farewell reflections on 15 years in kansas city

I wrote a retrospective of my time in Kansas City for my last issue (June 29, 2016) with KCMetropolis.org, for which I’ve been a writer and editor since 2010. I will always hold Kansas City and my dear friends there close in my heart!


_mg_9277_595 - CopyAs I look back on the countless performances and events I’ve attended in Kansas City as a KCMetropolis.org writer over the past six-and-a-half years, I’m a bit in awe at how fortunate I’ve been to see the distinguished Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Buddy Guy, Aaron Neville, Bobby McFerrin, Regina Carter, Dr. John, and more. I discovered a new favorite in Danú, experienced a breathtakingly moving Jordi Savall performance, and witnessed intimate recitals by Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham, Ana Vidović, Joshua Bell, Audra McDonald, and the Takács, Harlem, Jasper, Chiara, and Artemis Quartets, among others. I’ve had the chance to see inspiring symphony orchestras, notable world music bands Los Lobos and The Chieftains, and jazz icons Ellis and Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Arturo Sandoval, and Esperanza Spalding, to name a few. The quality that our local arts organizations present is truly astonishing. But beyond being a critical observer of this unbelievable roster and many excellent local acts for KCM, more than anything, I’m humbled and honored to have been a part of the Kansas City music scene as a bassist, composer, and advocate of the arts for fifteen years.

When I think about my time in Kansas City, my mind automatically goes back to when I was a college student at the UMKC Conservatory. I remember the endless hours spent in the PAC practice rooms, learning my parts for the Conservatory Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra concerts (and enjoying “chair time” in the lobby). I remember playing Pärt’s Fratres and Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat with the Conservatory Wind Symphony after learning my grandfather had had a heart attack earlier that day up in Wisconsin. kristin mafb concert 6.27.16Tagging along on the Concert Jazz Band’s European tour in 2006. Powering through Andriessen’s Workers Union on bass with Musica Nova, the group I co-directed, during a random fire alarm in White Recital Hall. I remember meeting Nick Omiccioli, now my husband, when we were master’s students in the composition program. I remember him conducting my thesis during our last Musica Nova concert, and having profound feelings of elation, pride, and accomplishment as a composer. I knew I wasn’t ready to leave Kansas City after graduation. To keep up with playing bass, I joined the Kansas City Civic Orchestra. Our metro is lousy with community groups, and I had the pleasure to serve as principal bassist not only for Civic, but also for Heritage Philharmonic (the oldest such ensemble in the area, based in Independence) and Kinnor Philharmonic (the “youngest” at five seasons, based in Overland Park).

The local scene has really blossomed since I moved here in 2001, and I must admit it’s hard to leave the city at this moment in its artistic and cultural evolution, a moment in which many groups I love and friends of mine are flourishing. Fountain City Brass Band consistently takes home international prizes. Clint Ashlock has done an outstanding job at the helm of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. Check out Mrs. Jones perform alongside her fellow immensely entertaining drag queens at Hamburger Mary’s. Pianists Jeremy Watson and Angie Fullerton Benson, usually in the role of musical director, make any theatre production they’re in exceptional beyond measure. Victor and Penny, fine purveyors of Prohibition Era-style jazz, always put on a great show, and Ensemble Ibérica has filled a global music niche that we were missing here in town. New music still has some growing to do, but Mnemosyne Quartet is doing its part with its rare instrumentation, live electronics, and performances in novel venues. If you have the chance to catch Narong Prangcharoen’s Phenomenon performed by Kansas City Symphony next June or Nick Omiccioli’s newly commissioned heavy metal guitar concerto with the Conservatory Wind Ensemble next spring, take it. And if one of Kansas City’s premier bassists Brian Wilson, Rick Willoughby, Jeff Harshbarger, or Johnny Hamil are involved—in anything—don’t miss it. Trust me.

kansas city loveMy final performance of my fifteen-year tenure in Kansas City was on Monday night while sitting in with the Mid America Freedom Band, led by my esteemed colleague and beloved friend Lee Hartman, in a benefit concert for the survivors of the Orlando massacre. We finished our set with the Arlen/Harburg classic “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. It brought me full circle and was simply the most perfect last piece for me to play here, as I was obsessed with the film as a child. Although the concert was a response to a tragedy, I couldn’t have wished for a more appropriate way to conclude this chapter of my life, in the city where I musically “grew up,” than making music alongside my friends for an event that aptly illustrated the elements so prevalent in Kansas City’s music scene that I will always cherish—harmony, community, and a lot of heart.

