Music Bridges People And Cultures

Conservatory award winner immersed in music

“Say ‘yes,’ and then work really hard.”

Jan Kraybill follows her own good advice. A partial list of things she has said “yes” to:

  • serving as principal organist at the Community of Christ Church
  • serving as conservator for the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, keeping the instrument in tip-top shape
  • maintaining intellectual stimulation through Mensa
  • making lace
  • riding Harleys with her husband to the Sturgis, S.D., rally – nine times
  • teaching church music in Tahiti
  • and performing Handel’s “Messiah” at Carnegie Hall

Kraybill, who received her Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2000, is the 2014 Conservatory of Music and Dance Alumni Achievement Award recipient.

She began her music studies with piano lessons at the age of three, continuing at Kansas State University, where she earned a piano performance and education degree, and later completed her Doctor of Musical Arts degree in organ performance at the UMKC Conservatory.

After a brief diversion – working for Ewing Kauffman’s pharmaceutical firm while developing her musical career – she accepted the position of principal organist at the Community of Christ Church in Independence, Mo.

There, Kraybill plays a pipe organ custom-made for the temple. It is one of the famed Casavant Frères organs, considered to be among the most beautiful and celebrated in the world. The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts chose the same type of instrument for its concert hall – and promptly asked Kraybill to serve as organ curator.

A self-described cheerleader for live music, Kraybill’s days are consumed with a wide range of duties and opportunities, ranging from researching and planning repertoire for upcoming solo performances to providing advice to  local churches on their pipe organs.

Add in rehearsing and playing for the Community of Christ services, finalizing a CD of pieces performed on the Kauffman organ and choosing materials for hymnals classes in Dallas, and you have a glimpse into her life’s work. It’s a world she loves.

“Music has power, a way of expressing emotion, developing intellect and connecting people. Music bridges people, times, places and cultures,” Kraybill said.

While completing her DMA degree, Kraybill says she experienced the way music could reach across time. She analyzed a group of religious chants found in a rare 16th century manuscript, a treasure of the LaBudde Special Collections at the UMKC Miller Nichols Library. She transcribed the music into modern notation, assembled a men’s choir and presented the ancient pieces in concert at Community of Christ Church.

Kraybill recalls how profoundly UMKC Conservatory Professor John Obetz contributed to her success.

“He honed my skills,” she said, “gave me inspiration, rejoiced in my achievements and helped me steer around pitfalls. His life’s example has shown me what it means to be a successful musician and a successful person.”

In an effort to hold herself accountable, Kraybill sits down each New Year’s Day and takes stock, measuring where she stands on the things she wanted to do in the past year.

“It’s easy to become distracted or caught up in something meaningless. I try to keep in mind the lesson I learned when I read Corrie ten Boom’s book, ‘The Hiding Place.’ Corrie said one thing that helped her live through the Nazi concentration camps was to feel gratitude for the little things, the smallest good. I try to remember that, and to be present in every moment so I don’t miss the joy.”

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association presents alumni awards to one honoree from each school and five campus-wide awards at its annual awards luncheon. This year’s event will be held on Thursday, April 24, on the UMKC campus. For information and tickets, go to the 2014 Alumni Awards luncheon website.


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