Van D. Knauss
Van Knauss began his career as organist at the Faith for Today television program, a position he accepted in 1963, following completion of a master's degree in music at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Two years earlier, he had completed a degree in music at nearby Union College, studying organ with Opal Miller for his first two years, and Myron Roberts of the University of Nebraska for his last two years at UC, and then for his graduate program at UN.
Knauss was born and raised on a ranch in Aurora, Colorado, near Denver. His parents, though not performers, loved music and took their children to concerts and programs. They also provided opportunities for participation in a number of activities including different sports, 4H events, and music. He began study in piano at age six. He practiced regularly throughout his childhood years and enjoyed playing in recitals and competitions in the Denver area.
Years later, he recalled how he got started in organ:
When I was about twelve years old, my Dad took a truckload of cattle from the ranch and was driving through Denver on Alameda Street when he noticed that there was an organ studio. He had always liked organ music, so decided he would stop. The gentleman who ran it was a teacher at Denver University who also played the organ at a skating rink. They talked and finally Dad asked him, "Could you teach my twins to play the organ?" (I have a twin sister who also played piano a lot). He said, "Sure, bring them in and have them play for me. Let's see what we can work out." We went in and played the piano for him, and that's how I started playing the organ.
He actually turned out to be a good teacher. I was exposed to popular music and learned skills that I later used when I went to Union College and had a couple of jobs playing background music at a local restaurant. While some were critical of my dabbling with that kind of music, I have no regrets about also having had that kind of experience.
Knauss attended Denver Junior Academy, now Mile High Academy, through tenth grade and completed his high school years at Campion Academy in Loveland, Colorado, where he graduated in 1956.
During his four years at Faith for Today, he began study on a doctorate at Columbia University, studying organ with Fred Swan, George Markey, and Claire Coci, noted organ teachers of that time. Studying with Coci was a particularly inspiring experience for Knauss, and he continued study with her for eight years.
In April 1967, he accepted a music teaching position at Columbia Union College, now Washington Adventist University, in Takoma Park, Maryland, and also continued doctoral study at Catholic University. In 1972, just as Knauss was completing a DMA in organ performance, he became music department chair, a position he would hold until 1994.
He set about to strengthen the department and began to prepare it for possible membership in the National Association of Schools of Music, a distinction held by about half of the music schools in the country. Although he succeeded in gaining a five-year provisional certification with NASM in 1979, five years later, when the application for full membership had to be filed, fluctuations in the number of music majors caused by overall enrollment problems at the school, reductions in full-time music faculty, and a lack of interest on the part of college administration prevented success.
Disappointed as he was, Knauss, encouraged by a subsequent president, guided the department as it increased its interaction with schools, colleges, and members of the community and the area's military service bands. By this time, all of the regular music faculty including Knauss, who was also in charge of music at Sligo SDA Church, were working on a part-time basis, because of financial problems at the school. It was a daunting challenge, but one that Knauss handled graciously and well.
An active church musician, Knauss was organist at Sligo, a church located on the CUC campus, for more than 25 years. Starting in his beginning year at CUC in 1967, he also served as organist at Hughes United Methodist Church in Wheaton, Maryland, a position he has now held for over forty years.
Beginning in 2002, Knauss initiated a major renovation and updating of the pipe organ at HUMC, which had been installed in 1966. The chancel area was remodeled, new blowers were installed, the organ console was rebuilt with solid-state key action and placed on a moveable platform, several additions and modifications were made to the pipes, and a MIDI system with sequencer to record and play back performances was installed. It also includes a transposer and multiple memory. The renovated instrument, which now includes 47 well-chosen ranks, was completed in September 2003.
An active recitalist, Knauss has performed throughout the U.S. and Europe in many of the most widely known churches and cathedrals.
Interview with and materials provided by Van Knauss, 2003 and 2007; Personal Knowledge.