mini-reviews: mozart’s starling and the rise and fall of the dinosaurs

Even though I’m not necessarily a “science” kind of person—much more artsy fartsy—I still like reading narrative non-fiction about some science topics. I listened to these two very different science-based audiobooks about animals in May and found them both really fascinating:

Naturalist and birder Lyanda Lynne Haupt was inspired to research the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s pet starling, which he took home from the pet store after hearing it sing a version of a melody from his Piano Concert No. 17 in G Major. The bird served as a muse and companion for Mozart for three years. To aid her research, Haupt decided to adopt a starling of her own. She was totally charmed by the creature’s personality, affection, and intelligence, and could see how Mozart likely felt the same. Mozart’s Starling is part biography, part memoir, and part natural history of these animals. I didn’t know starlings are considered pests and an invasive species in the United States, while they’re nearly extinct in Europe. There is definitely a lot more about the bird than about Mozart and his music, but lovers of birds, nature, history, classical music, and also specifically Mozart will enjoy this interesting book. [Listened to audiobook in May 2018.]

Who isn’t fascinated by dinosaurs? I was really excited to borrow this narrative history on audio before the latest Jurassic World movie installment came out. Steve Brusatte‘s The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs walks readers through their evolution and ultimate demise, from roughly the Triassic period to the end of the Cretaceous period. His description of the asteroid that obliterated millions of years of the natural evolution of these animals is violent and disquieting (I loved it). Part of this book is background on Brusatte’s career. He name-drops people in archaeology and paleontology he’s met a bit too much, but it’s not overwhelming—the dinosaurs are still definitely the stars of the book. I really loved learning about all the newest dinosaur species discovered around the world. I’m just blown away by all that can be learned from some unearthed bones. You don’t need to be a science or dinosaur buff to enjoy this book. [Listened to audiobook in May 2018.]

soundtrack of my life

I saw this meme going around social media lately and it looked like a nice subject to ruminate on and reminisce over, but I’m not feeling posting on Facebook much anymore, so I decided to do one big post here. I know I’m tweaking the rules a little bit: more than 10 albums, these stretch before and after my teen years, and of course I’m offering a little explanation. But who cares! It’s been a fun, if challenging, activity!

Stevie Wonder, Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I (1982)
My parents have this thing where they “assigned” us kids songs when we were born. When I was born, they “gave” me Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” so it’s “my song.” (Aww.) It originally appeared on Songs in the Key of Life from 1976, but I still get warm family-love fuzzies when I hear this song and this compilation from 1982 is the album I remember my parents playing all the time when I was a kid. Plus, I just got a new bass so I’ve been having a lot of fun learning bass lines off this album lately.

Stray Cats, Built for Speed (1982)
One of the first vinyl records I “borrowed” (read: took) from my dad’s extensive record collection. As a young teenager and new guitarist I learned Brian Setzer’s guitar parts from the album top to bottom, using the vinyl!! Kids these days will never know.

Sir Neville Marriner, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Amadeus (Original Soundtrack Recording) (1984)
Whenever I stayed home sick from school as a kid, Amadeus was my go-to movie. I had this album on vinyl too, and when I was a budding composer in high school I drew a lot of inspiration from the movie and the soundtrack. Maybe basic, but what can I say, I’m pretty sure it was a catalyst for me to start composing.

Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream (1993)
This was legit on repeat for pretty much the entirety of my teen years. It’s another album from which I learned all the guitar parts (almost… I couldn’t achieve Corgan’s psychedelic soloing and didn’t have all the gear anyway). Beyond Siamese Dream being one of the most quintessential albums of the 90s and no doubt influential for many people, I also latched on to this one because its producer, Butch Vig, was one of my idols at the time. He embodied my first dream “career:” musician, record producer, studio owner. Bonus: Vig’s from Wisconsin and his iconic Smart Studios was just a couple blocks away from my house where I grew up.

Weezer, Pinkerton (1996)
Ah Pinkerton, the nostalgia runs deep despite the problematic sentiments. I still love it, so what. This is another album I had on repeat throughout high school, and again I learned all the guitar parts. Not to mention it was on the Pinkerton tour when my epic and notorious “Weezer Tour Bus Incident” took place. In eighth grade, I hung out with the band on its tour bus before its January 1997 show at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison, during which guitarist Brian Bell dedicated “In the Garage” to me. My parents were not pleased with me!

