Artist-in-Residence Gretchen Yanover: Final Findings

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As cellist Gretchen Yanover wraps up her time as Artist-in-Residence at Town Hall, she shares her final reflections about the beauty — and sometimes discomfort — of creation. We’re delighted to have shared this time with Gretchen, and hope you’ll join us for her final Findings Night: Cello in Connection performance on 1/21.

You can read more thoughts from Gretchen on her personal web log.


Final Findings

I feel a lot more at peace than I did a month ago! I am inspired by so many people I’ve seen through Town Hall and beyond, sharing their messages in different ways. There is so much good work happening. I can accept what I do seem to do pretty well, which is to offer some beauty and some comfort. I can also offer some discomfort (but not too much, or I seem to hurt myself). I took stock of the pieces I’ve created since my last album of original music, and I now have enough pieces for a 5th album. Yay! 

What have I seen? 

One of the events I (virtually) attended in the final month of my residency was a presentation by Benjamin Hunter & Joe Seamons on re-defining protest through music. I’ve had the honor of working with Ben, and appreciate what he shares about music and our human experience. I was inspired by the themes of practice and protest and how they intertwine. I decided I wanted to present two songs which have both resonance and dissonance when combined: Lift Every Voice And Sing, and America the Beautiful

I also attended an in-person concert by Homayoun Sakhi and Salar Nader, which felt like going into another world. The audience was beautifully diverse, and being together in physical space with the sound and lights all helped draw me into another state of mind. The performance of Homayoun Sakhi and Salar Nader was absolutely astounding. There was virtuosity, incredible rhythmic interplay, as well as entrancing beauty. Almost no words were spoken the entire evening. I love that with instrumental music, I can let my mind focus on the sound, or let the sound carry my mind freely…I didn’t know what to expect, and even when I arrived, I wasn’t sure what to expect as there were no selections listed on the program. There is a certain thrill in not knowing what will happen next (in this context!) and there is for me, also a bit of anxiety of not knowing what is on a program. This final blog post is also serving as program notes for my January 21st Findings Night. The subtitle of the program is Cello in Connection, and I am with joy giving shout-outs to many connections that helped bring me to this place.

Lift Every Voice (America the Beautiful) And Sing 

Welcome into discomfort. I have been given the space to go places musically I have not gone… 

2 part untitled piece with The Willows dancing 

“The Willows” dance duo is comprised of my daughter, Willow-Anastasia, and her friend, Willow-Iris. The two met through eXit Space school of dance, and they now attend the same Seattle public high school. I was thrilled that they agreed to create choreography and perform with me. The first part of the piece grew from the introduction to Taken From Us. I told the Willows the context of the piece (of me trying to depict running from violence), and asked what they felt in the music. They felt the fearful, anxious urgency, and they created movement around it. I watched their dance, and responded to their choreography as I grew and adapted the piece. The second part of the piece is my depiction of a journey out of the aftermath of violence which grew out of music I created for LeVar Burton’s reading of Nisi Shawl’s story, Black Betty. As I watched the Willows dancing, I felt the hope and beauty of their youth and resilience, and I changed the music to add some optimism into the loop I build. They embody the “why” we persist. 

I follow the 2 part piece with a composition that represents strength. I want to venture into painful territories to express those feelings; however, I wish to stay on the path of optimism as much as possible…

New composition for Different Drummer 

Different Drummer is my band. Anna and Brandon, the core members of the quartet, are my people. It is the one project I play in just for the love and fun of it! Anna and Brandon are my colleagues in Northwest Sinfonietta, and we’ve known one other for years. Our paths converged in the classical realm, but we all have different branches to our musical lives — fiddling for Brandon, jazz for Anna, and my journey from indie rock & electronic music to looping. I love how we work and play together. 

There was no grand scheme in mind as I began to write for and perform as a soloist; however, I did eventually see that the solo path was one in which I could sustain myself financially. It is occasionally lonely. Anna and Brandon have been patient and kind with me over the years, as I navigate my level of involvement in a project that isn’t career-driven. It has been amazing to be financially supported by Town Hall in my own work, and given resources for collaboration. And so, I have now written my first composition for our ensemble, joined by our Different Drummer for this piece, Ben Thomas (who is releasing his own album of original tango music on January 27th)! I envisioned swirling bubbles, playing children, and general ease and joyousness. 

A bit of background on the band: Anna started this group as a trio of bass, violin, and tap! Mark Mendonca was the amazing tap-dancing original Different Drummer. I joined for a few tunes, and Anna and Brandon continued to create arrangements that included me until I was also a part of the ensemble. Perhaps in a foreshadowing of this chosen band name, we proceeded to have a number of “different drummers,” leading to our current Principal Percussionist, Don Dieterich. 

