Photo: harv koplo
John C. Van Orman holds an MA in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies from the University of Kansas, and a BA in Cultural Anthropology from Hamline University. In 1995 he traveled to China in order to study performance on China’s oldest stringed instrument, the guqin, his research on the instrument being published in academia, and earning him honors including the Sidney DeVere Brown Award. His graduate thesis was focused on the music traditions of the Turkic-speaking peoples of Siberia, a subject in which he had become interested after visiting the Altai Republic. He was a FLAS Fellowship recipient in support of his studies at Ivano Franko University in L’viv, Ukraine where he conducted research on the blind minstrels of that nation.
He began building folk music instruments professionally at Here Inc. in Minnesota in 1976. From 1978 to 1993 he worked at North American Carousel and Cart Manufacturing Co. where he was design engineer and shop foreman. During that that period he engaged in building historical replicas of wagons, amusement rides, artillery, stage sets and signage while continuing to design and construct musical instruments. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Folk Festival, and of the Arkansas Craft School. He was Music Director at the Ozark Folk Center from 2000 to 2006 where, in addition to his other duties, he oversaw a documentation project to digitize forty years of nightly amphitheater concert recordings. From 2010 to 2014, he was instructor of Anthropology, Sociology, and Russian culture and language at Ozarka College. John is a multi-instrumentalist and singer, and has performed regionally in the Midwest and in the Ozarks – solo, as a duo with Adam helwin, and with the band, Finnegans Wake.