The Kjos Family Legacy: Shaping Generations of Musicians

From a childhood in war-torn Germany with few opportunities to explore the arts, Barbara Kjos married into an American family that has shaped generations of young musicians. Through Barbara’s recent gift to Interlochen establishing the Neil Kjos, Jr. Scholarship, the Kjos family will continue to shape future generations of musicians at Interlochen Arts Camp and beyond.

The connection between the Kjos family and Interlochen began in 1928 when Barbara’s father-in-law, Neil A. Kjos, Sr., joined the inaugural faculty of the National Music Camp as an instructor of clarinet and saxophone. In 1936, he founded the Neil A. Kjos Music Company, an educational publishing company whose books have been used by millions of beginning musicians.

Barbara’s husband, Neil A. Kjos, Jr., learned to play trumpet and horn in grade school and studied trumpet at National Music Camp in 1948. After attending St. Olaf College, Teachers College at Columbia University, and the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, as well as serving for two years in the Air Force, Neil Jr. turned his attention to the family publishing business. Under his leadership, the Neil A. Kjos Music Company began publishing many popular music education series that should be familiar to Interlochen musicians of all ages, including Bastien Piano Basics, Standard of Excellence (for band) and All for Strings (for orchestra).

Barbara and Neil’s sons, Mark (IAC 73, 75-77, IAA 78-79) and Tim (IAC 75-78, 81) Kjos, now lead the company started by their grandfather more than 75 years ago. Barbara is very proud of her family’s four generations of Interlochen alumni. “Both Neil and I wanted our children to have the opportunity to experience the camp as he had growing up,” she says. “It warms my heart to see the first two of my grandchildren continue the tradition.”

After Neil passed away in 2009, establishing a scholarship in his name seemed like a good way to continue supporting something that was important to Neil and continues to be important to their family. Just as the Neil A. Kjos Music Company supports beginning musicians, the Neil Kjos, Jr. Scholarship will provide opportunities for young artists to hone their skills at Interlochen Arts Camp. Regarding her decision to make a gift to Interlochen, Barbara says, “music, art, and theater are important components of growing up. It is important for world peace, and Interlochen plays an important role in providing that education.”

To the scholarship recipients, Barbara offers this encouragement: “You have the talent. Make the best of it! Enjoy your time at Interlochen, and remember the opportunity it afforded you.”