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Prelude to a Kiss: The Duke Ellington Album (1996)
I was just starting to listen to and learn about jazz in ninth grade, and this is one of the first (if not the first) jazz records I ever bought. I remember really loving the saxophone parts, only to realize years later that it was Bobby Watson playing, whom I met when I moved to Kansas City for college. He was on faculty at my school, and it’s an honor to call him a friend and former colleague! Serendipity.

Phat Phunktion, Here We Go! (1999)
Phat Phunktion is a local Madison group that my high school band teacher knew from Summer Music Clinic (I participated one summer as a jazz guitarist). My teacher invited the band to play a gig at my high school when I was a junior. I don’t remember if it was for a fundraiser or just for fun, but I was very involved in the promotion of the show. I sold tickets at lunch for weeks and interviewed them for the school paper. This may have sparked my interest in writing about music, which was one of my side hustles after college in Kansas City. Besides that, Phat was my introduction to funk music (at least of which I was cognizant, if you don’t count my folks’ excellent collection of 70s funk played when I was little) and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Grant Green, Born to Be Blue (1962)
In high school I was pretty serious about jazz guitar—I took lessons from a respected local veteran of the Madison and Milwaukee jazz scenes, I was in the big band at school, I had my own jazz combo for fun, and I wrote a few jazz charts (yes they’re recorded). I listened to A LOT of jazz guitar recordings. Obsessed. It was very hard to narrow this down, between Les Paul and Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass and Kenny Burrell and Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt and Freddie Green and Tal Farlow and and and… But I decided ultimately on Grant Green’s Born to Be Blue because it’s just a great album and I love the version of “Someday My Prince Will Come” on it.

Ani DiFranco, Little Plastic Castle (1998)
Here’s where the boys come in. My high school sweetheart dumped me around sophomore/junior year—my first love, my first heartbreak—and this new Ani DiFranco album affected me on several levels. Yes there are songs mired in angst which was perfect for me at the time, but also I loved her unabashedly introspective lyrics and killer guitar playing. Ultimately this isn’t my favorite album of Ani’s, but after that devastating breakup, this one helped me feel like myself again.

Charlie Hunter Quartet, Natty Dread (1997)
And here’s the one that reminds me of my college sweetheart. He introduced me to this album, and Charlie Hunter, and I love him for it. Charlie Hunter arranged Bob Marley’s 1974 Natty Dread track-for-track as a soul jazz album, and it is executed perfectly. I adore this version of “No Woman No Cry.” Nothing but good feelings when I listen to this record, still in semi-regular rotation for me.

Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, World on Fire (2014)
My husband asked me to tack this onto an Amazon order I was making one time in 2015, and when it arrived he happened to be away on a summer residency. So I decided to give it a listen and basically it was the only thing I listened to for the entire summer. When he got home I had all the lyrics memorized. There were some depressing life things that happened in 2015, and World on Fire was a great emotional outlet for some of my bottled-up feelings.

Beyoncé, Lemonade (2016)
2016 and 2017. What can I say. So much happened, so much didn’t. Excitements, difficulties, adventures, terribleness, boring times, discoveries, stresses, identity examinations. Lemonade got me through some shit.


I have innumerable honorable mentions. For jazz, it was nearly impossible to pick out just one album from a guitarist—I also drew much inspiration from Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Nina Simone in high school when I was into jazz. I also went through an intense Buddy Holly phase. When I was a kid, music was always playing in our house, from soul and Motown to Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead to Carole King and Joni Mitchell to Michael Jackson to Tom Waits and more. We’d listen to rock n’ roll on Saturday mornings and classical music on Sunday mornings—it’s tradition. Switching from guitar to bass in college was life transforming for me, that could be a whole post all to itself. And of course now I have tons of musician friends I love to support, and my music world has opened up immeasurably as an adult. This has been so much fun to think on! What are some important albums that have been the soundtrack to your life?

my top picks 2014–15

KCMetropolis.orgIt’s that time again! I was worried I’d have trouble putting together my list, but it turns out despite having another kind of crap year personally, I did end up seeing some fantastic concerts. Here is my top picks list on KCMetropolis.org (in chronological order):

Rag Swing Bop! by Paul Mesner Puppets at the Gem Theater as part of the American Jazz Museum’s annual Charlie Parker Celebration. A great, fun way for young Kansas Citians to learn about important parts of our city’s history. (August 2014)

• Buddy Guy on the Performing Arts Series at Johnson County Community College. I loved seeing Buddy last fall as much as I loved seeing him live 15 years ago—he hasn’t lost his edge one bit! (September 2014)

• Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott on the Harriman-Jewell Series. I’d never seen Yo-Yo Ma play live before, and it was a thrilling experience. (October 2014)

San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas,on the Harriman-Jewell Series. Its performance of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center was simply breathtaking. (November 2014)

• Hozier at Liberty Hall in Lawrence. I hadn’t been to a rock concert in a long time, and Hozier lived up to and exceeded my expectations. Click here for my blog post. (February 2015)

• The Book of Mormon, presented by Theater League/Broadway Across America, at the Music Hall. My husband and I were having a really bad week when we went to see this, but Mormon let us just enjoy a bit of raunchy, ridiculous humor for an evening and forget about our troubles. (February 2015)

• Jonathan Harvey’s String Trio and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies, performed by newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble. Harvey’s String Trio was exactly the kind of complex new music I love hearing, and Kenn Kumpf from Chicago was intense and mesmerizing as the insane George III in the rarely performed Eight Songs. (April 2015)

• Ensemble Ibérica on the Performing Arts Series at Johnson County Community College. Led by Beau Bledsoe, Ensemble Ibérica took its enraptured audience on a tour of Mexican regions through captivating, authentic traditional music. (May 2015)

• Musical sweethearts Victor and Penny performed a work-in-progress on Central Standard Theatre Kansas City‘s The Invasion series, but they are just so genuine and talented they captured my heart. I’m looking forward to seeking out more of their shows in the future. (July 2015)

• Emerging bluegrass duo The Matchsellers had a killer set on the Kansas City Fringe Festival, with a great mix of old standards and idiomatic new originals. I’m going to keep my eye out for these two around town as well (July 2015).

Read my list of top picks with more thoughts and direct links to individual reviews at KCMetropolis.org: Editor’s Picks 2014–15 season: Kristin

voice

KCMetropolis.orgA little more about my latest review on KCMetropolis.org:

Last Saturday night, Valentine’s Day, my husband and I went to Overland Park to hear Voice perform on the Performing Arts Series at Johnson County Community College (one of my favorite presenters—it always has a fantastic, fun season). Voice, a British all-women a cappella trio, was a lovely choice for Valentine’s Day. I’m no fan of Valentine’s Day—mostly I think it’s saccharine and disingenuous. We should be showing our love to each other year-round! February 14 is not a significant date in our relationship, at least. Anyway! Voice’s program was neither too sweet nor too sappy; it had just the right kind of earnest sentimentality making for an affecting evening. I enjoyed it and would love to see them perform again one day!

Read my full review at KCMetropolis.org:

mark morris dance group: acis and galatea

KCMetropolis.orgBack in the saddle of reviewing stuff again after the holiday hiatus. Also, I’m pleased to realize last night that this week is my 5th anniversary writing for KCMetropolis.org! A few extra thoughts on my latest review:

On Saturday night Nick and I went to the Kauffman Center for Acis and Galatea, staged by Mark Morris Dance Group. The Harriman-Jewell Series is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, and so to mark this occasion went in on co-commissioning this production from Mark Morris. It was spectacular! I’m not usually very into Baroque music—I respect it and everything, and it’s pretty fun to play, but I can’t say I sit around and listen to it in my leisure time much. But I was really pleased by the fine treatment of Mozart’s arrangement of Handel’s Acis by the orchestra and choir, made up of Kansas City-area musicians. You would have thought they played together all the time, not just assembled for this one gig.

Acis was pumped up as one of the top events to see this season, and it lived up to the hype. It was a really fun, accessible production that reached across genres—dance, music, art, theatre—that I think almost everyone could enjoy. Congrats to HJS!

Read my full review at KCMetropolis.org:

yo-yo ma + kathryn stott

KCMetropolis.orgNew issue of KCMetropolis.org today, and I have one review: Yo-Yo Ma, cello and Kathryn Stott, piano on the Harriman-Jewell Series. The recital was on my wedding anniversary, October 16, but my husband was out of town! So this was a nice treat that evening, even though Nick wasn’t with me—we’ll find another time to celebrate. Anyway, the recital was brilliant, masterful, so amazing. Yo-Yo Ma exceeded all my expectations—he is really a wonderful musician to witness live, he plays with such joy and passion. He even shouted “Go Royals!” on his way off stage after the performance! (For those who don’t know, our Kansas City Royals are in the World Series this week… the last time they were in the World Series was 1985, 29 years ago! So we’re all pretty excited here in the City of Fountains.)

Read my full review at KCMetropolis.org: Captivating and masterful duo recital