Inspiration and Insights with Tibetan singer Yungchen Lhamo.

In anticipation of her January 26 concert at Town Hall, we asked Yungchen Lhamo about music, travel, and her creative process. 

When did you start playing music? 

I have never played a musical instrument, but I began singing at a very early age. I was taught traditional songs and a Tibetan opera by my mother and grandmother, so I sang and danced in Tibet and also later when I moved to India. Even though my name translates as “Goddess of Melody,” I always wanted to be a nun, rather than a singer, and my singing career only really started in Australia in 1995. I was invited to perform at WOMADelaide that year, so I recorded a CD, which won the ARIA Award for Best World Music Album. After that, I was signed by Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records label and began touring the world. 

What is your creative process like? 

That is a difficult question for any artist to answer, because many, if not most, of us don’t really know! For me, there can be many different sources of inspiration. Some of my songs are based on Buddhist mantras, such as that for compassion, “Om Mani Padme Hung,” which I recorded on my first album, Tibetan Prayer, and have included in different versions on subsequent albums. Others are traditional Tibetan songs, including “Ari-Lo” on my second album, Tibet, Tibet, which my grandmother taught me. It’s a mountain song about turning an unknown land into a homeland. 

Or they can be in response to major world events, of which the most obvious example is the song “9/11” on the Ama album I was living in New York City on that day and I could see the World Trade Center from my living room window.

Inspiration can also come from meeting and collaborating with other artists. The most unusual example of this is my Tayatha album, recorded with Russian classical pianist Anton Batagov. One morning I suddenly decided that I wanted to record a meditative album with Anton, so I called him up and, although somewhat surprised, he said to come over. When I got there, he asked me what I wanted to do, so I said that I would start to sing, and if he felt like playing he should play, and if not that would be ok and we then recorded the whole album in one take! 

Finally, several of my songs come to me through dreams which often have repeating storylines that tell you what you need to achieve, or need to get over, for your life to improve. Everyone has a belief system, be it a religion or not, and “Dream Song” on my latest album, One Drop of Kindness, explains that every moment, everything we do can be an offering of your life for the benefit of others. 

If you could collaborate with one musician (living or dead) who would you choose? 

From the very beginning of my singing career, I have been fortunate to have collaborated with many great artists from different cultures and genres not just singers, but musicians, songwriters, producers, dancers, poets, and painters and I always much enjoy these collaborations. There have been so many, but Peter Gabriel, Annie Lennox, Natalie Merchant, Peter Rowan, Billy Corgan, Bill T. Jones, and Anton Batagov readily come to mind. 

There are several other artists with whom I would like to collaborate, but if I must choose only one it would have to be Dolly Parton. Not only is she a great singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, but I also greatly admire Dolly for her wonderful charitable works particularly her Imagination Library which provides books for young children. 

Have you ever visited Seattle before? If so, what was your favorite part of visiting the Northwest? 

Oh, I have performed in Washington State six times before at a WOMAD Festival, at the Meany Hall for the Performing Arts at the University of Washington, at Seattle University, and at a Bumbershoot in the Seattle Center, at all of which I sang a cappella. I also participated in Lilith Fair with Sarah McLachlan at The Gorge Amphitheatre and performed at another WOMAD Festival in Redmond.

My favorite memory is of when I was able to bring my son, Tenzin Shaydrup, with me to the WOMAD Festival in Seattle and we went to the top of the Space Needle. 

You can catch Yungchen at our next Global Rhythms concert on January 26th at 7:30PM. Click the link below to get tickets!

Soul-Stirring Tibetan Sounds

An Update from Town Hall – January 5, 2024

Dear Town Hall Community,  

As we begin a new year, we are writing to announce the departure of David Song from Town Hall Seattle, effective December 13, 2023. We wish David well, and we have named Finance and Administration Director Morgan Larsen as Acting Executive Director. A transition plan is underway, and we expect to appoint an Interim Executive Director in the next four to six weeks.   

We are honored to serve a strong and stable organization. Town Hall’s staff brings decades of skill and experience to the organization’s ongoing work to bring vital conversations, inspiring artistic performances, and innovative thinkers to our stages. Town Hall’s role as a cultural convener in both the artistic and civic senses matters more than ever. Our commitment to the staff – as well as to Town Hall’s partners, donors, patrons, and the community at large – remains steadfast as we move through this transition.  

