I was born in 1965 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to two young parents. My father, his parents, and his two sisters were born in Germany but lived in Venezuela before coming to the United States around 1960. For the first years of my life, we all lived near one another, and I spent a good deal of time with my Oma and Opa and my Tantes. Thanks to this, I acquired a good command of household German and also gained a strong foundation for the fluency I would later develop in Spanish. I also received training in Continental etiquette, a habit of respect for authority, a strong ethic for work, excellence, and responsibility, a reflex toward criticism, an openness to foreign cultures, and a near-religious regard for studying, teaching, and arts and literature. My family is not religious, but we keep with fervency the traditions of the German Christmas: a ceremonial gathering in our handsome clothes, the decking of the house and of the tree in the finest of handmade adornments, the singing of carols, and the loving exchange of gifts. My childhood was perfectly joyous, secure, and nourishing. Both my mother and my father had fairly miserable upbringings, and their siblings and the children of their siblings have not fared as well. But my parents are champions, as my own confidence, happiness, freedom, and success prove.
I began my music study with piano lessons at age five. I continued these up through the middle of my junior year in college, and though I abandoned the instrument at that time, it was as a pianist that I experienced my richest musical development. Between the ages of 12 and 18, I went away every summer to Blue Lake Fine Arts camp, where a marvelously dedicated and inspired teacher named Ellen Pool ran a comprehensive piano program that challenged and stimulated me on all levels: performance, history and literature, theory, and aural skills. Those weeks were the best of my teenagerhood, when I could pursue my nerdy passions in the company of hundreds of other teenagers who were similarly passionate. And then, just as I turned 15, I began lessons with a remarkable teacher who happened to live in our town. I still say that Annie Sherter is the greatest musician I will ever know. To study the piano with her over those three years was my greatest privilege, and I always credit her with giving me this musician’s life that I love so madly. I am no longer her student, but we have long since developed a deep friendship. She is in her 70s and won’t be with me forever, but I have her signature tattooed on the inside of my upper, right arm.
When I was 10, my baby sister Karin was born. She, my great joy, was the most perfect child there ever was. And she has turned into a nearly perfect and completely ass-kicking adult. She is working on her doctorate in speech pathology, specializing in language disorders in Spanish-English bilingual children. She has been my most constant advocate.
Shortly after Karin’s birth, I took a trip to Germany with my grandmother. We stayed in the farmhouse that had belonged to my great grandfather. I absorbed much information about my background without realizing its importance at the time; only in my 40s have I begun to understand something of the influence of my Germanness on my personality.
My first experiences outside the U.S. came when I was eight years old. Dad had a long business trip to take throughout Latin America, so my parents decided that they would take me out of school so that we could spend those two months together.
I saw Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, and Venezuela.
The poverty I saw then – and during three Christmas vacations spent in Haiti when my grandparents were living there – confused and disturbed me, having long-term effects, I believe, on the outlook I would develop as an adult.
When I was 16 I lived for six weeks in Buenos Aires, with business friends of my father. That was when I developed my Spanish fluency. Since then, as an adult, I have enjoyed a work-trip in the Yucatan Peninsula and two vacations in Spain, though my Spanish has been just as useful to me in the United States as anywhere else.
I started coming out when I was 17, though the rest of my family didn’t learn this until some harrowing circumstances when I was 20. There were some bad years there; only young Karin never made a misstep. But the strength of the loving bonds in this family prevailed, and we have healed and grown into one of the most happy and functional nuclear units on record. I always feel so fortunate for this.
I went to music school at the University of Illinois in Urbana in 1983 and didn’t leave that wonderful town until 2000. In that time, I earned my bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate in choral conducting, made it to All-State during my rookie season on the rugby team, worked successfully as a Lesbian activist for a non-discrimination policy at the University, conducted choirs at the community, junior-high, high-school, college, and conservatory levels, loved many women, and spent 10 years with a partner who had three amazingly wonderful daughters. She left me after those 10 years and never had much use for me after that, but I continue to enjoy loving connections with the daughters, who are now splendid adult women doing amazing things like designing “green” environmental systems for buildings, raising beautiful children, blacksmithing, and crunching data for the Forest Service.
