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, “There is a sad lack of popular appreciation for the orchestra and its importance to the finer side of our cultural existence,” and, “The dinner at the Golf Club and the Fransioli dance for the younger set at the Tennis Club will be the largest affairs of the season.” 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…

The June 14, 1919 writers of the Town Crier were both congratulatory of Tacoma but also wondering why Seattle wasn’t doing more to congratulate itself in the brief story “Our Musical Neighbor.”

“While Seattle is placing a period at the close of her musical season Tacoma is rousing herself to action and putting on a notable series of concerts in her great Stadium that will draw thousands of people by boat, train and auto to that spectacular center of entertainment,” the story began. Indeed, the summer 1919 concert season in Tacoma included such notables as May Peterson, Marie Rappold, and Lambert Murphy! “The movement is in the right direction,” the story continues, “and meets the heartiest commendation from every quarter; it is an asset for Tacoma that can not be overestimated, and one we may ensure will not be overlooked by our neighbor.”

The writer then asks Seattleites why they didn’t have a beautiful amphitheater like Tacoma did. “Why are we so sluggish about taking advantage of our own amphitheater out on the University campus? There it stands vacant and idle, with the spiders spinning webs across the seats between which the weeds push their way.” Alas—it is being squandered! “If we would do but a tithe of what Nature has already done, it would be known all over the country.”

The Crier writers picture a beautiful scene. “A night in June flooded with moonlight; a multitude of people sitting in hushed silence listening to a voice singing a passionate love song of a bygone day, accompanied by the exquisite strains of violin and cello; for miles to the south one watched unconsciously the light glistening on the waters of the Lake, across which the boats in the distance pass to and fro like little moving palaces all agleam. Has Seattle lost sight of her obligations to her people to give them such wonderful memories?”

Seattle has not, Town Crier writer of bygone days! If you haven’t been inside the newly renovated Town Hall, do. The Great Hall is a wondrous place where a multitude of people can sit in hushed silence listening to exquisite music.

Mason Bates

For instance, on June 21, the last concert of the Town Music series will take place. It features Grammy Award winner Mason Bates alongside the works of J.S. Bach—an ambitious convergence of musical canon and cutting-edge modern repertoire. Tickets are on sale now!

 

L’amour De La Vie: A French Cellist and Jack London

Supported by the French Embassy in the United States, “Love of Life” is a creative project by three of Europe’s top musical improvisers based on the writings of Jack London. French cellist Vincent Courtois, revered for virtuosity at the edge of classical composition, has created an acoustic trio with two tenor saxophonists, exploring tonal mid-range in works inspired by individual titles of Jack London writing such as Martin Eden, Sea Wolf, To Build a Fire, and Goliath. Town Hall is excited to work with Earshot Jazz in bringing these musicians to the Forum stage on June 29. Tickets are on sale now.

Town Hall’s marketing manager, Jonathan Shipley, recently sat down with cellist Vincent Courtois to discuss jazz, Jack, and musical ambiance.

JS: When were you introduced to the cello? What interested you about it?

VC: Playing cello was not a vocation. My sister, older than me, was playing violin. I used to wait for her in the corridor during her weekly lesson. A very nice man was always passing in the corridor saying words. Some years later, when my mother asked me which instrument I want to study, I answered quickly, ‘I don’t know! I just want to do it with that nice man!’…and it was the cello teacher.

JS: How did you start thinking about using the cello as a jazz instrument? It’s not that common of a jazz instrument—why do you think that is?

VC: When I was a teenager I was studying how to play cello in a very serious classical conservatory. During college, I had some friends who were trying to play rock ‘n’ roll music with guitars and drums. They didn’t have a clue about music but they were playing very loud music that I loved. I tried to play with them with my cello even if it was difficult and then I started to feel that completely different worlds could meet together. Lately, I’ve discovered jazz. It is a revelation. It’s the perfect place between rock, classical, and  contemporary music. I feel that it is the perfect music where I can express myself with a good mix of rigor and liberty in the same time.

And, actually, there are more and more cello players in jazz and this is a great thing! When I was young we were a very few…like pioneers. With cello, you can do many things—‘singing’ like the human voice, being voluble like a violin, playing chords, basses… When jazzmen understood this, they started to engage a lot of cello players in their bands.

JS: What jazz musicians inspire(d) you?

VC: The first one that really changed my life was Miles Davis but I would say that the most inspiring musicians for me are the ones I’ve played with.

Jack London

JS: Why does Jack London’s work speak to you?

VC: I discovered Jack London very late. It became a passion after I finished the fascinated story of Martin Eden. During two years I read only Jack London. No other author existed for me. Step by step, I started to feel some music coming from inside me inspired by Jack London’s stories. Then I started to compose melodies.

JS: What are some of your favorite Jack London pieces?

