The Road Ahead, The Road Behind

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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

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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.

An Easier Way to Request Accessibility Services

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As many of you know, accessibility is one of Town Hall’s core tenets. We aim to provide a space that convenes community, hosts new ideas, and inspires connection for all — $5 tickets and free tickets for everyone 22 and under are just some of the ways we bring those values to life.

There are many more ways to continue to improve access for all at Town Hall, whether you’re in the building or engaging through the magic of technology. One of the simplest ways of showing up for our community comes in the form of a single question: What do you need to fully engage with Town Hall Seattle? 

Last month, we rolled out a new ticketing system that promises a more streamlined and intuitive ticketing experience. As Executive Director Wier Harman explains in the video below, our patrons told us that one of the things they needed most was being able to purchase a ticket easily, free from frustration. Indeed, a vital first step on the journey to engaging with Town Hall!

 

Even more exciting, because of our improved ticketing platform, there’s one small but mighty option that now appears each and every time anyone makes a ticket purchase: An Accessibility Services Request.

When an Accessibility Services Request is added to a cart and the purchase is completed, our Patron Services team is notified and will reach out for more information so that Town Hall can meet each patron’s needs. Whether it’s ASL, CART, wheelchair or service dog seating, or something else, we want to hear about what our community needs as we work to normalize and operationalize accessibility on our virtual and live stages.

Questions? Contact our Patron Services team at patronservices@townhallseattle.org or call (206) 504-2857.

A Ticketing Reboot

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As we jump into the energizing days of spring, we’re excited to unveil an important project that promises to make your Town Hall experience a whole lot breezier. From our historic building to the events themselves, we strive to inspire, excite, and fulfill curiosity — and our ticketing system is a critical part of the patron experience. We’ve worked to improve ticketing over the past few years, but not without challenges. We know that our current ticketing system hasn’t met your needs, we’ve taken your feedback seriously, and we’re pleased to announce a change!

On April 27, we’ll take Town Hall’s ticketing to the next level with a new, improved system. It’s been quite a journey, and we’re grateful for your patience and feedback and for weathering the shifts right alongside us. Here are a few of the perks of our new system:

  • More intuitive interface
  • Streamlined member account login and checkout
  • Member vouchers applied automatically at checkout when logged into your account
  • Simplified event check-in process
  • Direct access to virtual videos – no login required!

We want to extend a special note of gratitude to our members. Town Hall members have always been core to our mission and community and have been instrumental to Town Hall’s growth —  from providing feedback to help us shape our ticketing needs, to the financial support to help us take this critical step forward.

Current ticket holders and Town Hall members: Please keep an eye on your email this week for important information!

We know change isn’t easy, but we hope you’ll spring forward with us as we enter this new era. As always, please reach out to membership@townhallseattle.org if you have any issues with your membership or patronservices@townhallseattle.org if you have any issues purchasing tickets.

Disability in Fiction with Sarah Salcedo, John Wiswell, and Ross Showalter

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On April 26th, authors John Wiswell and Ross Showalter will join our Writer-in-Residence, Sarah Salcedo, for an evening of short fiction and craft talk. Amongst other topics related to the craft of writing, John, Ross, and Sarah will specifically discuss how they approach the topic of disability within their work

Sarah Salcedo, who planned the event as part of her residency, explained what she was looking forward to most about the evening. “We live in an ableist society with a truly abysmal national sense of what the word ‘healthcare’ means. We approach disability for ourselves in our work as a deeply personal practice, but we also consider how we write these identities for those both within and outside of our communities. We write about our joy, our pain, our day to day experiences, and with every story, the practices of how we balance ourselves and our exploration of self within our work varies.”

“I am a bit in disbelief that I get to talk to these writers and have this discussion. Both John and Ross have written stories that have not only made me feel seen as a disabled person but you make me want to be a better and bolder writer. When I received this residency, I was told I could create events that reflected the conversations I wanted to have in my writing, and I cannot wait to learn from and chat with these two amazing authors.”

