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Hidden Talents: KXLY chief meteorologist Kris Crocker has played the violin throughout her life

UPDATED: Mon., May 14, 2018

At “The M Show,” a concert series Spokane Symphony concertmaster Mateusz Wolski created that combined classical music and comedy, Wolski asked for a volunteer.

At the behest of her seatmates, KXLY chief meteorologist Kris Crocker, somewhat reluctantly, took the stage that January evening at the Washington Cracker Co.

After she was mic’d up, Wolski’s “butler” handed her a violin and bow.

“Kris, let me walk you through this,” Wolski said. “Playing violin is really not that difficult.”

“Oh, sure,” Crocker said sarcastically.

Wolski said lessons typically start with a scale, and he beautifully played a scale for Crocker to repeat.

Crocker’s scale was … well, she certainly earned an A for effort.

“I have a special magic rosin,” Wolski then told the audience. “Usually I sound good when I put it on so let’s see if it works for Kris. It’s unicorn tears. It has to work.”

Wolski prompted Crocker to try playing the scale once more and, just like that, her tone had vastly improved.

Crocker worked through the scale then, by the power of unicorn tears, launched into Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, a feigned look of shock on her face.

As the audience quickly discovered, Crocker is no violin novice.

“I always enjoy changing perception or showing people that maybe the things that they see are not what they seem,” Wolski said about the inspiration behind the skit. “Kris was perfect for that because everybody knows one side of her, the public face in television.”

But those who attended the Spokane Symphony’s Holiday Pops concert in 2016 already knew about Crocker’s skills as a musician.

Crocker, a self-proclaimed “symphony groupie,” helps collect donations during the Holiday Pops concerts, asking audiences to put money in one of two stockings depending on what song they want the symphony to perform.

At this particular concert, one of the options was the “Hallelujah” chorus from George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.”

“I turned to (resident conductor Morihiko Nakahara) and I’m like ‘By the way, Morihiko, I know the second violin part to the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus,’ ” Crocker said. “Just as a joke. Then I went backstage and they’re like ‘Get your violin.’ ”

So Crocker joined the orchestra onstage, her sparkly gold gown doing little to help her blend in with the black and white-clad symphony musicians.

Crocker said it had been about 30 years since she last played the “Hallelujah” chorus, and she was prepared to essentially sight read the piece but quickly found that her fingers knew just what to do.

“I was almost out of body,” she said. “I’m watching my fingers play this piece and I’m going ‘What the heck? I’m playing this! I guess I do know this!’ The muscle memory, that was shocking.”

Having first picked up the violin as a third grader at Edgemont Elementary School in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Crocker had a lot of muscle memory to fall back on.

Crocker and her siblings, the children of a pianist mother and classical music loving father, were expected to play an instrument, which meant there was also a cellist, saxophonist, clarinetist and flautist in the house.

Crocker initially wanted to play cello like her older sister Karen, who is now a professional cellist, but her parents made the decision to “downsize” to the violin after years of hauling Karen’s cello around.

Her early aptitude at the violin spurred an immediate interest in the instrument.

“I excelled at it at a time when, in third grade, you’re not sure you’re good at anything,” she said.

KXLY meteorologist Kris Crocker practices her other talent, playing violin, in her living room in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
KXLY meteorologist Kris Crocker practices her other talent, playing violin, in her living room in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

But after learning songs like “Lightly Row,” “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” the chance to perform minuets by Bach, was, in her words, like getting hit by lightning.

“I remember so clearly every minute of playing (a Bach minuet) in my class for the first time,” Crocker said. “I think this is when things really clicked… That was an amazing feeling to be producing these great works of music.”

Crocker continued performing through middle and high school, eventually taking private lessons with Karen.

“I won a scholarship for our local symphony, and they paid my sister to teach me,” Crocker said with a laugh. “A gal’s got to make a living.”

Before Crocker quit taking private lessons, the last piece she worked on was Bach’s Double Violin Concerto.

Since she never had the chance to perform it as a younger violinist, Crocker decided to choose the piece for her “M Show” performance.

“I’ve daydreamed about playing it, so being able to perform that with Mateusz was such a powerful experience,” she said. “It was a much bigger deal to me than you could imagine. I felt like I’d come full circle and living out a fantasy that I had had for 30 years.”

Wolski too enjoyed performing with Crocker and hopes the two can work together again in the future.

“She’s an absolutely wonderful person that shares a lot of joys that is important to her with other people in a very contagious way,” he said.

Crocker’s interest in journalism also made itself apparent at an early age, again thanks in part to her parents.

Crocker wanted to be a print reporter with a focus on science writing, having grown up listening to her mother, a mathematician, and father, a nuclear physicist.

“My whole life we saw the world through a scientific lens,” she said. “The way you look at the world is very different when you grow up like that because my dad, anything he looked at, talking about it in scientific terms. I had a knack for taking complicated things and making them understandable.”

Crocker received undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism and communications at Oklahoma State University, where she also played violin in the school’s symphony.