2024 is a significant year for us, marking 25 years – a whole quarter-century – of Town Hall Seattle. Together with our incredible staff, dedicated board, and unwavering supporters, we look forward to serving our community for the next quarter-century, and far beyond.  

Thank you,   

The Town Hall Seattle Board  

General inquiries can be directed to info@townhallseattle.org.

Introducing On Topic: A Writing Club

Looking for a way to flex your writing muscles in a supportive, casual space? Join us on 10/5 for the inaugural meeting of our new On Topic Writing Club! Facilitated by local writer and theatre artist Miriam Tobin of SCRiB LAB, writers will focus on themes of recognition and belonging inspired by Michèle Lamont’s Seeing Others. No preparation is needed — just bring your own writing tools of choice and get ready to flow!

Check out upcoming community programs (including On Topic: Writing Club) at our Community Programs page!

Town Hall’s Silver Soapbox: Celebrating 25 years

As we celebrate Town Hall Seattle’s 25th season – our silver anniversary – we invite our community to step up to the “Silver Soapbox” and celebrate with us! 

Around the turn of the 19th century, public orators made use of overturned, wooden soap crates to elevate their voices. Today, someone might be told to “get off their soapbox” when delivering a particularly passionate, loud message. But to Town Hall, the soapbox signifies a space for sharing ideas, listening, and finding inspiration – a space to be part of, not a space to step down from. It’s exactly the kind of space that we strive to create at Town Hall.  

From civics talks to vibrant musical performances, Town Hall is a platform for a multitude of opinions, ideas, and forms of expression – just like the century-old soapboxes that preceded us. As we head into our 25th season, we hope you’ll step up on the Silver Soapbox with us and celebrate Town Hall’s past, present, and future!

Become a Town Hall Member | Become a Silver Soapbox Sponsor | Make a Gift

Introducing our Venue Access Partner, Orquesta Northwest

Town Hall is pleased to announce our new Venue Access Program (VAP) partner, Orquesta Northwest! Part of 4Culture’s Building for Equity program, our VAP was launched last season to build a long-term partnership with a small-scale, BIPOC-led nonprofit and offer free access to Town Hall’s stages throughout the season. We couldn’t be more excited for Orquesta Northwest to join us in the program’s inaugural year to fill our spaces with vibrant music and community. 

 
Under the guidance of acclaimed conductor Paula Nava Madrigal, Orquesta Northwest serves as the umbrella organization for three incredible initiatives in the Puget Sound area: The Ballard Civic Orchestra, a prominent hub for Latinx musicians performing under Maestra Paula’s leadership; Cascade Conducting, an annual week-long conducting masterclass; and World Youth Orchestra, which provides free instruction and instruments to underrepresented students, with a focus on empowering Latinx youth. 

Orquesta Northwest kicks things off with an El Grito celebration (9/17) in collaboration with the Consulate of Mexico. In honor of Mexican Independence Day, join us for performances by CeAtl Tonalli Aztec Dancers, Ballard Civic Orchestra, Trío Guadalevín, Mariachi Guadalajara, Bailadores de Bronce, and more! Admission is free, and the festivities begin at 1PM. 

P.S. Orquesta is looking for musicians! Visit their website to learn more and get involved.

Sally James: Stories of Year 12

Today’s blog post is written by Sally James, Town Hall’s Spring 2023 Scholar-in-Residence. Learn more about Town Hall residencies here.


I’m collecting stories. Thank you, Town Hall, for giving me a residency where I can focus on these stories. I’m collecting stories from people about what they remember from when they were 12 years old. Do you have any vivid memories of that year?

Maybe you remember getting braces or growing taller. Maybe you remember a big news story that upset your parents.

During that pivot, we begin to open the bubble of childhood and notice things we didn’t notice before. Not just other kids, but adult comments that land heavily on us.

That’s what happened for New York Times bestselling author Laurel Braitman. She shared a story with me when she was in town to be on stage here in March.

Her rabbi came over to the house while the family was planning her Bat Mitzvah, a Jewish coming-of-age ritual and party. He asked her, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But he asked it so seriously that she was inspired and felt he genuinely wanted this prediction. She told him she wanted to write about animals, travel, and work for National Geographic. Even now, all these years later, she remembers that he took in her words and said “Sounds pretty reasonable.”

Years later, she watched an old VHS recording of the Rabbi’s speech from the ceremony. In it, he talked about how she was named for a tree, and like a tree becoming a book, that trees are sources of knowledge.

