Most Valuable Players
Super Bowl Superstitions and a Free Organ Concert
The centerpiece of Helzberg Hall, the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, Opus 3875, is so special it has its own conservator. GRAMMY-nominated artist Jan Kraybill has been playing and advocating for the organ since the Kauffman Center opened in 2011. Kraybill herself, however, is also a fascinating subject. She is an international concert organist, pianist and harpsichordist; a dynamic speaker, educator, church musician and has hosted a free organ concert on Super Bowl Sunday for the last 24 years. In anticipation of this Sunday’s Super Bowl, the Kauffman Center asked Kraybill a few questions about herself.
Can you describe your first European piano recital?
I was very fortunate to get to spend the summer living with a family in England when I was a junior in high school. My experiences there opened my eyes in many ways to the much wider world, and awakened in me a love of travel, which I’m happy to say is now a regular part of my professional life! Part of the deal, when this was proposed to my parents, was that I keep up my practicing while there and that there would be performance opportunities. I was grateful to be able to play a solo concert in Andover, England.
How do audiences in different countries regard the organ?
Just like in the U.S., people bring a variety of experiences and impressions of the organ as an instrument. Some have heard it played only at funerals or weddings. Some have heard it as part of a baseball game. Some are lifelong fans of classical organ concerts. Some sing hymns with it every Sunday in church. Some love it as part of their favorite jazz or rock bands. Some have never heard this instrument. What I try to do is bridge all of those impressions when designing my performances, giving people something that is familiar, while expanding boundaries of what the organ and organists can do.
“It’s become a tradition, and I do have to say that the last two times I played this concert for an in-person audience, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl. (My performances had to go online for two years between those wins, due to COVID concerns, and the Chiefs were not victorious.) So I believe this concert tradition is part of their good-luck charms!”
With all the places you’ve traveled, why have you chosen Kansas City as your home?
Basically, because of life circumstances, Kansas City chose me! Earlier in my career, my aim was to move to one or the other of the coasts to “make it.“ I’m so glad that I stayed in Kansas City! The arts scene here is so supportive, diverse and vibrant, and, of course, our beautiful Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts has raised the bar for all of us who live and perform here, in addition to attracting international talent to our city. I’m so grateful to the donors who made this venue possible and to the staff and volunteers who continue to make it active and beautiful.
You enjoy many activities outside of your work with organs. Can you tell us about your lace-making hobby?
It’s true, I have a hard time sitting still, so I enjoy many creative outlets. When I was a child, my grandmother and mother taught me how to do the kind of lace-making called tatting. It’s a wonderfully relaxing hobby, a way to create beautiful gifts, and easy to take with me on airplanes.
Tell us about your 25th annual Super Bowl Sunday Organ Concert
I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for a quarter century! It’s become a tradition, and I do have to say that the last two times I played this concert for an in-person audience, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl. (My performances had to go online for two years between those wins, due to COVID concerns, and the Chiefs were not victorious.) So I believe this concert tradition is part of their good-luck charms! This year, my theme is “Most Valuable Players.” I’ll begin the concert with a piece in honor of our KC Chiefs, as I always do when they are in the Super Bowl. I’ll follow that with works representing MVPs of the classical and organ musical worlds. One of those is also in honor of Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker: it opens with 3-1/2 pages of notes played by feet alone!
Concert kickoff is 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11, at Community of Christ Temple. We’ll conclude by 3:30 p.m., prior to Super Bowl kickoff at 5:30 p.m. There will be free parking and free admission. Everyone is encouraged to wear Chiefs’ red and dress as casually as you’d like. Cameras will show live close-up views of my hands and feet in action, projected for the audience’s enjoyment. I’ve been loving rehearsing for this event, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone there!