Playing piano is much more than just putting fingers to keys for Jan Barkey.
It’s an expression of passion, love and adoration for both the music and the instrument, which has influenced Barkey’s life ever since she was a little girl growing up in eastern Wyoming.
“It is God’s gift of expression and personal worship,” she said.
Barkey, 73, has taught and played piano in almost every facet one could think of as a K-12 teacher across several states, military chapel pianist, choir director, and music coordinator at the United States Army Correctional Brigade (USACB), among other positions.
“It’s a fantastic instrument,” she said about the piano. “It is just wonderful.”
Barkey also worked for Dan Murphy at Mid America Piano in 1990 and 1991 when the family moved to Manhattan. Murphy later went to New Hampshire to retrieve the Kawai Grand piano for Jan, which she thoroughly enjoys playing.
In 2020, Barkey and her husband Paul, pastor at Ashland Community Church in Manhattan, join forces to bring both music and worship at the church.
Lately, it’s been a bit different for the couple as they’ve transitioned to drive-in services at the church because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s frustrating because you can’t have the contact with people that is a part of being a congregation, so that’s why we have been doing the drive-in church because at least people can see each other,” Paul said. “It’s not them sitting in isolation in their homes and we can be singing the hymns ... in their cars.”
Barkey said the church recently had communion Sunday with crackers donated from Wendy’s and grape juice packets. She sometimes plays at Grace Baptist Church as well.
“That’s a big part of my life, playing for churches,” she said.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, Barkey has also transitioned her piano lessons from in-person to Skype.
“It’s just one of those things that we’re not comfortable we’re really sure that everything’s safe,” she said.
She has about 12 students under her wing right now. Since 1997, Barkey has taught 30 to 35 students at any one time.
She said her favorite part about teaching piano is when the light bulb goes off in a student’s head once they’ve mastered a song or learned a scale successfully.
“I enjoy helping each student perfect a piece to their individual ability,” Barkey said.
In particular, Barkey enjoys playing classical music and Evangelistic piano style.
One fond memory associated with piano is when she was the music coordinator for the USACB. She directed, sang and accompanied the choir group.
“It was a very rich experience,” she said.
Jan and Paul met in 1967 in Fort Collins, Colorado, at Colorado State University through a Christian singing group at the school. Barkey graduated with a degree from CSU in music education with an emphasis in piano and voice.
They married July 19, 1968, and will celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary come July.
After they were married, the couple had a son named Aaron in 1971. Aaron had cerebral palsy and was also wheelchair bound.
“He was an outstanding young man and I regard being his mother and Paul’s wife as the most monumental privileges the good Lord could have bestowed,” Barkey said.
Aaron died at the age of 38 on Jan. 5, 2010.
Barkey was instrumental in taking care of Aaron, which, in turn, helped her strengthen her teaching skills to her piano students.
“Identifying his learning style and breaking down his IEP tasks into incremental, achievable steps toward a goal was a window into teaching music,” she said. “All piano students have different learning styles and abilities.”
When she is not playing piano, she enjoys sewing.
She has constructed the window drapings for their home in St. George, where she and Paul have lived in since 2017.
In addition to playing piano, Barkey dabbled in carpentry work and woodworking to help construct pieces for Aaron, such as storage cabinets and a corner chair, she said. She once received a saw for Mother’s Day.
Paul took Aaron fishing and backpacking and Barkey said Aaron was an avid sports fan. Aaron helped the sports trainer at Manhattan High School and was also a top bell ringer for the Salvation Army during the Christmas season.
Paul has written several history books and they also put together a book that details the life of Aaron.
The Barkey family, in addition to Manhattan, lived in Colorado, Alaska and North Carolina because of Paul’s military background.
Barkey met Simon Estes from the New York Metropolitan Opera while the family lived in Alaska and Jan accompanied a 30-minute “Introduction to Opera” piece with elementary students.