Notable Women of Austin: Janet Gilbertson’s organ playing at the heart of Austin

Published 7:22 am Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Austin has had a long tradition of interest in, and participation in music.

Janet Gilbertson has been a stalwart and active member of Austin’s musical community since she moved here in 1959.She has played the organ at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church for 59 years.During the first half of that time she played for two services each Sunday. Of course, as church organist, she also accompanied the church choir rehearsals. She has no idea of how many weddings and funerals for which she played, both at Our Savior’s and at other churches in the community. Besides that church organist job, in her early time in Austin, she taught at Austin Community College (now Riverland) for 10 years, and she gave private lessons in her home.By 1995, when she retired from teaching private lessons, she had given thousands of lesson lessons.

Janet Gilbertson

In addition to these three jobs, and while she was also raising a family, Janet was also very active as an accompanist for recitals and other musical endeavors.“I always consider it an honor to be asked to play with someone,” she says. Her son remembers that she never said no to anyone who asked for her to play for them.Janet says she always could depend on her husband, Larry, and on her three children for their patience and encouragement, as well as their help, especially in cooking dinners when she was teaching lessons in the after school hours,

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She started piano lessons as a second grader in Vermillion, South Dakota, with a college student as her teacher. As with most children, she didn’t like to practice, but she also didn’t want to go to a lesson unprepared.She found early on that she could easily sight-read music. Her characteristically modest statement is that she chose to pursue music because it was the only thing she was good at. When her first piano teacher graduated and left Vermillion, Janet continued her lessons with a professor of piano at the University of South Dakota. She studied with that teacher until she graduated from the university with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in piano. Later she completed a Masters Degree in Fine Arts.

During high school Janet began organ lessons with her home church organist and began to play at some church services. She found her skill in sight-reading music and her keyboard skills very helpful as she continued with organ lessons for her four years in college. Through the subsequent years, she has attended seminars and continuing education courses to further hone her ability.

This gracious woman, with her quiet manner, gives a “shout out” to all the conductors with whom she has worked, including all the directors of the choirs at Our Savior’s Church, of the Austin Symphony and the Symphony Chorus and of the Ecumenical Bells. Janet says they have all taught her so much.

She also credits her continued musical growth to her many music colleagues, especially those in the Music Performers Group, which formed about 40 years ago. These musicians meet once a month to share their work. The idea is that this gives a reason to practice a challenging piece.

Janet’s good friend and colleague, Ruth Monson, says, “her generosity is outstanding in just everything she does, whether it is spending time with a high school student preparing a solo for a contest or accompanying a choir rehearsal (and sometimes patiently leading a sectional with those tenors who may need extra help!).”

Brian Johnson, retired Austin High School Choral director, says of Janet, “She is one of the most professional and talented musicians I know, but also humble and self-effacing. Janet is a joy to work with because she often knows where you are going in a rehearsal before you do! She also has a wry sense of humor that makes working with her a treat. When I first came to town I learned very quickly that Janet was one of Austin’s musical treasures!”