Getting Personal is an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, a chat with Kevin Kelly, conductor of The Prairie Ensemble, who also leads the East Central Illinois Youth Orchestra and the choir at Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church in Champaign. Kelly also hosts “Live and Local” on WILL-FM 90.9.
What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?
I don't have a very typical get-up time. I'd probably operate a lot more efficiently if I did. But usually somewhere between 7 and 9. My morning starts with foot stretching (because of a prolonged case of plantar fasciitis), then drinking a couple of glasses of water (mom told me once that's supposed to keep you from getting sick; it doesn't, but I do it anyway), cleaning out the cats' litter box, taking a shower, shaving (every few days, if I feel like it), doing a bunch of back stretches, feeding the cats, then feeding myself.
What did you have for lunch today? Where? With whom?
Today I had a semi-lunch after playing tennis with my girlfriend. We picked up coffee from Starbucks and pastries from Mirabelle and ate them at her place.
Best high school memory?
I think the best times I had in high school were when I wasn't in school at all but participating in various district, regional and state music festivals in Pennsylvania, where I'm from. Whether orchestra, band or choir, they would last from Thursday through Saturday, kids would stay with host families in the town where the festival took place, we'd rehearse all day and do fun stuff at other times. Best one was when several of us were crammed into a house trailer on a farm and got to go horseback riding, when my horse decided it would take off at a gallop — scary but exhilarating!
Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.
Close friends will tell you that's a loaded question, because I'm a bit of a shoe junkie. I have a favorite pair of running shoes (which I don't run in; they're Brooks Glycerins), a favorite pair of tennis shoes (which I do play tennis in; they're Asics Gel Resolutions) and a favorite pair of casual shoes — two-toned nubuck Merrells I don't know the name of. I don't have a favorite pair of dress shoes, so I guess I need to go shopping.
What does a perfect Sunday afternoon include?
Sunday is a work day for me, with choir in the morning and youth orchestra rehearsal in the afternoon. So the perfect afternoon has me getting in some good orchestra preparation after choir, then helping the kids to learn some great music.
Was there one book you read as a child that you still cherish? Own? Read?
I don't think so. I'm a big reader, but not a big rereader. I have, however, read and reread a few children's series as an adult: "The Lord of the Rings," the Harry Potter books and Philip Pulman's trilogy "His Dark Materials."
Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?
I'd have to say the countryside in Great Britain. I once took a two-week trip to southern England with a small professional choir from Chicago and fell in love with the countryside. I've always wanted to go back, without the structure of a tour, to explore the quieter, most beautiful places in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
Tell me about your favorite pet.
I have two cats, male litter mates, virtual identical twins, with medium-long, almost-black hair (their fur can look brownish in sunlight), named Farley and Percy. At the risk of alienating Percy, I'd have to say Farley is my favorite. He likes to be where I am, sits on my lap whenever I give him the chance, likes to watch me brush my teeth and to get a head rub after my shower and has an endearing habit of announcing himself before he leaps to the kitchen counter for his breakfast.
Have you discovered that you are becoming like one of your parents? Which one and how?
I'm becoming more and more like both of them. My musical talent comes from my mom, but unfortunately so does my tendency to judgmentalism, which I'm at least aware of. I'm socially quiet and reserved, much like my dad, and, like him, I've tended to keep to myself more as I've gotten older. There's much more than that on both sides, but that's all you have time for.
What would you order for your last meal?
Escargot for appetizer, swordfish for the entre with some creative veggie-and-starch combination and a New Orleans-style bourbon-spiked bread pudding for dessert.
What can you not live without?
Love and music.
Who do you have on your iPod?
I don't have an iPod.
What's the happiest memory of your life?
I'm afraid that recalling happy things isn't my strong suit. So I'll choose to remember that peanut butter and jelly and raisin and pancake syrup and marshmallow fluff sandwich my sister and I made once.
If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?
Bill Clinton, Kate Winslet and Rafael Nadal.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
"If nothing changes, nothing changes." (The advice is implied.)
What's your best piece of advice?
Learn to listen.
What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?
In high school, I worked briefly for Lincoln Way Wash and Gas in Chambersburg, Penn., but have no idea what I made — probably minimum wage. Plus the lawn mowing I did as a kid and selling Christmas cards and cleaning products door to door.
What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?
After five years of Jungian analysis when I lived in Chicago, I decided to leave my job in medical book publishing and come to the university to study orchestral conducting. Though I enjoyed my work well enough and was succeeding at it, it never felt really natural to me. I'd been singing a lot and doing a bit of conducting and felt music pulling me back.
Do you have a bad habit? What is it?
How do you handle a stressful situation?
Depends on the situation. If it doesn't involve my emotions, generally quite calmly and rationally, even if others might think it's a freak-out situation. But if my personal well-being is at stake, I can feel overwhelmingly anxious. Quiet meditation can help, but mostly I just launch into a flurry of activity to try to resolve the problem or get the job done.