The best thing I’ve ever done for the world was to found and lead a chorus in my Illinois community for Lesbians and other women allies of Lesbians. The chorus is called AMASONG, and I was its director from 1990 through 1999. By the time I was done, we had sung at several national venues, recorded two award-winning CDs, and toured in the Czech Republic. But the best thing was that by our beautiful music in our hometown, we made our community safe for Lesbianism and for good treble-choir music! I am understating the power, grace, and impact of this organization on the lives of all it touched, but you can get the full story by watching the PBS documentary about us. (Details can be found on my professional website at:
As I write this, I am in a period of transition. I have just left a nine-year freelance career in New York City, where I taught music history at Barnard College, taught choral conducting at the Manhattan School of Music, directed the Cerddorion Vocal Ensemble, AMUSE, and the Collegiate Chorale, and performed, toured and recorded as a soprano with the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble, the Renaissance choir Pomerium, the Vox Vocal Ensemble, and various others. I grabbed several musical brass rings during those years, singing or conducting performances that were as thrilling and satisfying as anything can be, and collaborating with some of the most gifted and enjoyable musicians anywhere. It was a challenging and exhilarating life.
It was also exhausting and threatened to become more so as this recession began to carve into my possibilities. So I went looking for a single, full-time job on the music faculty of some college, and I found what I think will be a wonderful fit at Carroll University. On June 3rd I boarded Amtrak and left New York ensconced in the comfort and privacy of my own sleeper car, which afforded me a fittingly gradual departure during which I could reflect on where I have been and what is to come.
Believe it or not, Carroll is just west of my hometown, Milwaukee. I have selected a wonderful house just one street over and three blocks down from where I lived as a happy two-, three-, and four-year-old. I’m very excited about the new quality of life that awaits me, even as I am nervous about excelling in all the challenges of my new position.
Among my particular hopes for my new life is that I will manage – with a regular work schedule at last – to maintain a regular exercise regimen, and also that I will find time to be engaged somehow once again in social-justice efforts. Perhaps because I saw such widespread, abject poverty at such a young age, I mistrust my economic privilege and material comfort as essentially ill-gotten at some level, and though I haven’t found the moral strength to give away more than insignificant amounts of my excess, I would like to think that I can at least get involved in some way with efforts that effectively redistribute wealth, access, and other privileges. If there is a hell, I will go there, not for my unbelief, for my foul cursing with the name of Jesus Christ, for working my ass off even on Sundays, or for all my covetings and fornications, but for failing to part with my unneeded wealth or to effectively challenge the systems that put it in my hands in the first place.
My personal life takes a very contemporary shape. When both lovers in a relationship are women with their own careers as passionate artists, it is simply accepted between them that each will live where her art is. I am an unfailingly devoted lover, but my only real marriage is to Music; I will follow Her wherever She takes me; I will go nowhere without Her; no one and nothing will share with Her the place She occupies in my life. My bond with Her is the only one that I cannot conduct as a long-distance relationship. Such choices were unthinkable for women when we were legally prohibited from earning our own wages or owning our own property, when we were but our husbands’ breeding chattel. The legal institution that is marriage was cast in and still reflects those antiquated conditions and as such is an outdated and undesired model for me. Culture changes, continually, or it disappears. Lesbians have always been heavily represented among the drivers of cultural change; we learn by the trauma and thrill of coming out that when there is no room for what we need, we must create that room or die. When all is said and done, the other people whom we have dragged kicking and screaming into the next phase of their societal evolution end up thanking us.
To sum up how I feel about my positions in this world both as a pusher of society’s envelope and as a teacher of the arts of choral singing and conducting, I quote Tom Hanks’s character from _A League of One’s Own_:
“If it wasn’t hard, _everyone_ would do it.”
Kristina is a musical force in New York City. Her site summarizes her accomplishments, but I can tell you from listening to her performances that she's a fantastic conductor, and from hanging out with her that she's a beautiful human being.