Kristine Ciesinski sings with Wolf Earthfire
— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”—Robert Herrick
Her email address was singnsoar, echoing her two great passions, opera singing and flying. She was a woman who lived her life with great intensity. A world-class opera singer who opened in most of the world’s major opera houses, her gorgeous and powerful voice poured forth from the depth of her, exquisitely modulated by her disciplined craft. An experienced, top-notch pilot, she took people on glider flights to see the glory of the Grand Tetons. A beloved teacher, she helped her students find their voice, believing in them when they didn’t believe yet in themselves. There is no greater gift to give than helping someone find their voice—and thus themselves.
When I began more public speaking it was Kris I went to for help, which she gave freely and unstintingly—lessons of warmth and toughness. She didn’t tolerate sloppiness. An animal lover, she was involved with Earthfire from the beginning. We wouldn’t be where we are without her, or perhaps even in existence. In the early years we put on three galas featuring her star power. She arranged for a Steinway piano to be brought up five hours from Salt Lake City for the quality she demanded for a performance, and the company gladly donated it all. She recruited talented accompanists as she sang with photos of our animals on a screen behind her, choreographed to the music. She swept onto the floor in full opera regalia, commanding attention through her sheer presence even before the liquid notes filled the room. People were sobbing from the pure beauty of it all.
We received donations and long-term donors from those galas that have helped sustain us since then. As we grow and share the beauty of the animals with people around the world, her voice and spirit is behind it, singing and helping us soar.
She died in a plane crash a week ago, soaring above the Tetons. The entire valley is in shock—how can so vibrant a presence be gone, so suddenly? The entire valley is in mourning. Her warm, generous spirit touched people everywhere through the many organizations she helped. In meetings she was unfailingly positive, courteous, no nonsense and helpful. She hosted intimate, magical musical evenings in her home with her husband, famous baritone Norman Bailey, equally talented sister Katherine, and musical friends, creating lifelong memories.
Her one failure was as a bear trainer. Hopelessly in love with animals, she thought she would try her hand at interacting with ours. She came to try, but around animals all her self-discipline failed. She loved them so much that they took advantage of her, and she couldn’t stop herself from letting them get away with things. With characteristic, clear self-assessment she said, ”I suck at this.”
Kris, you are missed so much by so many, your gorgeous voice and spirit no longer lighting up the world. But trite as it is, that phrase, “She died doing what she loved,” is true. And until then she lived with enough passion for several lives, along the way inspiriting and inspiring others and bringing joy, beauty, kindness and clarity wherever she went. Safe travels, our friend. We will feel you soaring over this beloved valley of yours, and hear your song on the wind.
At one of the galas the performance ended with Kris singing Ave Maria, honoring each animal we had at the time.
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.