“It was so beautiful and so kind to believe in a 12-year-old who had never met a writer …  By taking the dream of a 12-year-old seriously, it gave me license to take my own dreams seriously. And I don’t know, that must have gotten into my subconscious. I couldn’t have told you he told me that without discovering this film recently, but I know he did. And that was profound.”

(If you don’t know, Laurel is a science writer who has written about many animals and teaches writing at Stanford Medical School. Learn about her talk at Town Hall and pick up a copy of her new book, What Looks Like Bravery, here.)

Share your story with me here.

—Sally James


Be sure to join us at Town Hall on Friday, April 28, for our free Artist- and Scholar-in-Residence Scratch Night!

[Photo: A group of berry pickers at Newton’s Farm, Bridgeville, Del. By Lewis Hine, 1910. National Child Labor Committee collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.]

A Big Change: Or Is It?

For as long I’ve been at Town Hall Seattle — almost 17 people years (or 119 dog years, but who’s counting?) — our organization has been defined by 1) a broad and curious program, brimming with ideas collectively-sourced from across our community and beyond; and 2) the belief that as many as possible should be able to enjoy it. We’ve called this second part a commitment to access. The meaning of “access” has evolved over the years, but we’ve tended to use it in a somewhat limited way: as a commitment to lower financial barriers to producing and attending things here.

We’ve taken a lot of pride in the structural inclusivity of our model, always insisting on the result of a more genuinely welcoming community for all. Town Hall will fulfill its true potential when people who have long felt at home here continue to feel a sense of belonging, while we work to be more deeply meaningful and relevant to even more people across this community. That said, as we work to embrace a richer understanding of accessibility, we want to be clear: our commitment to affordability for all remains critical to the heart of Town Hall.

This season, we’re rolling out a new “Sliding Scale” approach to ticket prices for Town Hall-produced lectures. What does that mean for us? People will always be able to choose a $5 ticket for these programs (and tickets will remain free for youth 22 and Under). But the Sliding Scale pricing option is an approach founded on lots of existing data. Over time, we’ve seen that many patrons choose to make an extra contribution to Town Hall when they purchase tickets, and now we’re giving the people the option to pay what they’re comfortable with for Town Hall programming. No matter where you place the sliding scale ticket price, your ticket purchase helps support our programming and our operations.

Town Hall was founded in 1999 and we’re moving into a new era, finally installed in our newly-renovated building and full of the optimism and possibility of new leadership, all while serving a society in flux. As we begin to imagine the next Town Hall, we need to ensure it can thrive for another 23 years and beyond. In a time of deep vulnerability for cultural presenters like us — financial uncertainty and shifting audience behavior — our goal is to protect our mission-driven commitment to broad community access while securing modest extra revenue that will support our operations and create a solid foundation for the Town Hall to come.

In the end, we hope the new pricing approach is simply an invitation to pay what is comfortable for you. I know you know this, but $5 tickets have never reflected the value of our programs (priceless!) or the true cost of operating Town Hall (pricey-but-worth-it!) We’ve always said that membership here is an act of generosity toward the community at large, assuring affordability for all — and that’s still true. But for some, it’s simply easier to add an extra contribution into the value of their ticket when they can. We believe that in asking those who are inclined to consider paying more, we will create an even deeper sense of belonging and pride within Town Hall’s extraordinary community of supporters.

I can write at this kind of length, with this kind of candor, and all my, let’s call it eccentric punctuation because the Town Hall community is thoughtful and generous. You’re in it for what it means to you, but you’re ALSO in it for each other and for what it means to the city. We are sincerely grateful to all of you, for making Town Hall a uniquely compassionate and collegial place, defined by a thoughtful, caring, and honest community. You can prove it by telling us honestly what you feel about this pricing approach (or anything else) at membership@townhallseattle.org.

With gratitude and affection,

Wier

Are You Free Thursday, and Would You Do Me a Favor?

Part One in an Occasional Series About How You “Do” Town Hall

Hi friends,

For the last 15 years, I’ve visited Munich annually with Barbara and the girls to see their grandparents. This rhythm means I miss a bunch of stuff at Town Hall every summer — and this time, that includes an event that I’m really drawn to, personally.

