Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
If it’s true that doing what you love means you’ll never work a day in your life, consider Jan Knutson happily unemployed.
The Parker High School music teacher’s dedication to her craft shows not only in the countless students who have gone on to pursue careers in music but also in a laundry list of prestigious awards that have come her way. Included in these are a Herb Kohl Teacher Fellowship recognizing teaching excellence and innovation, and a Jerry Award Hall of Fame induction for contributions to high school musical theater in Wisconsin.
A Wellsburg, Iowa, native, Knutson earned her bachelor’s degree in music education from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, before adding both a Master of Music in vocal performance and a Master of Music Education from Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.
Knutson’s husband, Brian, also is a music teacher, and the couple have three sons: Jeff (married to Shannon), Jason (engaged to Kassie) and Matt (married to Maggie). Cats Melody and Missy round out the Knutson household.
Knutson’s next big project is the Parker High School production of Lerner and Loewe’s “Brigadoon,” which will be performed March 29-April 7 at the school, 3125 Mineral Point Road. Tickets are $15 and are available in Janesville at Voigt Music Center, Knapton Musik Knotes and the school box office. For more information, call 608-743-5591.
1. When did you first discover your love for music? I have always loved to sing. When I was in third grade, my parents gave me a piano. I was so blessed to have parents who loved music and supported my love of music by giving me private music lessons. I studied piano, flute, organ and voice.
2. What would you say are your most and least favorite genres when it comes to music? I love choral music, musical theater, opera, art songs and jazz. I used to really dislike rap music, but through two of my children and the musical “Hamilton,” I have come to understand it better and appreciate it.
3. Explain your role as musical director when it comes to theatrical productions at Parker. When a show is cast, the people have to be able to sing the roles—or have the potential to do so. We begin vocal rehearsals before staging and choreography and continue perfecting the vocals throughout the production. The musical vocal director works collaboratively with the production’s director and choreographer. Together we work to tell the story and reach our audience.
4. In the time you’ve worked on musicals at Parker, have you noticed an increase or decrease in the number of students auditioning for productions? There has been an increase. We work to produce a quality production and set high standards for our students. Students like that and want to be a part of the productions. We also have a lot of fun!
5. When I was in high school, theater students and student-athletes didn’t interact with each other very much. Have you seen a change there? I have seen an increase in participation both with singers involved in athletics and athletes participating in musicals. We rehearse in the evenings, which allows students to be involved in both music and sports. The Parker staff works collaboratively and supports giving students the opportunity to develop their skills and talents.
6. When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a teacher because my mother was a teacher. I admired her so much and wanted to be like her.
7. Explain why music and theater productions are important to a young person’s overall education. Beside developing students’ performing skills, being in a musical develops their confidence, requires working as a team, helps them develop time-management skills, helps them learn to express emotion, and finally, create an experience with people you come to appreciate as your best friends that gives such an immense feeling of satisfaction and joy.
8. If I had to choose, I’d have to say my favorite Muppet is: Kermit the Frog. He is loyal, brave, and he believes in you. He looks for the goodness in the world. Plus, he likes to sing.
9. What are the key considerations that go into choosing which musicals Parker will perform each year? We have to be certain we can cover the demands of the roles (music, acting and dance), but I love the audition process because the students always amaze me. We try to choose musicals with themes that teach students lessons about life. We also try to choose different genres that challenge them and encourage them to grow as performers. For example, we had never done a show with tap dancing until “White Christmas.” Now our students are crazy about tap.
10. Did you take part in musicals or theater when you were in high school? I was in musical theater, but I attended a very small high school and did more straight theater. I was hooked after the first time I was on stage. My first role in a musical was Widow Corney in “Oliver!”
11. People would be surprised to find out: I was the lead singer in a Caribbean band called Jamaican Me Crazy. There are no recordings, so don’t ask.
12. Which do you find more rewarding: performing or directing? I love performing, but at this stage of my career, I get the most rewards from working with students and seeing them grow. I also love it when graduates connect and let me know about the musical activities they are involved in, whether it is their profession or just something they need in their lives.
13. What are your three personal favorite musical productions/pieces? That’s a tough one because my favorite is usually the one I am doing. I love “Phantom of the Opera,” “White Christmas” and “West Side Story.” All of those shows have great musical scores and huge stories. I also enjoy the Disney musicals such as “Mary Poppins” and “Beauty and the Beast” because everyone loves a fairy tale.
14. Has having two parents who were both music educators drawn your three sons toward similar careers, or have they followed different paths? We always encouraged our sons to pursue whatever their interests were, but our oldest and youngest sons have gone into “the family business” and are choral directors. Our middle son is an environmental engineer, but he stays active with music as well. We sing together whenever we have the opportunity.
15. There have been musical productions created based on books, albums, TV shows and movies. If you could create your own “(Blank): The Musical,” what would it be? “My Three Sons: The Musical.” Having three sons close in age, I have years of material to draw from.
16. If you like to cook/bake, what do you consider your specialty? I enjoy cooking more than baking. I am required to bring my corn casserole and beef taco dip to all family gatherings.
17. You obviously appreciate vocal talent. In your opinion, whose voice is the most beautiful you’ve ever heard and why? Luciano Pavarotti. We had the opportunity to hear him in Orlando on New Year’s Eve and were in the third row. His voice had so much power, color and such a huge range of emotion. I didn’t really understand why people were so wild about his voice until I heard him live.
18. Do you have time for hobbies? If so, what are yours? I don’t have as much time as I would like, but I like to read fiction and play piano.
19. Name the one item you own that you could not live without. My coffee maker. Good coffee is a staple in my life.
20. Can you describe the feeling you get when an inexperienced performer finds his or her “voice” onstage? That is one of the most satisfying and rewarding things that can happen to a teacher. The light in the student’s eye and the sheer joy fills your heart.