Krista Espelien finds her musical voice | AspenTimes.com
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Krista Espelien finds her musical voice

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Lynn Goldsmith/Special to The Aspen Times Aspenite Krista Espelien is among the featured vocalists at the Symphony in the Valley Symphony Swing concerts this weekend, and performs Saturday nights at Syzygy.
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ASPEN Early on, Krista Espeliens musical track looked to be a short one. In the middle school band, she was not considered to be among the talented, and this was not merely her self-assessment: When given her assignment, she found herself in the last chair of second clarinets.Go back further, however, and there is a glimmer of hope. As a kid, when she was too shy to sing in front of anybody, she would let her voice loose in her grandparents backyard, in small-town Minnesota. She liked what she heard.I thought I sounded pretty good, she said of her backyard belting.Espelien chalks up that positive review to a lack of critical ears. It was that kid thing, she said. But it seems that Espeliens upbeat self-critique is winning out over the thumbs-down she would get in middle school.That she has talent has been affirmed by the series of appearances Espelien has made around the valley. She is principal clarinet with Symphony in the Valley, and has appeared as a vocalist at the Glenwood Springs-based orchestras pop-oriented Symphony Swing concerts. This past fall she made her theater debut in Aspen Community Theatres production of Chicago, in the role of the husband-stabbing prisoner June. Since Thanksgiving, she has been singing Saturday nights at Syzygy in Aspen with Steve Peer & All That Jazz.This weekend, the 30-year-old Aspenite does the orchestra gig. She is featured as a vocalist in Symphony in the Valleys Symphony Swing concerts: a fund-raiser dinner-dance on Saturday, March 7 at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood; and a concert on Sunday, March 8 at the Battlement Mesa Activity Center. Her numbers include Save Your Love for Me, Kissing a Fool and a duet with Kelly Thompson on Baby, Its Cold Outside. Also featured are vocalists Debbie Dawson, Jeannie Walla and Lorraine Curry, the singing group Mixed Emotion, and violinist Ross Kribbs.Shes got this innate talent, said Wendy Larson, the former artistic director and conductor of Symphony in the Valley, and a member of the Chicago orchestra. She is excellent, gifted as both a singer and musician.Usually, not many people come up and ask to sing if they cant do it. Because theyre going to be up in front of a lot of people.Uncharacteristically, Espelien was bold enough just barely to ask Larson three years ago if she could sing at Symphony Swing. I said, Can … I … uhh … sing? recalled Espelien. She said, You sing? I got to do that, and that built up my confidence.The first big confidence boost came in high school. Espelien had been looking forward to the high school band in Little Falls, Minn.: The band teacher had a good reputation; she enjoyed making music. Her enthusiasm was rewarded when she was picked to join the select wind ensemble as a freshman, no less.I was shocked, said Espelien, who was born in Korea and adopted at six months by Minnesotans of Norwegian heritage. Not many freshman make it. And Id been told I wasnt so good.That convinced her she had ability; her experience the summer between her junior and senior years of high school convinced her she wanted to make a life in music. That summer, Espelien was admitted to the Great Lakes Ambassadors of Music, an ensemble of young musicians from Minnesota. The group toured through Europe, and at their stop in Champry, Switzerland, they were treated like royalty, with huge crowds turning out to hear Dixieland, Copland and American marches, and presenting the orchestra members with T-shirts.There was one point where I said to my friend: I want to do this the rest of my life, said Espelien.In her second year at Hamline University, in St. Paul, when Espelien had what she calls her first real clarinet teacher, she discovered she had everything wrong, from her fingering to her embouchure the mouth formation on the instrument. It was barely a bump: She expanded her range by joining the schools a cappella choir and another vocal group, and graduated with a degree in clarinet performance and music education.Espelien spent a year following graduation in the Twin Cities, working as a substitute teacher, and also working at the Dakota, a fine-dining spot and jazz club.Theyd get the most amazing jazz musicians, so I got to familiarize myself with it, she said. And I loved it. There were a lot of female vocalists I could relate to.At a job fair in Minnesota, Espelien learned of an opening for a band teacher at Rifle Middle School. The five years she put in there took her away from performing, but she hardly minded.I came into the program when it wasnt doing so well. So I got to do some things start a marching band with the seventh- and eighth-graders, start a jazz band, said Espelien. The program grew huge and it was a very successful ensemble when I left. It was hard to leave.During her third year in Rifle, Espelien got a phone call from Larson, who was conducting Aspen Community Theatres production of Fiddler on the Roof. Espelien had not been playing much clarinet, but she accepted the invitation to join the orchestra.She sends me the music, and Im blown away, she said. Im thinking community theater but theyre doing the real deal. Its great clarinet music, lots of klezmer-type stuff, lots of solos. And tough music.Espelien left Rifle last spring partly to pursue performing opportunities, and partly because of the travel bug. This spring, she plans to leave her bartending job at Matsuhisa in Aspen and go to Ecuador to get her dive master certification. Beyond that, shes unsure which musical path she might follow; she may not return to the valley.Espelien says she has no dream of becoming a professional singer, no need to be famous. But when she says she relates to female singers, the ones she points out those with underdog stories: Rene Marie, whose career didnt take off till she was 40; Diana Krall, who didnt start singing till she was threatened with being fired from her gig as a pianist.Espelien doesnt plan to join their ranks. Then again, she didnt plan on singing jazz or appearing in musical theater.stewart@aspentimes.com


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