Top photo by Richard Leaf; Middle photo by Andrew Schwartz; Bottom photo by Kristin Shafel Omiccioli
Reprinted with permission from KCMetropolis.org, © 2016 [Original article link]

 

a little life

After seeing many, many rave reviews and landing on numerous best-of lists at the end of 2015, I decided to give A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara a try despite my reservations due it to being a major chunkster. From Goodreads:

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

I will agree with most reviewers: A Little Life is an emotionally taxing book; the story is affecting, complicated, and distressing, to say the least. I found the word “devastating” in a lot of comments, however, I’m not sure if it’s because I’m naturally attracted to dark, disturbing material sometimes, but I wasn’t so upset and “destroyed” as some readers were after finishing.

My issues with A Little Life are less with the bad stuff that happens (and I agree they are truly horrid, unspeakable, unfair abuses). Let’s be honest—these (and worse) things really happen to people every day all over the world. The characters’ unwavering commitment to and deep, often unrequited love for Jude baffled me at times. I also had trouble buying that all four friends became rich and wildly successful in their highly competitive careers. And fair warning: apologies occur frequently in this book. The words “I’m sorry” appear pretty much on every single page. I started rolling my eyes at each utterance after a while. Despite being 720 pages, the vagueness throughout the story must have been intentional, too: how are 9/11 and HIV never once mentioned in a book set in New York City spanning several (seemingly recent/current) decades featuring gay characters? It bothered me while reading but on reflection I suppose to give the story a timeless atmosphere.

Much of Yanagihara’s writing is lovely, though, even hinging on poetic at times. You do get a sense for the trauma and sorrow the characters experience, as well as their happy times. I really enjoyed the backstories for JB and especially Willem in the first part of the book. I think she does a fantastic job of making these relationships all feel tangible. While there is a lot of writing here, it never felt too dense or difficult to pick up wherever I left off. Bottom line: I would recommend A Little Life to anyone interested. Give it 100 pages and see what you think at that point.

Read from January 9 to February 18, 2016.

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading? I kind of can’t believe we’re at the end of January already, and I’ve only finished one book. That’s not to say I haven’t been reading, though; I’m really trying hard to get back into a groove after hardly having the motivation, attention, or energy for it for several weeks. I’m about halfway through A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara at the moment, and hoping to finish by the end of this week! My feelings about it are a little torn, though, more than I was expecting. It’s had the greatest reviews, but there are a few stylistic things that are working against my Loving it (capital L). No spoilers! I am enjoying it a lot, though, and will definitely finish.

Other than that, the holidays are officially over (winter break ended, rehearsals starting back up) so I’m back to my usual, busy routine! I’ve missed playing bass… and so glad the holiday concerts are OVER 🙂

What are you reading this week?

hunger makes me a modern girl

I have been really attracted to rock memoirs lately (Gregg Allman, Slash) and I knew I had to get to Carrie Brownstein‘s highly acclaimed, recently released memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. Edited from Goodreads:

Before Carrie Brownstein codeveloped and starred in the wildly popular TV comedy Portlandia, she was already an icon to young women for her role as a musician in the feminist punk band Sleater-Kinney. The band was a key part of the early riot grrrl and indie rock scenes in the Pacific Northwest, known for their prodigious guitar shredding and their leftist lyrics against war, traditionalism, and gender roles. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is the deeply personal and revealing narrative of Brownstein’s life in music, from ardent fan to pioneering female guitarist to comedic performer and luminary in the independent rock world. This book intimately captures what it feels like to be a young woman in a rock-and-roll band, from her days at the dawn of the underground feminist punk-rock movement that would define music and pop culture in the 1990s through today.

