Too Hot to Handel

On April 27 at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Seattle Baroque Orchestra and the Byrd Ensemble will present Georg Handel’s most enduring work, Messiah. You can learn more about the event here.

Before the concert, learn a thing or ten about arguably the most famous Baroque composer that ever lived.

1) Handel was born on February 23, 1685 in Halle-upon-Saale in Germany. It was the same year another famous composer was born—Johann Sebastian Bach.

2) Handel’s father wasn’t too keen on young Georg’s musical pursuits. He opposed it and forbid any musical instrument to enter the house. In the attic, Georg snuck in a small spinet.

3) In 1710, Handel became a Kapellmeister. What’s a Kapellmeister? The director of music for a nobleman. He was employed by German prince George, the Elector of Hanover, who would, in 1714, become King George I of Great Britain and Ireland.

4) Handel permanently settled in London. 200-some years later another music legend lived in the same house Handel did. That man? Jimi Hendrix.

5) Handel became quite the opera star. In just twelve months, between 1724 and 1725, he wrote three successful operas: Giulo Cesare, Tamerlano, and Rodelinda. In his career, he wrote 42 operas.

6) Handel composed his first oratorio in 1707. Messiah was composed in 1741.

7) Messiah was first performed as part of an Easter celebration in Dublin, Ireland on April 13, 1742. 700 people attended the premiere. To make sure as many could attend as possible, gentlemen were asked to remove their swords and ladies not wear hoops in their dresses.

8) Of course, the most famous section of the piece is the “Hallelujah” chorus.

9) In 1751 Handel’s eyesight began to fail. He became completely blind the following year.

10) Handel died in 1759 and was buried at Westminster Abbey. The last performance he ever attended? Messiah.

Listen to Handel’s masterwork on April 27 at St. Mark’s Cathedral. Buy your tickets today.


Lectern Lectures

The Forum is now open! We’re excited about all the possibilities of the space. One item in the new space is a functional piece of art—the lectern. Comprised primarily of 14-gauge cold-rolled steel and finished with acid patina and wax, the lectern’s height is electrically variable from 42” to 48” via linear actuator. Its body rolls on ‘ball races,’ typically used for heavy material handling, but reconfigured and manufactured as furniture casters, complete with brakes!

Karl Swanson, who built the lectern, chatted briefly with Town Hall’s marketing manager, Jonathan Shipley, about his art.

Karl Swanson

JS: What is your full time job?

KS: I don’t work full-time anywhere…I am self-underemployed, focusing on my personal art.

JS: How did you get into metalwork?

KS: I was self-introduced to metal fabrication in my grandfather’s shop in Grand Island, Nebraska. He did his own maintenance on his many rental properties. He had all types of tools and materials, and me and my siblings were free to explore. I once made a chicken out of wire, nuts, and bolts! My earliest love was automobiles, and to be creative with them you needed metalworking skills, so that steered me in the general direction. Also, after dropping out of art school, my step-mother recommended that I attend vocational school and learn to weld, both for work and sculpture. Although I ultimately did not do the schooling, the suggestion nudged me toward the craft.

JS: What are some other metal projects that you’ve done?

KS: I was a metal fabricator professionally for 25 years, all told. Everything from blacksmithing to aerospace metal fabrication. I did my own sculptural furniture in Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara. The list of projects is long. Recently, I built folding bunk beds for a tiny house construction company that was being filmed for a reality TV show.

JS: Why did you want to work with Town Hall?

KS: My family has a long tradition of being supportive of—and being culturally nurtured by—Town Hall. The building’s renovation project was impressive and ambitious and I wanted to take part somehow. Also, Wier Harman had been instrumental in helping our family find the perfect care facility for our matriarch and I wanted to return the favor.

JS: About the lectern—what aspect of it are you most proud of?

KS: I am most proud of creating a tool that satisfies both myself as a designer/fabricator and Town Hall as an end user.

JS: What was the most challenging aspect of the lectern?

KS: The most challenging part was the time frame: fully six months from first discussions to finished product. There were some relatively minor technical challenges that I lost a bit of sleep over, but those are to be expected with custom fabrication when there are moving components.

JS: What’s your next metal project?

KS: I plan to do some personal small-scale sculpture with copper, brass and cloth. I will also continue to do itinerant metalwork for a shop in Santa Barbara. I might possibly help with the exterior electric bicycle corral at Town Hall, too!

