For love of music

Three women from Calumet sing along with Jan Arnold during a performance at Mt. Bohemia in the fall of 2016. (Photo courtesy of Chris Golbert)

By Deborah K. Frontiera

Musician Jan Arnold and I sat on the porch of her summer home on the beach of Little Traverse Bay in the Copper Country on a lovely day in June. The lake was calm, the air clear—a great view of Traverse Island (Rabbit Island) just five miles away and across Keweenaw Bay to the Huron Mountains.

Since graduating from Calumet High School, going on to college at Northern Michigan University, having a musical career that took her all over the country at various times, and raising three children, she now has eight grandchildren.

But no matter where her travels took her, she always considered the Copper Country home. She loves snowmobiling, the friendliness of the people she always considered to be “honest working folks, and helpful to those around them.” Plus, she likes the canoeing, kayaking, snow skiing and everything else the U.P. has to offer.

Her first interest in music came when she took piano lessons as a child. Growing up, she also experimented with a reel-to-reel tape recorder, singing and playing classic rock songs onto tape. She took up guitar in her late 20s while going through a divorce. She credits music with helping her keep her sanity as a single mom. At that time, she completed her studies at NMU, earning a degree in music and elementary education.

Following graduation, she played in Traverse City and then went to California where she played as opener for bigger shows, played a lot of festivals in Capistrano, Mission Viejo, and the surrounding area, and, quite a different gig, taught marine biology in Dana Point.

“That was a lot of fun because there was a tall ship there and I dressed as a second mate. The ship was moored in harbor and I had to row out there.”

She also played piano at the lounge in San Clemente’s Ramada Inn. The lounge had a winding staircase—very luxurious. It felt like a big jump from other places she’d played.

For several years she came back to Traverse City in the summer to play. Then she stayed in Glen Arbor for seven years.

“I loved it there—a resort town on Glen Lake, one of the most beautiful in world, Mediterranean green in color.”

She has a lot of “favorites” in music: ballads, fast, upbeat, fun sing-a-longs, classics, country western and more. One of her dreams, even while she was in California, was to get to Nashville. Her years in the Traverse City area led to some teaching at an adult workshop center. She was in charge of working with 52 students, all of them with disabilities. She taught them to square dance, sing, appreciate music, and perform in limited ways and remembers those days with fondness. The students called themselves, “Moving on Up.” Jan planned a complete program for the center at the end of the year. At the close of the program Jan sang, “I believe that children are our future …” a song by Whitney Houston, “The Greatest Love.”

The director of the facility was so impressed by that program that he asked her to come to his office. “Hear you want to go to Nashville,” the director said.

“Yes.”

“You can come back here any time, but you need to go to Nashville now,” he said, setting the stage for the next phase in Jan’s life.

She sang in several places in Nashville, and even sang at the Grand Ole Opry in the Gospel portion—one of her most memorable performances. Trisha Yearwood’s band backed her up when they were “off the road.” To this day when she visits Nashville, dropping in on some of her “old haunts,” people shout out, “Jan Arnold, where the H—- have you been?”

One especially lucky break came along in those Nashville years: a couple from Canada who heard her sing liked her performance so much that they asked her how they could help and provided the funding needed to record a single—which did quite well.

But life took another twist. Jan was working at the Nashville Palace when her mother was diagnosed with cancer back in Calumet. She would talk to her mom every morning and cry that she couldn’t be there. Her daughter, who had just turned 18, told her to return to U.P., so she left Nashville.

Being the main caregiver to a seriously ill parent takes a toll on one’s emotions. Jan’s friend Robin invited her to come up to Copper Harbor to and sing.

Jan Arnold plays at Mt. Bohemia. (Photo courtesy of Chris Golbert)

“Singing brings out all the good endorphins in your brain—a fact upheld by several scientific studies,” Jan said, and she found she felt better after singing, even after her mother passed away in 1993. (I can attest to the “good feelings” that come from singing. All through my teaching career, I sang in my church choir and I never wanted to miss rehearsals, my “mid-week-stress-relief-therapy.”)

Jan began doing benefit shows for the Calumet Theater, which helped them buy a new furnace in the late ’90s. She does many shows in the U.P. every summer, has regular gigs at Mt. Bohemia, Munising Pictured Rocks Festival, the outdoor parks series in L’Anse, Laurium and other similar venues, including Fridays at Rocky’s on 7th Street in Calumet.

“There are so many beautiful resorts in the U.P.,” she said. “Crystal Falls stands out among many others, and I’ve done some spots in Milwaukee, and I often pick up gigs in Portland, Oregon when I go out to visit my daughter.” She enjoys singing at festivals and hopes to be able to do more of the festivals around Marquette in the future. She plays at Blackrocks in Marquette the third Saturday of each month.

At several points in her life, Jan had to make tough decisions—advance her singing career or take care of family. Family was, and always will be, her top priority. So when such decisions needed to be made, she let the career opportunities go in favor of family, or close friends who needed her along the way.

Whenever Jan performs, she really enjoys getting the audience involved. She’ll invite people to come up and sing with her, like three young women from Calumet who joined her last fall at Mt. Bohemia. Even while we talked and I took notes for this article, she engaged my 6-year-old granddaughter in a Spanish song about a cat. Riley joined in with a lot of “Meow, meow, meow!” I could see right away how Jan could easily engage children or adults—I found myself joining in, too.

When asked what’s on her “Bucket List,” Jan said she would like to be able to travel the world more, especially the places in Europe where her father served during WWII. She’d love to get to Hawaii and other places around the United States where she hasn’t already been.

“Any advice for aspiring musicians?” I asked.

After a moment of thought she said, “Be persistent. Believe in yourself. The music community is very close knit; if you have negative comments about somebody, keep it to yourself. Don’t disparage others.”

For Jan, gigs performing her music have been life-savers in more than one way.

“You get paid right away and that sometimes makes all the difference in a bill getting paid or not. Second: music’s ability to bring you up from the depths of despair. It’s the endorphin thing. Music is universal like they say; it brings people together.”

For those who would like to attend one of her performances, you can “Friend” her on Facebook where she will post her summer schedule, or find her online at janarnold.com.

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