I initially borrowed Hunger from the library because I wasn’t sure whether I’d like it, since I’m not a fan of Sleater-Kinney and never have been. Punk in general has never resonated with me. I listened to a few of the albums she talks about while reading Hunger, but yeah. Not for me. The bass is really missing for me, and the singing style just isn’t to my taste. Oh well! This absolutely did not diminish my enjoyment of the book whatsoever. I ended up buying a copy to own.

Brownstein’s journey from quirky, performance-driven child to ultimate music fan to inadvertent rock star was instantly engaging and I found it hard to put down. She’s erudite and introspective, not gossipy or too self-indulgent, and it’s clear she’s in awe of her fellow musicians. Her gratitude for the people in her life and experiences shines through, but she’s honest about the stress and pressures she faced with her rising fame. I loved the parts on her creative process and reflections on being a woman in the music business. I think I would have really enjoyed this on audio too, but there were so many excellent points and quotes that I ended up reading and re-reading them over a second time. You’ll only read about her pre-Portlandia days here—save for a little bit about her family in the beginning and her pets at the end, it’s all about the music.

Bottom line: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is essential reading if you love music, feminism, and creativity. Fans of Portlandia will enjoy learning about its star’s past, and even those who aren’t into Sleater-Kinney will appreciate and enjoy this captivating and charming memoir. I have a feeling this will be one of my best reads of the year.

Read from January 1 to 8, 2016.

behind the beautiful forevers

Two years after it first came out I finally got around to reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, a fascinating, heartbreaking exposé of a Mumbai slum and its residents. Edited from Goodreads:

A bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds—and into the hearts of families impossible to forget.

I’m embarrassed this took me so long to get to, and then so long to read. I think I was just too busy this past month, because a book like this is right up my alley and wouldn’t normally take me so long. When I was able to catch moments with this over the past month I was spellbound. Boo crafts this narrative non-fiction with compassion, grace and objectivity, exposing what life is like for these hardworking individuals at the bottom of the ladder in one of the world’s wealthiest cities, taking into account social and economic context. Annawadi could be any slum in any large city in the world with substantial economic inequality.

The families on these pages came alive to me, especially the children. Education is basically nonexistent. They compete with each other in garbage trading to scrape together a little money for their families. They endure beatings and witness suicides, often contemplating it themselves. But some we learn about in Beautiful Forevers are tenacious and hopeful, striving for a better life.

The struggles of Annawadi’s residents are wide-ranging, from unemployment to addiction to disease to suicides to corrupt police and government to fear of their homes being bulldozed. The fact that they are fundamentally no different from anyone else—needing to provide for their families, hopes and dreams for a better future for their children—is made crystal clear. Beautiful Forevers is a powerful, tragic, affective glimpse at the daily lives of these spirited people in abject poverty.

Read from June 18 to July 26, 2015.

we need new names

Onward with my ebook challenge! Book no. 4 is We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. Edited from Goodreads:

Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad. But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few.

I read through this quickly over a weekend, so it perhaps didn’t quite have the greatest impact on me?? The difficulties and suffering that do exist in this book just didn’t resonate with me as much as I would have expected. I had a little trouble with the vocabulary (neighborhoods in the Zimbabwe town called “Budapest” and “Paradise” tripped me up at first, stuff like that). It could be the short story vibe of this one—while not really a short story collection, many of the chapters could be stand-alone and overall it felt like several events linked together rather than one long narrative. That’s just me though, short stories aren’t exactly my thing. Still a good read, though, and I’m glad I finally got around to it.

Bulawayo’s characters feel very real, at least some of them do, and for sure Darling is a dynamic and interesting character. Darling, at just 10 years old, is opinionated and funny, with a toughness right off the bat that has you rooting for her all the way through the book, and you witness her growth in how her voice distinctively changes as a teenager in the States. The first half was raw and gritty and heartbreaking, but the second half, when Darling is older in America, really drives the points home of “different similarities” between coming of age in Africa vs. the United States. Despite the tragedy and horrors they faced in Zimbabwe as children, they are still hopeful and dream of better futures for themselves.

We Need New Names might have a few too many elements in it—immigration, culture shock, coming of age, world relations, poverty, etc.—but Bulawayo does tie them together in a meaningful, cohesive way, and creatively through the eyes of Darling.

We Need New Names is my fourth of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read from June 19 to 22, 2015.