Technology: An Amplification of the Human Force

Town Hall and KUOW collaborated for That’s Debatable: Technology Will Save Us at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute on March 24.  Huma Ali, a junior at Lake Washington High School and a TeenTix Press Corps editor, was in attendance:

When I first think of technology, I think of smartphones. But when I ponder it further, I realize that technology is infinitely more present and relevant than the entertainment device my smartphone largely serves as. Technology is in hospitals, roads, cars, and industrial machines. Technology is in my life, your life—even your dog’s life. It has enabled us, as humans, to advance our society.

And as such, when the statement “technology will save us,” is placed before me, I naturally agree. With access to the whole world at my fingertips, it’s confusing to think that it won’t save us. Because it will. Right?

It turns out that, prior to the debate, 52% of the attendees at KUOW and Town Hall’s event, That’s Debatable: Technology Will Save Us, thought so too.

In previous decades, it was widely believed that our means of transportation would, by now, be dominated by flying cars. While that isn’t the case, there is still a vast collection of innovative technologies that tinge our world—now, inventors can even construct impeccably life-like “people,” and are able to reproduce voices into customized “voice fonts”.

The evening’s main event took the form of a debate, which began with Elizabeth Scallon’s, head of WeWork Labs Northwest, opening statement arguing in favor of the assertion that technology will save us. Scallon laid out the drastic issues plaguing our communities: the need for 100,000 more doctors to accommodate increasing patients, lack of clean water, and broader, more controversial issues, like global warming. By highlighting these problems, Scallon introduced the idea that we could create solutions to them through technology. Alongside her, in agreement, was Vinay Narayan, Vice President of Product Management and Operations for HTC VIVE, who labeled technology as a “tool” and means of problem-solving.

After hearing the argument, it can be understood how technology will aid in saving us. But will it be the driving force, and the entirety, of what will save us?

Hanson Hosein, Director of UW’s Communication Leadership Program and President of HRH Media Group LLC, argued no, and subsequently pushed the question, “what do we need saving from?” Hosein asserted no matter what it is that we need saving from, technology isn’t going to do the saving for us, rather humans must save themselves. Hosein was not opposed to using technology as a tool—stating it was neither the problem not the solution, but an amplification of the existing human force.

Amy Webb, quantitative futurist and founder of the Future Today Institute, carried the conversation from such ideas, pointing out the lack of transparency of powerful tech companies in their work and intent. Webb focused on the fact that a minute few are making the decisions that affect the majority, and that this is the prominent issue within the technology industry—the lack of trust. How can technology save us if we are being left out of the discussion regarding it?

Before voting our final stance on whether technology is going to save us or not, audience members were prompted to discuss our thoughts with those sitting next to us. I spoke to a man working in the tech industry, who revealed some raw truths avoided by the debaters arguing yes: that no matter how rich one was, they would still lack the power, influence, and capabilities of major tech companies—so the idea that average individuals can create solutions to the world’s most prominent issues is a hoax.

The outcome: 72% of the audience members claim that technology will not save us.

Technology has enabled people to an extent in that they are able to use it in whatever way they’d like. As Hosein contended, technology amplifies the human force. So claiming that technology will save us as a blind absolute, may be the root of our downfall. In the end, only we can save ourselves.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “The Art Institute wore festive attire on Wednesday, with nearly 3,000 narcissus and daffodil blossoms,” and, “Next Monday, Mrs. J.H. Hill will entertain a number of her friends at bridge at The Camlin.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

There’s an ad in the April 13, 1929 edition of the Town Crier. It’s for the Exeter. The building is “a delightful place to live.” From bachelor rooms to family apartments, they’re “all tastefully furnished.” The Exeter is across the street from Town Hall. More? Our administrative offices are in that selfsame building!

It’s a Seattle historical site, the Exeter. It was one of several high rise apartment buildings constructed on First Hill in the 1920s. It was originally constructed as an apartment hotel, with 139 two- to three-bedroom apartments, so they could be combined into larger units, and 19 large apartments with fireplaces. There was a dining room on the first floor for those who did not want to cook in their apartments. With its Tudor Gothic terracotta ornamentation, it was one of the sterling buildings in the neighborhood. It was designed by B. Dudley Stuart and Arthur Wheatley.

In the 1880s-90s, First Hill, where Town Hall and the Exeter stands, was one of the most desirable residential neighborhoods in the city. With stunning views and with its close proximity to downtown, some of Seattle’s finest mansions began appearing. Apartment building living came soon after to the neighborhood.

