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Kraybill shatters organ stereotypes, one concert at a time

Do you remember the joy you felt the first time you truly fell in love with something? How would you talk about it and would that joy practically gush out of you for everyone around to see?

It’s been decades since Jan Kraybill first fell in love with the organ, but no one talking to her today would doubt that hers is a lifelong commitment.

“I started taking piano lessons when I was 3,” Kraybill said. “Now I’m 62, so almost 60 years old. I was a pianist before. I’ve always played the organ for the church, but I haven’t considered it a full-time career. My bachelor’s and master’s are both in piano. I was probably in my 20s when I realized that the organ was what I wanted to do for a living.

Kraybill, who also has a doctorate in musical arts, counts herself lucky in that regard.

“Not many musicians get to do that full-time,” he said. “Now, even with the pandemic, I’m happy to say I’m doing it full time. I really love it.

Kraybill, who will be in concert at 7:30 pm Friday in Rammelkamp Chapel as part of the Illinois College Fine Arts Series, is a Grammy Award-nominated organist who lives in the Kansas section of Kansas City but crosses the state line in Missouri on an almost daily basis for work.

In addition to concerts, Kraybill is organ conservator at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri; resident organist at Community of Christ International Headquarters in Independence, Missouri; and organist at the Village on Antioch Presbyterian Church in Overland Park, Kansas. Her work places her in charge of three of the largest pipe organs in that region.

Illinois College’s Friday concert, “Diversity and Variety,” fits the title, featuring a range of music from the 1500s to the present.

“It’s a classic organ, but I’m playing some jazz,” Kraybill said. “I always try to give people something unexpected in every show I make. There is also an organ transcription of a piece for band.»

Garrett Allman, who asked Kraybill to perform at this year’s Walter R. And Ruth M. Bellatti Memorial Organ Recital, said he was thrilled with the program, especially the jazz piece.

“I can’t wait to hear it, because it’s from a composer born in 1962, who takes an old traditional hymn from probably 300 years ago and turns it into a contemporary jazz tune,” Allman said.

And while the music begins in the 1500s, the overall program is so contemporary that three of the featured composers are still alive, he said.

The pieces are specially chosen for this concert based on the specifications of the pipe organ in the Rammelkamp Chapel.

“I try to design a program that shows the attributes of that organ very well,” Kraybill said. “I also try to have a theme. I think this helps the audience. Help me too. I could play for hours.”

The program is also designed to challenge people’s assumptions about the organ, he said.

“Many people not used to the organ think it has a sound,” Kraybill said. “It can change. Some people link it to horror movies, others link it to Aunt Edna’s funeral.

But it is much more.

“You have so many different sounds as an organist,” Kraybill said. “Depending on which registers you choose, you can play like an organ, or a group of trumpets, a group of flutes.”

There is also the power inherent in a pipe organ.

“I’m a Harley rider,” he said. “It’s the power I like.”

Not to mention the training.

“Using your hands and touch to play melodies isn’t easy,” she said. “When you finally get that, there’s physical coordination and you’re also making beautiful music. It’s the best exercise ever.

Organist Jan Kraybill will be in concert at 7:30 pm Friday in Illinois College’s Rammelkamp Chapel as part of the college’s Fine Arts Series. Tickets, which are $15 for adults and free for students of all ages, are available by calling 217-245-3192. They are also available at the door.

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