“When I asked my guests about the discussion ahead of the event:

John Wiswell wrote, ‘I love normalizing various critical and underrepresented parts of life, and disabilities are among them. It’s wonderful to just happen to have characters share my hearing issues, or chronic pain, or whatnot, without it being centered. But there are bigger things that need saying, and those call for stories that center the experience. Yet in writing lived experience, there is always the questioning of how much of the truth will fit within the word count and the plot.’

Ross Showalter replied, ‘I see fiction as a channel of empathy, and if I could show folks what it’s like to live in this world and not be able to participate as much as you want to, then I’m inviting people to empathize with a point-of-view that, personally, I think should be given much more space. Selfishly, I think writing fiction also allows me to work through some complicated feelings regarding my own disabilities and my own state of being. All fiction is personal, in some way, in the questions we ask and the way we tell the stories, and we just have to acknowledge that it is something that can be seen objectively.’ ”

If you’re not familiar with the writers’ work, you can visit their websites below to find a full list of their stories available online.

Sarah Salcedo’s website // Twitter
John Wiswell’s website // Twitter
Ross Showalter’s website // Twitter

For more information, and to get tickets to Sarah’s free virtual event on 4/26, click here.

From the Town Hall Archives: Celebrating Black History Month

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It’s Black History Month, and Town Hall invites you to deepen your knowledge of key historical figures like Fannie Lou Hamer, Phyllis Wheatley, Malcolm X, and more. The programs below are available to watch any time in Town Hall’s Audio and Video Library, a treasure trove of past events! 

Tamara Payne

An Unprecedented Portrait of the Life of Malcolm X | WATCH NOW

In 1990, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Les Payne embarked on a nearly thirty-year-long quest to interview anyone he could find who had actually known Malcolm X. His goal was ambitious: to transform what would become over a hundred hours of interviews into an unprecedented portrait of Malcolm X, one that would separate fact from fiction. Following Payne’s unexpected death in 2018, his daughter Tamara Payne heroically completed the biography.

Original Event Date: Sun 11/15, 2020, 6:00pm

 

Keisha N. Blain with LaNesha DeBardelaben

What a new generation of activists can learn from Fannie Lou Hamer | WATCH NOW

Fannie Lou Hamer was born in 1917, the youngest of 20 children in a family of Mississippi sharecroppers. Black, poor, disabled by polio, and forced to leave school early to support her family, she lived what seems like a lifetime of oppression by the time she reached young adulthood. As she continued to work and live in the south during the 1950s and 1960s, she became interested in — and later heavily involved in — the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the insurmountable challenges she faced (she experienced racist attacks, was sterilized without her consent in 1961, and was beaten by police in 1963), Hamer was committed to making a difference in the lives of others by advocating for Black voter rights and social justice. 

Original event date: Tue 11/16, 2021, 6:00pm

 

Annette Gordon-Reed with Marcus Harrison Green

The History and Future of Juneteenth | WATCH NOW

On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, the end of legalized slavery in the state was announced. Since then, a certain narrative and lore has emerged about Texas. But as Juneteenth verges on being recognized as a national holiday, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annette Gordon-Reed — herself a Texas native and the descendant of enslaved people — reworks the traditional “Alamo” framework, forging a new and profound narrative of her home state with implications for all

Original event date: Mon 6/14, 2021, 7:30pm

 

Farah Jasmine Griffin

The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature | WATCH NOW

Phyllis Wheatley, the first African-American author of a published book of poetry, wrote, “Imagination! Who can sing thy force?/Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?” Wheatley could very well have been calling to the Black creatives, writers, orators, and leaders who would follow her. The imaginative force of Malcolm X and Toni Morrison, James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Barack Obama, and Langston Hughes are imparted by Farah Jasmine Griffin in a series of meditations on the fundamental questions of art, politics, and the human condition in Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature.