Interested in living at the Exeter yourself? You can! All the better that your neighbors are your friends, us here at Town Hall.

An Open Forum

History has a funny way of repeating itself. In 1918, our building opened its doors to the public…sort of. You see, the church completed construction on the downstairs level several years before the iconic domed space (which would become our Great Hall) could be finished. The community didn’t let the partial building stop them from congregating, and they came together amidst the construction.

A century later, we find ourselves in a similar position—although thankfully our wait will only be a month as opposed to years. After 18 months of renovation, the Forum at Town Hall (formerly the Downstairs space) is opening a little ahead of schedule. We’ve received a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (or TCO) for the lower level. The room is still in its rawest form—the furniture isn’t all in and the bells and whistles like café and bar service will come later, but the space is there, and we can all feel it calling for conversations and community. Simply put: we’re not going to wait for the lobby level and Great Hall to finish before we start hosting programs in the new Forum.

In order to test the venue’s capabilities—and to help Town Hall feel like home again—we’re moving several of our April events back into our building. A few additional moved events will be announced over the coming week, but if you’re interested in getting a preview of this incredible space, or just returning to Town Hall, be sure to pick up a ticket to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (4/12) or Cherríe Moraga (4/24) and keep an eye on our calendar for other events back in the space!

It should be emphasized: the rest of the building is still under construction. This means we’re waiting to install some final features of the Forum, and that there are plenty of areas of the building that will still be closed off to the public until our renovation is completed in late May. We hope you’ll share our enthusiasm as the building reopens a little at a time, and that our ability to be together again in Town Hall will supercede the temporary walls blocking off the almost (but not quite!) finished lobby level and Great Hall!

Of course, more than just Town Hall is under construction—our full block is in the midst of being developed. While the plaza and Ovation towers are being built, the Forum is accessible via our new at-grade West Entrance, reachable from the loading zone on Seneca street.

We hope to see you at one of these first events back in the Forum, and that you’ll join us again when the full building reopens in late May for our soft launch this summer!

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Miss Nellie C. Cornish, who has been spending the week at her farm on Hood’s Canal, is expected home today,” and, “The Seattle Flyer’s Club, a newly formed organization, will be hosting a formal ball on Friday evening.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

Town Hall likes animals. We’ve recently had talks about orca whales, bees, and plenty about birds. We had Richard Prum discuss the mating rituals of birds. We also had a BirdNote Live! Podcast.

In the April 5, 1919 edition of the Town Crier there was a story about the estimated speed of birds. It was entitled, “The Estimated Speed of Birds.” It begins, “There is no doubt that the speed of birds if very deceptive, more especially that of the larger birds, which appear to be moving at a much slower rate than they really are, owing to their size.” Luckily, for Crier readers, there was an Oregonian who liked birds. “The following table of relative speeds has been prepared by a statistics crank in Portland.”

A few of the crank’s findings:

A quail can go 65 to 85 feet per second.
A ruffed grouse can go 60 to 90 feet per second.
A mallard can go 55 to 90 feet per second.
A teal can go 120 to 140 feet per second.
A canvasback can go 130 to 160 feet per second.

If you’re curious, here are the fastest birds in the world. I’m not sure which cranks came up with those numbers.

Sikh Captain America and Superhero Serendipity

It was on my birthday, October 1 of last year, that I first met Sikh Captain America—Vishavjit Singh. He made an appearance at Town Hall discussing battling stereotypes, fighting racism, and overcoming intolerance. We talked plenty before the event, prepping for it, becoming email chums. I profiled him before his appearance here.

Before Sikh Captain America came to town, we decided to put him on the cover of our October print calendar to help publicize the month’s events. I asked the photographer who shot it, Nate Gowdy, if we could use it for the calendar. He said, ‘No problem.’ Further, he said he was going to be there that night to shoot pictures on his own.

My former sister-in-law, Christie Skoorsmith, joined me for the night. Inspired by Singh’s talk, she asked during the Q&A, “You mentioned that anyone can be Captain America. Everyone IS Captain America. Have you ever thought about having a photo shoot where people from all walks of life are dressed up like Captain America like you? I have two transgender kids. They would love to be a part of something like that.”

Singh responded, “That’s a good idea.” Gowdy, in attendance, talked to Skoorsmith after the show. “That’s a good idea.” They all agreed—they should actually do it.