VC: My favorites pieces are the ones that inspired my melodies: Love of Life, The Road, The South of the Slot, The Dream of Debs, The Sea-Wolf, Trust, To Build a Fire, and, of course, Martin Eden.

JS: Have you gone to Napa to visit his grave?

VC: During the tour we are suppose to visit Napa with the French consulat!

JS: One thing many might not know was also how artistically powerful he was as a photographer.

VC: I love Jack London’s photography, especially photos from London’s East End. Jack London’s life was very short but he did so many things.

JS: How do you, as an artist, translate’s another artist’s work into your medium? What are the greatest rewards and challenges by doing that?

VC: For Jack London’s work it was very easy, obviously and natural. It’s only my interpretation of his pieces. I think that it’s like a movie director. I feel an ambience, a decor, an emotion, and then music comes. Daniel Erdmann and Robin Fincker, also inspired by Jack London, also gave their interpretation in music. It was very important for me to come here, to this place on the west coast, to play our music and record this album dedicated to Jack London.

Join Earshot Jazz at Town Hall’s Forum as they present “Courtois, Erdmann, Fincker: Love of Life” on June 29.  Get your tickets now.

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 alluring call of the open has been too fascinating for hostesses to plan indoor amusements,” and, “The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America will unveil the table of General Robert E. Lee at Ravenna Park on Saturday.” 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…

In the June 7, 1913 edition of the Town Crier, Mrs. John Q. Mason offered “Little Helps to Character Building.” One of those little helps: reading good books.

“Teach your child to love good books,” she demanded. “Any child can be initiated into the delights of reading and if a taste for books of the right sort is cultivated at an early age a potent influence is thereby created for the building of character.”

Town Hall could not agree more, Mrs. John Q. Mason!

Some great bookstores in the Seattle area that builds character in tots:

Ada’s Technical Books and Cafe

Book Larder

Elliott Bay Book Company

Phinney Books

Third Place Books

University Bookstore

Happy cultivating!

When You See John Waters, Make Sure You’re Gross

Town Hall recently hosted John Waters, the famed film director, screenwriter, author, actor, stand-up comedian, journalist, and visual artist. We invited local writer Katie Kalahan  to sit in the audience and share her thoughts…

My hands hurt while John Waters and David Schmader talked about filth and made Town Hall attendees laugh. I fell and scraped my hands right before I heard Waters christen the barely-two-weeks-new remodeled space with riffs on Hollywood money, free porn, the Democratic presidential field, art as magic, Hairspray sequels, all genres of music, graveyard graffiti, and “ample women.” 

We were a little bit late and the event was sold out. My friend and I ran towards Town Hall when I dragged my foot and let my left classic red Reebok hit an edge of uneven sidewalk and then I was face down spread full length on the sidewalk. I jumped up to save whatever face might be left. The heel of each hand was shredded. My skin had pulled back showing raw redness and it stung.

A block later, I went into the Town Hall bathroom to wash up. Remodeled Town Hall has amazing all-gender bathrooms with full-door stalls and a common sink area. I tried to wash my cuts in the sink but the water hurt. I kept yanking my hand back. I checked for gravel in the wounds and didn’t see much. I carefully laid my skin flaps back over the insides of my palms. While I was cringing in the bathroom, my friend enlisted a wonderful Town Hall representative to find a first aid kit. I promised both him and my friend that I would wash out the cuts later, when it hurt less, and covered them with Band-Aids. I felt gross and humiliated and in pain.

It was the right way to join John Waters. We entered the auditorium just before he took the stage. He wore black, cut with orange stripes on his jacket and red-patterned socks. Waters said that he knows about everything except sports and science fiction. Within twenty minutes he talked about money, fat girls, money, death, graveyards, and said the c-word four times. According to Waters, graveyard diggers must be necrophiliacs—but where else could they get a job? They just stand around waiting for people to bury, he said. Schmader makes a comment about body composting (which just passed into law in Washington State) and Waters responded that sometimes the gases from decomposing bodies will make wooden coffins explode. He likes that idea.

John Waters, aka Mr. Know-It-All, is the rightful monarch of trash, filth, and everything irreverent. My palms stung and the audience laughed and someone near me made small cooing sounds of sympathy when he said, “Only say ‘I love you’ when the person you love is sleeping.”