Though she loved playing the violin, Crocker never considered majoring in music, citing her struggles reading music.

“Once you’re in the orchestra, you’re not playing melodies,” she said. “You can’t play by ear. You have to count and you have to read music, so that’s when the actual musicians sprinted off into the distance.”

After graduation, Crocker wasn’t able to find a job in print journalism, but a news station in Idaho Falls hired her to cover the Idaho National Laboratory, a Department of Energy laboratory, health, medicine, technology and the weekend weather.

Though the job gave her the science reporting outlet she craved, Crocker quickly found herself drawn to the weather.

“I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that in the first place because my dad is a total weather junkie,” she said. “I certainly understood what was going on and so I decided… to concentrate completely on weather.”

Crocker completed the broadcast meteorology program at Mississippi State University, an easy task thanks to her science-heavy background.

Crocker then spent two years at a station in Lansing, Michigan and another two years working in Flint, Michigan.

After those four years though, Crocker was itching to move back west.

She saw her opportunity poolside at a Children’s Miracle Network event in Orlando while talking with former KXLY anchor Marianne Mishima, who told Crocker about an opening at the station.

While in Spokane for her interview, Crocker remembers going for an early morning run through Riverfront Park.

It was May, the annuals had just been planted, the sun was out and people Crocker passed on her run smiled and said hello.

“It was like going to Oz, from Kansas to Oz,” she said. “I just felt like ‘Oh my gosh, this place cannot be real.’ So it was love at first sight.”

That was 1998, and Crocker has been here ever since.

Shortly after arriving, Crocker began performing with the Spokane Falls Community Orchestra, which she saw as an incredible outlet for passionate, but not professional, musicians.

She performed two to three concerts a year with the community orchestra for about four years, stopping when the chief meteorologist evening shift prevented her from attending the orchestra’s evening rehearsals.

KXLY meteorologist Kris Crocker tapes a weather spot before the start the evening news. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
KXLY meteorologist Kris Crocker tapes a weather spot before the start the evening news. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Crocker’s typical work day begins at 2:30 p.m.

She gets to the station and studies half a dozen computer models to get a feel of the coming weather.

On a recent Thursday, Crocker said at that point in the week, it’s more catching up with what has been going on than starting from scratch.

“It’s like a soap opera,” she said. “I’m just picking up with my characters.”

After analyzing the computer models, Crocker plugs the expected high and low temperatures for each day into a program that transfers that information to the graphics she’ll use during her forecasts.

She chooses the image for each day of the week (on this day she’s trying to choose the image from the thunderstorm folder that best conveys “slight thunderstorms”) and adds those to the graphics.

In total, she’ll use about a dozen graphics during her forecast.

Crocker is thinking about the sun expected for the Jr. Lilac Parade and Mother’s Day, but she also wants to let viewers know about flood warnings from the National Weather Service.

“That is one of the hardest parts of the job is when there’s warnings and watches everywhere and you’re boiling it down to the most information for the most people,” she said.

From there, it’s off to a sound booth to record a 20-second spot for the six radio stations KXLY owns.

Crocker said getting a promo to be 20 seconds on the nose can be tough, but she nails it on the first try.

Next, Crocker gets “fussed up,” spending about 20 minutes on her hair and makeup. She typically watches reruns of “The Office” on her phone while getting ready.

After playing around with the GOES-16 satellite from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that was recently added to her collection of computer models, Crocker shoots promos with anchor Nadine Woodward.

In response to Woodward’s prompts (“Some 80s in the forecast?” “A little blustery out there”), Crocker briefly teases both the sun and showers expected in the coming days.

Crocker will shoot the 5 and 6 p.m. broadcasts before heading home for a dinner break. Then it’s back to work for the 11 p.m. forecast.

“It’s different every single day,” Crocker said. “It’s constantly moving. I am never bored.”

The ever-changing nature of the job has kept Crocker in Spokane for two decades, and she doesn’t see herself leaving anytime soon.

“I do have this vision of being a 90-year-old woman still out doing the weather,” Crocker said with a laugh. “I think it would be fun to keep doing the weather until they don’t have TV anymore. I definitely have to be adaptable because it changes, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Music, too, will continue to be a major part of her life.

Crocker said she’ll forever be a symphony groupie and wouldn’t say no to invitations to perform with the symphony.

Like she and her siblings were, Crocker requires her daughters – 15-year-old Sophie, and 11-year-olds Danielle and Gabrielle – to play piano.

The girls now also play violin, cello and trombone, respectively.

In the same Suzuki Violin School book Crocker studied from as a young violinist, the one with “Kristy” scrawled in black marker in the corner and blue star stickers next to the pieces she passed, a pink Post-It note labeled “Sophie’s Spot” marks a page.

“I demand music,” Crocker said, the same way her grandmother made her mother practice piano for half an hour each day. “Nobody’s going to go to Carnegie Hall in this house, nobody’s going to be a music major, but I know personally that doesn’t matter. I’m hoping they will be enriched by these instruments throughout their lives like I have with the violin.”

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