A week and some ago, they actually did it.

Now collaboratively called the “American Superhero Project,” they brought in superheroes of all races, ages, genders, and walks of life for photographic portraits and to share their stories with Singh about what it means to be American. There were over 40 participants. They did all this with a team of ten volunteers to help make the shoot run smoothly.

What’s next? They’re planning on connecting with national publications, such as the New York Times and Time magazine, to see if they are interested in giving the project a home. They’re also hoping on taking the photo shoot to other cities to get a broader swath of Americans in all their wondrous diversity.

Further, there were two videographers on site at what was once the United States Immigrant Station and Assay Office. The videographers recorded personal interviews done by the participants and Singh. They also captured behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot as a whole. The team thinks there’s enough inspiring footage for the makings of a Netflix documentary. All of this is still in its infancy, but there is much to be excited about as the project moves forward.

After the weekend photo shoot completed, Singh remarked that it was one of the most memorable days of his life, especially in uniform as Sikh Captain America. Gowdy, a professional photographer with years of experience under his belt, said he had never been prouder in making photos.

We at Town Hall are honored to play the small part in bringing these people together. It’s just another way in which we strive to fulfill our mission of giving everyone a voice.

Signomi, then milow ellenica. But Mary Norris does.

The island of Milos is beautiful. “What’s good enough for Aphrodite is good enough for me,” notes philhellene Mary Norris, the famed “Comma Queen” who has worked at the New Yorker’s copy desk for years. Corfu is a beautiful and civilized place, as well. Don’t get Norris started on the Dodecanese—the island group in the southeastern Aegean. “The sea there.” That’s all the words she needs to describe one of the most beautiful places she’s seen on earth.

Norris has had a lifelong fascination with Greece and the Greek language. Her new book is Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen. Norris will discuss the book, Greece, language (‘Signomi, then milow ellenica’ means ‘Sorry, I don’t speak Greek’), and the adventures she’s had there—amongst crumbling temples, olive trees, and ouzo—on May 1 at the Summit on Pike. Tickets are on sale now.

She first gravitated towards ancient Greece through movies. Time Bandits struck her. Jason and Argonauts did, as well. Ulysses. “I loved those movies. The minotaurs and gods and heroes.” She watched movies and read all the mythology. She grew to love the stories of the cyclops. The story of the Roman goddess Ceres, who turned men into pigs. Athena is her favorite Greek god. “She’s the goddess of wisdom. She never married. She was Zeus’s favorite, and she gave such good guidance.” Athena was also the goddess of war. She was known for her strategic skill in warfare. So fearsome she was born fully formed from Zeus’s forehead in full armor.


After Norris watched Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, seeing a hunky Sean Connery as Agamemnon, she went the very next day to her boss at the New Yorker and told him she wanted to go to Greece. Her boss loved Greece and immediately took off the shelf a slim volume entitled A Modern Greek Reader for Beginners by J.T. Pring. The fact that her boss could read Greek at all astonished her.

Sean Connery in “Time Bandits”

In Greek to Me, she writes, “Seeing Ed unlock a Greek sentence gave me a Helen Keller moment: Greek could be lucid! It did not have to be unintelligible, as in the famous words of Casca in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: ‘It was Greek to me.’ Those letters could be penetrated, and here was the proof.” Having a lifelong interest in reading and writing—matching letters to sounds; building words; studying syntax and phonics—Norris discovered she could begin it all again with a whole new alphabet.

So she studied modern Greek. And then she studied ancient Greek. “The most beautiful letter in Greek? I like Xi. It sounds like KS, sort of like our X. Ooh, and also Omega.” The more she learned Greek the more she discovered how Greek, though exotic, is similar to English in many ways and has deeply influenced our own language. Greek, in fact, helped form English.

“It teaches you a lot about your own language,” she says of studying Greek in all its forms. “It’s also a link to the glories of the past.” A past where Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey; where Constantine Cavafy wrote the beloved poem “Ithaca”; where Euripides wrote Medea. Norris delights that she can read them all in the original text. By reading Sappho’s words, or Herodotus’, or Socrates’, she brings them back to life—for language doesn’t die if it’s passed on to others. She’s thrilled to be that receptacle. The time of Odysseus and the mythic Trojan Wars are still present.

