask! I don’t know what constitutes a “career” exactly, but other jobs I’ve held have included secretarial positions in two different architectural firms and a music school; technical writing, computer programming and website development jobs; several roles in the research and development publishing arm of a pharmaceutical company; and musically, employment as a public school teacher, choral arranger, typesetter, reviewer, workshop presenter, private piano/voice instructor, accompanist, harpsichordist, and conductor of choirs and bell choirs. I find that my varied background helps me to rise to the challenges that face church musicians today – one must bring so much more than musical skills to the table.
Are there any particular challenges to being Councillor for Region VI?
There are definitely challenges but also joys. One challenge is that the chapters in most Midwestern states are separated by large geographical distances. Sometimes that means an organist might live a 5+ hour drive from the nearest chapter. An associated joys, though, is telling these Guild members about the AGO’s development of the Independent Member category which can be very helpful to them. Another joy is planning and attending Region VI’s conventions, which become somewhat like family reunions, where attendees are glad to be reunited with “organ family” members we don’t get to see very often.
What do you find most rewarding in your life?
This may sound sappy or trite, but I truly do find that helping congregations to sing with gusto, and helping concert audiences to appreciate the wide diversity of the organ’s repertoire, is immensely rewarding. Outside of music, I find being a good partner to my husband, Allan, to be most rewarding in a completely different way. And I can’t resist mentioning my Harley-Davidson motorcycle – being out on the road, overcoming the physical challenges bikers face, and feeling the intense sensory overload that is a part of each ride, is rewarding in another completely different way.
What is your favorite album (organ, classical or otherwise)?
How can one choose only one favorite out of all the variety out there! I just can’t. I really appreciate my laptop and iPhone that carry any tune I might want to listen to in any given moment.
How did you become involved in the technological part of your AGO Region (http://www.agor6.blogspot.com/)?
About five years ago, Lary Grossman, the then-Councillor for Region I, who is much more tech-savvy than I, showed me how easy it was to create a blog. I started the Region VI blog during my first term, and I now use it almost exclusively for communication within Region VI. It’s free, and it helps make the organization “flatter” because every member (and the public) can learn about the Guild’s activities whenever they’d like, without having to go through any sort of communication hierarchy from national to regional to chapter to member. All of those links in the communication chain are still important, but in this age of instant communication, sometimes it’s best just to go directly to/from the source.
How important do you think it is that the AGO continues to broaden its horizon through technology?
It’s extremely important, for several reasons. One, because technological tools are ubiquitous in the lives of most of our members. It’s the way we communicate in other areas of our lives, so the Guild should be part of that mix. Another reason, referenced in the previous question: technology is cheaper than any other form of communication, and is often completely free. Technology flattens an organization and helps us form consensus, always a good thing for any organization, in my view. Technology allows contact with more people at one time – a savings of the precious volunteer time on which our Guild depends. And technological tools are fun!
All of that said, I still feel that face-to-face communications are essential, unless and until technological tools are able to effectively and cheaply communicate the variety of non-verbal cues that make personal communication truly touch lives. I feel the same about live performance, by the way. There’s nothing like experiencing the electric excitement of a group of people truly moved by an outstanding live performance. It’s just not the same, hearing/viewing the experience with any current technological tool. But technology can help us experience and communicate effectively when face-to-face contact is impossible or too expensive.
Do you have any goals for Region VI or your own personal AGO Chapter?
At the beginning of my final term as Councillor for Region VI, I announced the following goals for our Region, chapters, and members: 100% participation of our chapters and members in contributing to the Guild’s Annual Fund; 100% return rate for Officer Report Forms (documents that provide essential contact information for the smooth running of the Guild); every Region VI member actively developing relationships that lead to membership growth of the Guild; and each member committing to pro-active communication efforts with employment institutions – potential and current – to ensure that the Guild’s grievance procedures are truly a last resort in professional relationships. Obviously, I believe that in goal-setting, one should aim high. I am proud to say that progress has been made in each of these areas. And I’m encouraging my fellow Guild members to join me in continuing to try to attain these lofty goals.
Any last thoughts?
One of the things the Guild does well is create a natural network for mentoring relationships, whether formal or informal, teacher-to-student or colleague-to-colleague. I have learned so much, and gained insight and inspiration, from my fellow Guild members. Chief among those mentors is Dr. John Obetz, who preceded me as Principal Organist at Community of Christ (then RLDS) headquarters, and has been a very active volunteer leader at the local, regional and national levels of the Guild. His example, guidance, and friendship symbolize for me the best qualities of the AGO. At our best, we are an organization of volunteers who care for excellence in our craft and encourage each other. I am very grateful to be a recipient of this personally, and to be part of such an organization.
Thank you again, Jan! Check out Region VI at http://www.agor6.blogspot.com/.
Make sure to remember our military today!