First, a little backstory. Questions about technology and its social implications have been woven throughout our calendar for years, as far back as 2006 when Ray Kurzweil gave me the chills at a packed Great Hall conversation about his book The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Who wants or needs anything like “a singularity,” I asked? (Note: I have subsequently asked the same thing about NFTs and blockchain, but I remain optimistic that I need not fret about the answers to those questions.)

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is different. In its implementation, we’re asking and answering questions about what (and eventually, who) constitutes humanity, at lightning speed. And when I say “we” I mean the comparatively small group of scientists, researchers, and schemers motivated by altruism, curiosity, or commercial opportunity — or maybe a little of each.

And so this Thursday, July 14, we have the latest stitch in the weave, a powerhouse discussion at what feels like AI’s rubicon moment. Honestly, that moment was probably years ago, maybe even when Ray released that scary book. But I’m talking about last month’s reporting of a Google engineer’s contention that the Google AI chatbot LaMDA has been “consistent in its communications about what it wants and what it believes its rights are as a person.”

I think this issue would feel like a bigger deal to all of us were it not for the continually chaotic news cycle permeating our lives. But I have to ask myself what problem exactly we’re addressing here and if any of this is what the rest of humankind signed up for. And if we did, was it buried somewhere in the small print, like a Terms of Use Agreement for some digital appliance, showing up bundled in the next upgrade foisted on our lives?

Fortunately, some of the brilliant, well-meaning folks building the building are coming over on July 14 to talk me down off the ledge. Blaise Aguera y Arcas is a VP and Fellow at Google Research, and an active participant in big-picture considerations around AI and ethics, fairness, bias, and risk. Melanie Mitchell is a professor at Santa Fe Institute, a student of Douglas Hofstadter, and a leading forecaster and translator of the implications of AI to the general public. And just announced — the event will be moderated by Lili Cheng, Corporate VP for Microsoft’s AI and Research. It will be a spirited discussion featuring three visionaries staring into the world of AI. We couldn’t have asked for more perceptive observers or more respectfully divergent perspectives, and you should come if you can (you can get tickets here)!

And now, here’s the favor — I’ve got a question I’m hoping you can ask during Q&A:

As we invite technology to support/supplant human decision-making across so many fronts, I’ve started to believe that maybe making mistakes and valuing imperfection is essential to humanity. And that we should resist efforts to use technology to eliminate the fallibility of our incomplete knowledge or poor judgment, or to avoid choices that might fail to fulfill expectations and lead to disappointment. As we begin to invite AI into so many dimensions of life, how can we protect space for fallibility?

It’s time to level with you. For some, Q&A has long been a controversial part of our programs where people make windy speeches (like the one you just read from me — sorry) before a question that feels like an afterthought. Q&A is central to what makes Town Hall special: bring an open mind, and you get a chance to grapple with a deeply informed perspective on a topic, followed by the honor of an opportunity to interrogate a presenter’s conclusions through a direct question.

Being present for Q&A means you showed up, no matter the weather; you stayed engaged to the end and actively collaborated in the meaning of the event. Great questions help us pick up pieces we missed and help our speakers understand new things about their arguments; great questioners help make meaning for all of us. It’s one of the best ways to “do” Town Hall.

We believe that our programs can be more than infotainment; they help us understand issues and decide how we want to live our lives. Not to mention how we express our desires, especially as our daily lives are yoked to intuitions formulated, data gathered, and decisions made by computers that think.

In the end, AI is poised to change a lot about the society we share, and we all have a right to formulate our own perspectives on how we feel about it. This program will undoubtedly offer a rich conversation, and I hope you will be there to join it — and to tell me how it went!

Wier

P.S. We’ve also just announced that the event will feature an appearance by another unintended inevitability of AI: a chatbot evangelist called The Word of the Future. The interactive exhibit by Jacob Peter Fennell and Reilly Donovan was first presented at the Museum of Museums on First Hill last summer. Come early/stay late to be moved by the spirit of a full-on Digital Deity.

Town Hall’s July 14 event will also feature an appearance by The Word of the Future, an interactive exhibit by Jacob Peter Fennell and Reilly Donovan.

The Road Ahead, The Road Behind

The end of the season is always a time of reflection at Town Hall. It’s unsurprising that the 2021-22 season has had its challenges and uncertainties, but times like these can also feel inspiring — that’s the story of this year, too. We learned firsthand that Town Hall remains essential, especially to the members and volunteers who have eagerly returned each time we (re-)opened our doors. Over and over, people have shown their affection for Town Hall by returning to rebuild the community that we have created here.