Something Norris says to Greeks living and long dead is one of her favorite words in their language, efcharisto (ευχαριστώ) (“thank you”). From it, we get the English word eucharist. “It has a beautiful deep meaning of gratitude and grace,” she says. To that, she raises a glass of ouzo to the lands of gods and poets.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “The little white house on the corner of 4th Avenue and Pine Street has been transformed from a War Metal Exchange into the Children’s Orthopedic Bureau,” and, “Mrs. Theodore Haller…has been playing a leading role in a movie filmed recently in Los Angeles.” In this new series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

The proud visage of Clark Nettleton graced the cover of the March 29, 1919 edition of the Town Crier. “Once upon a time our morning daily was the leading newspaper of the State of Washington,” the caption read. “That was in the days when real newspaper men, trained and skilled in the profession and business of journalism, were at the head of it.” The Crier was pleased that Nettleton was to be at the head of it. “Once again the P,-I. is a real newspaper because once again a real newspaper man is in charge of its destinies.”

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased print publication in 2009 but continues online. The globe that sits atop the old P-I building is something of an icon. The newspaper has a storied history. The Post-Intelligencer was formed in 1881 through a merger of the Seattle Post and the Weekly Intelligencer. The Weekly Intelligencer was a successor of the Seattle Gazette, the city’s first newspaper, established in 1863. There were many iterations and owners in the early days of Seattle’s burgeoning journalism scene. The Seattle Post was backed by John Leary, a prominent Seattle lawyer, but was deeply in debt. With the Post and Weekly Intelligencer merging, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer came to be. Their first issue was on October 1, 1881.

It went through many iterations and owners through the years, including William Randolph Hearst, and was a rival to the Seattle Times throughout.  In 1983, financially struggling, the P-I entered a joint operating agreement with the Times. The publication continued to falter and ceased publication on March 17, 2009.

As for the man of destiny? Nettleton was the publisher of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer until April 1921. His mansion still stands in Kirkland.

Rejoicing with Musician Eli Rosenblatt

Like all great musician origin stories, it starts with Sir Mix-a-Lot. “The first cassette I ever got was Sir Mix-a-Lot’s Seminar album,’ notes Seattle-area musician Eli Rosenblatt. “Remember that song ‘Gortex’? ‘Posse in effect, scramble up, new rhyme/Big Gortex, crushed down, two time.’ I loved that album.”

It’s not the only album Rosenblatt loved growing up in the Seattle area. There was Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, grunge music and bebop greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins. But before he discovered all of that, he was kid. Kids can hear Rosenblatt play tunes FOR FREE (adults are $5) at Phinney Center on April 13 as part of Town Hall’s Saturday Family Concert series.

The first musical memories Rosenblatt has are of the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong duets that his parents played. It struck young Eli dumb. “There are no wrong notes. There is not one beat that does not swing,” he says enthusiastically. He grew up listening to his parents’ albums. They’d listen to jazz, and Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” Bob Marley, and Paul Simon’s Graceland album, graced with the sounds of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The family’s tastes, and Eli’s own forming musical tastes, were eclectic. Then he heard Afro-Cuban music and a lifelong love affair was born. “I heard the piano at the beginning of a mambo song and thought, ‘well, this is the best thing that exists.’”

He picked up a guitar at young age and soon after a notebook to write his own songs in. He started playing in clubs as a teenager and he doesn’t want to brag, but “I was one of the best local freestyle rappers coming up.” His first paid gig was at a Greek restaurant in Eastlake. “I can’t believe that I could get paid for this.”

He got enough gigs to play professionally full time, leaving his job at UW Hospitals as a medical interpreter. Currently, he fronts the band Bakbuk. They play a mix of original music and reinvented classics in global music styles like Salsa, Cha Cha, Waltz, Klezmer, Swing, Hip-Hop and Samba. Bakbuk performs at Cafe Nordo on 4/11.

All the while, now with a kid of his own, he’s opened wide the door to playing music for children. “It’s brought me a lot. It took me on a journey into my authentic self. It made me feel comfortable with love and unity and acceptance. It opened my heart and I can truly say I love the children I play for.” He plays songs like “Elephant Car,” “Watermelon,” and “Mr. Fox.”

“To make a connection with these kids is really special,” he says. When kids come to his show he wants to them to have the freedom to be themselves. For Rosenblatt, it’s a freedom to express himself in melody and rhythm, rhyme and meter. For the audience: “I want them to be inspired. I want much rejoicing.”

Rejoice. You can see Rosenblatt on April 13 at the Phinney Center.

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