Biologist melds prairie bird population research and music for unique science communication project
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Kansas State University prairie bird biologist Alice Boyle writes and performs music inspired by her research and the beauty and danger she has witnessed in Kansas grasslands. As a member of the bluegrass duo Kaw Creek, Boyle will perform her works and more across Kansas this spring and summer.
MANHATTAN — Alice Boyle studies prairie birds, so she spends a lot of time in the tallgrass prairies of the Flint Hills. She's also a classically trained violist-turned-fiddler and a lover of bluegrass music. Her work in one sphere illuminates the other: prairie sunrises turn into melodies, and bird song and species decline add harmony and tension.
Boyle, assistant professor of biology at Kansas State University, has written music inspired by her research and the beauty she has witnessed in Kansas grasslands. She'll be performing new and traditional music for audiences around the state in the coming months as part of Kaw Creek, a duo with her partner, Robert Rosenberg. Rosenberg plays guitar and banjo, and Boyle plays fiddle and viola. Both also sing.
Boyle's research is funded by the National Science Foundation. Her proposal that resulted in a $542,060 grant awarded last fall included plans to inspire local communities and communicate the importance of preserving native grasslands through music.
"It's important for Kansas communities to learn about and discuss the importance of the tallgrass prairie and to understand the role local landowners have in the conservation of these communities and the effects of climate on native populations," Boyle said.
Boyle said music can encourage people to value local biodiversity and understand climate effects on both people and animals — plus demystify the science.
"As a science communicator, I am always looking for ways to connect with the public," she said. "Music is a natural connection, and I enjoy bringing the two parts of my life together to meld art with science."
Boyle worked with the Kansas Science Communication Initiative to contact arts venues around the state and is looking forward to performing and connecting with audiences this spring and summer. All of the following performances are free, except where noted, and open to the public:
• April 1 — Lucas, 5-6 p.m., Grassroots Arts Center, fourth annual Lucas April Fool's Day, "Blue Monday."
• April 12 — Winfield, evening, College Hill Coffee.
• May 19 — Strong City, evening, Ad Astra Food and Drink.
• June 6— Hays, noon-1 p.m., Bach's Lunch on The Bricks.
• June 8 — Mankato, noon-1 p.m., Mammoth Music and Arts Festival.
• July 6 — Concordia, 7 p.m., Brown Grand Theatre; admission fee.
• Sept. 8 — Alma, 3 p.m., The Volland Store.