And so — from my place here in the very middle of the road, as I consider where we’ve been and where we’re headed, inspiration and gratitude as far as I can see — I’m writing to announce my departure from Town Hall Seattle at the end of 2022.

My time at Town Hall (over 17 years!) has been the gift of a lifetime, and I am deeply proud of our accomplishments. Our audience has grown steadily over the past several years, and we’ve welcomed over 100,000 patrons annually for a broad, diverse calendar that embraces an impossible range of issues and ideas. We kept our tickets and rental rates affordable and supported other nonprofits with skilled production and promotional services. We completed an ambitious $35.5 million renovation of our building, spending almost two seasons Inside/Out in dozens of venues and neighborhoods across our region.

But I am most proud of what Town Hall has modeled for our city, and for each other. Town Hall is a place devoted to the pursuit of equity; it’s a place to investigate ideas and share new experiences, where differing and unexpected perspectives are not just tolerated but celebrated; and it is a place of curiosity, creativity, and empathy. Above all, I’m proud of how we model the simple act of showing up with and for each other — learning, tangling with new ideas, and sitting side by side with strangers, neighbors, and friends.

I don’t know anywhere else quite like Town Hall — and believe me, I’ve looked. We have created something entirely unique to Seattle and I am overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to shape this place in real time with each of you — as members, donors, patrons, renters, presenters, and community partners. This has been a joyful experiment in the idea of creating a welcoming community — and YOU have made this work beyond joyful.

I get the platform of writing a note like this, but YOU are the reason for all the good we have done over Town Hall’s 23 years, and you will continue to be the reason for the community we build here in the decades to come. I trust that this place will continue to be the vessel for the experience of community that we all need so much right now. Our role is simple and profound: to remind us that some things must be experienced together, and that “coming together” is often its own reward.

And that’s the core of my gratitude — I don’t know how another job could have possibly offered me so much energy and purpose. I am humbled to have been entrusted with leading Town Hall, and I’m excited to welcome our next leader alongside you all. My family and I are staying in Seattle; my children grew up here — as in, at this building, at our events — so I’m thrilled by the prospect of joining you in the pews as an enthusiastic member and passionate advocate (my predecessor, founder David Brewster, has modeled that for me).

Thank you for being my friends, collaborators, and co-conspirators on the road behind us, and thank you for being my inspiration on the road ahead.

With gratitude,

Wier Harman
Executive Director

P.S. We’ll have more to share about our transition timeline and the new Executive Director search process at the end of June. In the meantime, please direct any questions to our team at search@townhallseattle.org.

A Bittersweet Farewell: 10 Questions with Joshua Roman

Joshua Roman has been the Artistic Director of our beloved Town Music series for 15 creative, vibrant, transformational years. With bittersweet emotions, we’ll send him off with an epic Final Cello-bration in The Great Hall on June 7 at 7:30pm. We can’t wait to see what endeavors Joshua embarks on next — but before he does, we sat down for a quick Q&A that spans everything from his favorite moment to his favorite Seattle sandwich spot.

1. Favorite show?

Every show! But the Final Cello-bration will be the feather in my cap.

2. Favorite commission?

I love them all —  it’s been amazing to see pieces go on to have a life that began at Town Hall.

3. Biggest regret?

Not capturing every single Town Music moment on HD video from the beginning.

4. Moment of bliss?

Fratres with all the cellos.

5. Moment of panic?

Turning a page during the premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s solo sonata and seeing that an entire movement was missing.

6. Artist you wish we’d been able to present?

I’ll never tell!

7. Best after show meal spot?

Ba Bar on 12th Ave — consistently delicious, close to Town Hall, and open late.

8. Favorite sandwich?

The Market Grill (in Pike Place Market)! It’s a Seattle gem with great views, and I love taking guest artists there for lunch.

9. Thing you’ll miss about Seattle?

The Town Hall audience! Hopefully I’ll be back often enough not to miss y’all too much!

10. Thing you’ll miss about Town Hall Seattle?

The whole team. Town Hall is truly special, and there’s so much good energy with everyone there, including all of our supporters and audiences. I wish every audience listened with that much care and interest! And The Great Hall…love the sound in that room…

Click here to read Joshua’s farewell letter to the community on our blog and check out his playlist of past performances.

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