Greenland Man’s Tune – I’ve asked Anna and Brandon to perform one of my favorites of their arrangements. This is a traditional Irish tune, and they play it with beauty and grace. 

Sluggo ( in 3 movements) – Anna definitely has a wide expressive range in her compositions, and this one is groovy and fun! There is, of course, a story… It involves a slug that found its way onto the motherboard of an automated entry gate to Anna’s driveway… The first movement is “crawling along”, followed by “zappy”, and ending with “crawling along” once more — this time perhaps into The Great Slug Beyond… 

Be the Butterfly 

In 2021, I wrote a composition commissioned by Dr. Sarah Bassingthwaighte for her flute choir at Seattle Pacific University. I searched some of my favorite poets for inspiration and landed upon Reagan Jackson’s poem, On Being Black And A Butterfly. I incorporated looped sections (played by alto and bass flute parts) with the text of the poem spoken by the players. I visited the flute choir in rehearsal back in October, and it was lovely to meet the students working on the piece. Dr. Bassingthwaighte had herself on the bass flute part, and so the ensemble was working without a conductor. They felt like it would be very helpful to have a conductor, and so I was recruited for that position! It was fantastic to be a part of the process of bringing the piece to life this fall. We premiered the piece in November at SPU, and the ensemble was kind enough to create a recording of the piece in December, which Dr. Sarah mixed. (I edited a new version that did not involve looping pedals or spoken text.) I am thrilled to present the piece in this form at Town Hall, with Nia-Amina Minor dancing. Nia-Amina and I first connected through a virtual collaboration. Scholar and filmmaker B.J. Bullert combined my music with Nia-Amina’s dance and Jourdan Imani Keith’s poetry in her film, Space Needle — A Hidden History. I was introduced to Reagan Jackson through poet Jordan Chaney, another very inspiring human. Reagan gave her blessing for me to speak the poem. The piece is dedicated to my sister, Natasha. 

My “Duh/Aha” convergence  

I’ve been thinking a lot about naming my pieces — finding those few words that will express what I hope to articulate through my music… and it didn’t occur to me until very recently that there are so many powerful phrases in poetry — phrases I may be able to utilize as titles for my compositions (with the blessing of the poets, and attribution…) I had already just done this very thing with the piece Dr. Bassingthwaighte commissioned me to write for the SPU flute choir. My boyfriend, Ben Thomas has used many lines from poems as titles for his compositions. I’m so happy to have this realization and to hopefully utilize (and hopefully also in some way amplify) poetry. I’m honored to be connected to poets such as Jordan Chaney, Abby Murray, Jordan Imani Keith, and Reagan Jackson. I hope people introduce me to more poets who have spoken on themes related to the idea of home. I feel like there was a convergence with the experiences around poetry from the Town Hall presentations (of Allison Cobb, and Ian Boyden with Shin Yu Pai), and going into the process to present Be the Butterfly, along with the continued realization/internal reassurance that I don’t have to come up with so much myself…. I will continue to read poetry, and search for phrases that resonate as potential titles for my pieces. I will joyfully point to those poems so that others can explore those words if they wish. 

Final set: 

Part 1: (a feeling of home) 

Part 2: (loss—go where…?) 

Part 3: (the spiral shell, the iridescence inside, what holds us) 

I wrote about this set of pieces in my mid-residency reflections blog post. I know that whatever feelings I have around loss of home are infinitesimally small in relation to the losses actually experienced by my ancestors, by Indigenous peoples, by people experiencing homelessness right now…  It is with all this in mind that I wrote this music. 

As a related side note: through a series of kindnesses (which involved a couple attending my Town Hall Scratch Night), I was nominated for and awarded a microgrant in December! I donated some of the money to WHEEL, the women’s shelter on the block south of Town Hall (on the other side of the large LMC apartment project). I also donated to the Tenants Union of Washington State, and Town Hall. I really appreciate the support, which I could then turn around in some support! 

With gratitude, I thank every person at Town Hall who has supported me through this residency. I have been floored by the level of care given to every aspect of my involvement with Town Hall. This has been an incredible, enriching experience, and I’m so glad for the opportunity to perform my music on the Great Hall stage, along with the gift of seeing so many fantastic presentations over the last few months. I will look to make more connections with people creating film content as a place my music can potentially enhance what is being communicated, and I know also that I’ll be back in the studio when the time is right to record my 5th album! I so appreciate this connection to Town Hall, and I look forward to attending many more events here in the future.

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