Michelle Maestas Simonsen hails from just about as Pacific Northwest as a person can get in Wasilla, Alaska, about 50 miles north of Anchorage. Hiking, fishing, camping, boating, and flying were the norm growing up and her love for the outdoors and travel continues today. While exploring her love of nature she also discovered a love of classical music and radio. As a child Michelle grew up listening to classical orchestral music and operas, her grandmother, a professional Chinese brush painter and classical pianist, also influenced her decision to study music and the arts.
Finishing her high school education at The Interlochen Arts Academy studying classical and jazz saxophone and continuing on to University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music where she earned a degree in saxophone performance, Michelle is well versed in all things music. She also holds a Masters in Communication Management that focused on broadcast, entertainment, and leadership from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Michelle has produced and overseen tens of thousands of recordings and performances as a director of production including orchestras featuring classical giants such as conductors Michael Tilson Thomas, Carl St. Clair, and Paul Salamunovich, and musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma, Midori, Pepe Romero, and many more. She’s also produced the live aspects of broadcast concerts and events over the last 17 years; if she’s not behind the scenes, Michelle is on the stage playing saxophone, singing, or speaking to the audience.
Michelle joined Classical KING first as an overnight host, but now plays multiple roles at the station, most notably as our Program Director. She lives with her trumpet playing husband, Dr. Walter Simonsen and her dog D.C. al Coda, Coda for short. DC al Coda stands for Da Capo al Coda, which means to play from the head to the tail in a piece of music… and Coda has a really cute head and a really cute tail!
Q&A with Michelle
KING: Let’s say you have a free day to spend somewhere beautiful. Are you heading to the beach or the mountains? In the Pacific Northwest, of course, we have easy access to both.
Michelle: Both! I’ve lived most of my life within a short distance to the ocean (or a lake) and mountains. Whether I was in Alaska, Michigan, or in Los Angeles, and now in Seattle too. I love to take in a water view. But if I had a free day and could be sent to a far away city with beautiful art and music, I’d take it. To Paris please!
KING: Favorite type of food?
Michelle: XLB. Hands down, I love a good soup dumpling. (XLB = Xiao Long Bao)
KING: It’s game night! Are you hoping for a board/tabletop game, a video game, or a sporting event?
Michelle: I’m going to RSVP with an enthusiastic yes for a board game night. I particularly love the Ticket to Ride Series and a new game called Hues and Cues. I have been known to play the GOAT (greatest of all time) storytelling and role playing game of Dungeons & Dragons.
I love sporting events; I’m looking forward to the next season of Hockey with the Seattle Kraken. I attend golf tournaments and can get excited about just about any live professional sport. My biggest hobby is golf. I play golf games, not just match play, but team golf and I play for glory in annual tournaments with friends.
KING: Beatles or Rolling Stones? (Or Bach or Beethoven?)
Michelle: A. Beatles, but it’s mostly because I was named after one of their songs. No shade to the Rolling Stones.
KING: What music might people be surprised to learn you listen to — when you’re not at Classical KING, that is?
Michelle: I listen to Top 40 music from every era, and I learn lots of horn lines. I listen to brass band music. I also listen to quite a few jazz standards and great American song book tunes. I pick a song, and then I look for as many versions of it as possible and I listen how each musician interprets the melody, harmony, and style. Lately, I’ve been also digging music by Vulpeck, Lake Street Dive, and music my husband writes.
KING: What classical composers, living or dead, haven’t gotten their fair dose of attention — which composers aren’t “household names” but should be?
Michelle: Nadia Boulanger, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Takashi Yoshimatsu, David Maslanka.
KING: If your classical music collection was entirely vinyl records, which of those records would be nearly worn-out from being played dozens of times? In other words, what music do you come back to, over and over again?
Michelle: Oh easy, it would likely be ballet music from Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty, London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn.
KING: What pieces of music do you turn to when you need comfort, solace, or relaxation?
Michelle: Gymnopedies by Erik Satie, By the Still Waters by Amy Beach, Dolly Suite: Berceuse by Gabriel Fauré, Rêverie by Claude Debussy.
KING: Let’s say you’re hosting a musical dinner party or cocktail party, and you can invite three composers or performers, living or dead. Whom do you invite?
Michelle: Can we pretend they all speak English so everyone can talk together? Also, I know it says 3, but I really would want 4 with a back up invite in case someone has to cancel due to a last minute performance obligation. Hildegard Von Bingen, Yo-Yo Ma, Nadia Boulanger, Leonard Bernstein.
(Back up invite: Franz Liszt)