Original event date: Mon 9/27, 2021, 6:00pm

 

Jeffrey Stewart with LaNesha DeBardelaben

Alain Locke, the Father of the Harlem Renaissance | WATCH NOW

A tiny, fastidiously dressed man emerged from Black Philadelphia around the turn of the century to mentor a generation of young artists, including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jacob Lawrence, and call them the New Negroes — the creative African Americans whose art, literature, music, and drama would inspire Black people to greatness.

Original event date: Thu 2/18, 2021, 6:00pm

 

Tina Campt with Elisheba Johnson

Contemporary Black Artists Who Are Changing the Way We See | LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

Elisheba Johnson interviews Tina Campt about her latest book, A Black Gaze. In the book, Campt explores the work of eight contemporary Black artists who are shifting the nature of visual interactions with art and demanding that Blackness be seen anew. She considers, “Rather than looking at Black people, rather than simply multiplying the representation of Black folks, what would it mean to see oneself through the complex positionality that is Blackness — and work through its implications on and for oneself?”

Original event date: Mon 11/15, 2021, 1:00pm


Looking for more? Find speakers like Derecka Purnell, Keith Boykin, and more in our Audio and Video Library and on YouTube

For even more ways to celebrate Black History Month, don’t miss upcoming events with Laura Coates, Tiffanie Drayton, and Elie Mystal, held in-person, livestreamed, or both!

Five Questions with Kiki Valera

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Take a peek into the mind of Cuban virtuoso Kiki Valera, who muses on his influences, his instrument of choice, and the art of making music. Be sure to join us later in February for a live concert with Kiki Valera y su son Cubano (2/25), part of Town Hall’s Global Rhythms series! 

Para español, haga clic aquí.

Town Hall (TH): Who were your musical influences growing up?

Kiki Valera (KV): I grew up in a musical family, heirs to the legacy of Cuban Son. We used to gather several times a year to celebrate with live music and dance. These were spontaneous reunions and at that time, we were unaware of the role my family was to play in preserving the authenticity of this musical tradition. In 1982, the musicologist Danilo Orozco was conducting an investigation on the origins of Cuban Son in the eastern region of our island and through my paternal grandmother Emilia Miranda, he discovered that he could trace the we played Cuban Son all the way back to the late 19th century. In this musical environment my main influence was the Cuban Son in its purest, simplest form. After that, I began my classical guitar studies at the Esteban Salas Conservatory in the city of Santiago de Cuba, where I had the opportunity to expand and enrich my knowledge from a theoretical point of view.

 TH: What do you love most about playing the Cuban cuatro? For those who might be unfamiliar with the instrument, how would you describe its difference from a standard guitar? 

KV: What I like the most about the Cuban cuatro is its versatility from a melodic, harmonic and rhythmic point of view. The Cuban cuatro is a mid-sized guitar with eight strings, tuned in pairs of two. It has a distinctive sound that is soft and sparkly and the extra pair of strings (as opposed to the six-stringed Cuban tres) offers me the creative freedom to improvise.

TH: Your roots are in Cuba, but today you’re living, teaching, and making music here in the Pacific Northwest. How does this region inform your music? 

KV: Coming from Cuba from a musical environment like that of my family, I have tried to preserve the traditional Cuban music style as authentically as possible. Most artists are unconsciously influenced by other currents, and I am no exception. Being surrounded by a different musical environment than the one I come from, I have really enjoyed playing with excellent musicians of other genres and attending concerts of world music, jazz, Latin jazz, salsa and rock. I can say that I feel lucky to be in the cultural atmosphere of Seattle.

TH: Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed anything about music for you? 

KV: For us musicians, interaction with the public is very important. It is a kind of necessary feedback to continue offering the best of ourselves through music. I have used this time to dedicate myself to working on new projects and remote recordings with my musician friends in other parts of the country and world. Musically speaking, COVID-19 has not changed anything in me but I think that it has changed the way we socialize in a general sense and I miss playing live concerts.

TH: What, in your opinion, are the biggest gifts of son Cubano?

KV: The best gift that Cuban Son has given us is that it has allowed us to transmit joy and above all to share with the world our cultural identity.


 

Cuatro preguntas con Kiki Valera

Eche un vistazo a la mente del virtuoso cubano Kiki Valera, quien reflexiona sobre sus influencias, su instrumento preferido y el arte de hacer música. ¡Asegúrese de unirse a nosotros más tarde en febrero para un concierto en vivo con Kiki Valera y su son Cubano (2/25), parte de la serie Global Rhythms de Town Hall!

Town Hall (TH): ¿Quiénes fueron tus influencias musicales mientras crecías?

Kiki Valera (KV): Crecí en una familia musical, heredera del legado del Son Cubano. Solíamos reunirnos varias veces al año para celebrar en vivo con música y baile. Estas reuniones eran espontaneas y en ese momento, desconocíamos el papel que mi familia iba a jugar en la preservación de la autenticidad de esta tradición musical. En 1982, el musicólogo Danilo Orozco estaba realizando una investigación sobre los orígenes del son cubano en la región oriental de nuestra isla y a través de mi abuela paterna Emilia Miranda, descubrió que podía rastrear el son cubano que interpretábamos hasta finales del siglo XIX. En este ambiente musical mi principal influencia fue el Son Cubano en su forma más pura y simple. Posteriormente inicié mis estudios de guitarra clásica en el Conservatorio Esteban Salas de la ciudad de Santiago de Cuba, donde tuve la oportunidad de ampliar y enriquecer mis conocimientos desde el punto de vista teórico.

TH: ¿Qué es lo que más te gusta de tocar el cuatro cubano? ¿En qué se diferencia de una guitarra estándar?

KV:  Lo que más me gusta del cuatro cubano es su versatilidad desde un punto de vista melódico, armónico y rítmico. El cuatro cubano es una guitarra de tamaño mediano con ocho cuerdas, afinada en pares de dos. Tiene un sonido distintivo que es suave y brillante y el par de cuerdas extra (a diferencia del tres cubano de seis cuerdas) me ofrece la libertad creativa para improvisar.

TH: Tus raíces están en Cuba, pero hoy vives, enseñas y haces música aquí en el noroeste del Pacífico. ¿Cómo influye esta región en tu música?

KV: Viniendo de Cuba y de un ambiente musical como el de mi familia, he tratado de preservar el estilo de la música tradicional cubana de la manera más auténtica posible. La mayoría de los artistas están inconscientemente influenciados por otras corrientes y yo no soy una excepción. Al estar rodeado de un ambiente musical diferente al del que vengo, he disfrutado mucho tocando con excelentes músicos de otros géneros y asistiendo a conciertos de world music, jazz, latin jazz, salsa y rock. Puedo decir que me siento afortunado de estar en el ambiente cultural de Seattle.

TH: ¿La pandemia de COVID-19 ha cambiado algo sobre la música para ti?

KV:  Para nosotros los músicos, la interacción con el público es muy importante. Es una especie de retroalimentación necesaria para seguir ofreciendo lo mejor de nosotros a través de la música. He aprovechado este tiempo para dedicarme a trabajar en nuevos proyectos y grabaciones remotas con mis amigos músicos en otras partes del país y del mundo. Musicalmente hablando, COVID-19 no ha cambiado nada en mí, pero creo que ha cambiado la forma en que socializamos en sentido general y extraño tocar conciertos en vivo.

TH: A su juicio, ¿cuáles son los mayores dones del son Cubano?

KV: El mejor regalo que nos ha dado el Son Cubano es que nos ha permitido transmitir alegría y sobre todo compartir con el mundo nuestra identidad cultural.

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.

Artist-in-Residence Gretchen Yanover: Mid-residency Reflections

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Earlier this winter, Town Hall’s Artist-in-Residence, cellist Gretchen Yanover, reflected on the midpoint of her residency and shared some thoughts about finding inspiration at Town Hall. In an excerpt from her blog at gretchenyanover.com, she writes: 

“Since last year, I’ve been feeling this almost desperate desire to do more with my (musical?) voice, to say more, to be less ambiguous with the few words I do use. I’m so inspired by people like Julian Saporiti/No-No Boy, who share so much through stories and history. (What a great podcast talk he had with Tomo Nakayama!) I’m inspired by all of the people taking on the huge issues of our times. I was particularly struck by Howard Frumkin’s talk on Planetary Health (with all of the intersections…).” 

Gretchen goes on to describe a back-and-forth that most artists will find familiar: the dichotomy of feeling insignificant, yet knowing the worth of creative gifts; the desire to speak up, and the fear of causing harm; the discomfort and pain of the process, and the creative energy that can come from intersecting ideas. 

It’s such acts of questioning, connection, and expression that make Town Hall residencies a joy to watch unfold. We hope you’ll join us this month for Gretchen Yanover’s Findings Night (1/21) as she shares her residency explorations in a program of musical collaboration, interlaced with poetry and dance.

A Letter from Joshua Roman to the Town Music Community

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The unveiling of our exciting new season, In The Room, is bittersweet. After 15 years of serving as Artistic Director of Town Music at Town Hall Seattle, 2021-22 will be my final season. I have been blessed to bring amazing musicians and music to the stage to share with you. I’m proud of the niche carved out by Town Music, where we can hear both familiar and new music with fresh attention and appreciative ears. Our collective enthusiasm stems from the musical journey we experience together in the room.

While Town Music has never been a series dedicated solely to new music, we have commissioned and presented some of the most exciting innovations in music in the last decade. I’ll spare you the list and offer instead a playlist from our collaboration with KING FM’s Second Inversion, which has captured many of these performances in beautiful video and audio. Among the star performers, you’ll recognize players from the Seattle Symphony, the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra, and other local stages. Highlighting Seattle talent has been a key feature of Town Music, even before I took over the series. I have loved watching the incredible influx of new players, new ideas, and new energy into a city that has wowed me with its vibrant music-making since I first came to the scene.

The trust of an audience is something I cherish, and the Town Music audience is one of the best audiences I know. Over the past 15 seasons, your insight, feedback, and real-time reactions have taught me valuable lessons about continuity, growth, and thinking long-term. Thank you for being key players in our music community by showing up and by supporting Town Music financially. None of what has transpired in my time as Artistic Director would have been possible without you, and I am humbled by the faith and support you have given over the years.

From the moment Executive Director Wier Harman approached me with the gift of carte blanche freedom in programming — or in his words, “I want to hear what’s on your iPod!” (it was 2007, after all.) — the challenge to share perspectives on music that go beyond my own recital and concerto appearances has been crucial and formative in building my understanding of musicianship. It is no stretch to say that my time with Town Hall has been absolutely transformational to me as an artist and as a person. 

After this season, I will focus on new endeavors and continue exploring the world through the cello. I remain grateful for  and inspired by  the unique relationship we share through Town Hall Seattle; I look forward to seeing the next phase of Town Music, as well as the next chapter of my own Seattle story, which I hope will continue to flourish.

The Great Hall is a wonderful place for music, and what makes it truly great is all of you there, participating. I look forward to seeing you at each of our concerts as we join together again, in the room.

With deep gratitude, 

 

 

 

Joshua Roman

Artistic Director, Town Music 

Town Hall Seattle 

 

P.S. Joshua’s final season as the Artistic Director is monumental for Town Music, and this season will be filled with special moments. You’re essential to bringing Town Music to Seattle, and your support has never been more important than right now. Please consider making a gift to support this season’s work — donate here!   

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