Schmader made comments in order to get Waters going, then Schmader giggled. Schmader said, “So, tell us about the three Hairspray sequels you’ve written,” and Waters said,”I’m going to make a porn version called Pubic Hairspray. Young people won’t come see it because they don’t have pubic hair and they won’t understand. Where do crabs go? They’re extinct now.” Schmader giggled. He mentions that there’s a chapter in Waters’ book about how to have good musical taste and in his answer Waters manages to mention classical music, country, Elvis and masturbating, Elvis and Bieber, and punk rock (“It’s all boys on the DL and big girls with attitude”). Schmader set Waters off again: “You’re really good at bashing Pope Francis,” he said. “Oh yeah, I hate that fucker,” Waters replied to raucous laughter. Waters goes on to tell the audience that Catholics are a worldwide pedophile organization and it’s just starting to come to light. But he added, “I’m glad I’m Catholic because sex will always be dirty.” Waters left the Catholic topic with this image: “If I die and you steal my head, put it under the Pope’s bed covers.” My stigmata burned. Schmader: “How are we doing on time? Oh, we have five minutes left? Okay. (Turns to Waters) What kind of porn do you like?” Waters gives some names, but then goes on a more interesting segue about porn stars whose moms handle their fan mail.

Surprisingly, Waters doesn’t like pooping, he thinks public bathrooms are a travesty, and he’s never been in an airplane bathroom. I was recently saved by a public bathroom. I was saved from bleeding all over my notebook and the Town Hall pews, and possibly crying with shame, and definitely grossing out the people around me. Perhaps Waters prefers a world where I would have bled, cried, and been gross. The bathroom and the Band-Aids gave me the option to be polite and acceptable and unoffensive. Maybe Waters would prefer a world without public bathrooms not only because no one would poop outside of the home, but because we would be filthier, trashier, and less boring.

At the end of the night, I took my busted hands home and didn’t clean them out. Waters had made me laugh and think. He created the most untraditional of families, a troupe of outcast artists—fat girls, gay men, drag queens. After Divine died, Waters and friends all bought graves in the same plot as their friend. “We call it Disgraceland,” he said. When the time comes, Waters and his friends will rot together—unless he decides to have his head cut off and left for the Pope’s unwitting feet to find at bedtime, or to explode a wooden coffin with his decomposing gases. Maybe my friend, who came to the talk of a person they’d never heard of and loved it, who found me Band-Aids, who suggested we check out one of the several hospitals in the area only half-joking, will make art with me and then rot with me. We should all be so lucky.

Until your time comes, if you need to know how to be normal, mild, polite, and traditional, look elsewhere. If you are gross, weird, crazy, and/or an artist craving success and trying to surprise the world, read John Waters.

A Spellar Performance

The 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee broadcast its finals on ESPN’s streaming service at 8:30pm on May 30. Spelling fans tuned in everywhere to watch deft spellers vanquish word after word, until the list was exhausted and not one but eight students were still standing. The biggest victory tie in Scripps history left audiences applauding as eight champions held up the trophy together.

Every year, Town Hall hosts the King-Snohomish County Regional Spelling Bee. The winner of this heated trial of vocabulary moves on from local to national, joining the ranks of spellers competing in the Scripps Bee. This year representing Seattle was Nidhi Achanta, who knocked it out of the park and advanced to Round 3 of the Scripps Bee by nailing words such as porphyry (a hard igneous rock OR a Roman philosopher, depending on who you ask), calligram (an image made of words that are thematically connected to its meaning), and tachycardia (a medical condition that causes increased heart rate).

From among thousands of participants nationwide Nidhi succeeded round after round and made it to just before the finals. She can count herself as one of the best spellers in the nation. That’s no easy task! Congratulations Nidhi! This summer, Nidhi plans on presenting Spelling Bee prep ideas in local libraries to encourage other spellers from our state to take on the spelling bee C-H-A-L-L-E-N-G-E.

Think you’ve got what it takes to be a champion speller? Take the Scripps National Spelling Bee Preliminary Test and see if you can ace some of these tricky words!

Singing to the Choir

On June 15, at Town Hall’s Great Hall, Seattle Girls Choir will present their biannual “All Choir Concert.” It features all six levels of Seattle Girls Choir from kindergarten through high school. About 180 young singers altogether, the event showcases their hard work and dedication.

Tickets are on sale now.

Town Hall’s marketing manager, Jonathan Shipley sat down with Seattle Girls Choir Artistic Director Jacob Winkler to discuss choral music, pursuing a degree in biology, and Simon and Garfunkel.

Jacob Winkler

JS: How did you get involved with Seattle Girls Choir?

JW: In 2009, SGC’s founder decided to retire after 27 years with the organization. I had a piano student who was a member of SGC, and she told me about the job opening and urged me to apply. I did, and ultimately was offered the position of Artistic Director and conductor of Prime Voci, the most senior group.

JS: What are you most proud of in your tenure there?

JW: I can point to individual achievements and moments. Certain concerts stick out in my mind, such as our first “Carmina Angelorum” holiday concert back in 2012. Last summer we competed in a big international choral festival, the Llangollen Eisteddfod in Wales, and we turned in some of the best performances we’ve ever done, which was extremely gratifying. Overall though, I think I’m most proud of the bigger picture: that every level of the organization has seen tangible musical growth over the past several years.

JS: What are you most looking forward to going forward as SGC’s Artistic Director?

JW: We’ve had a few years with a little bit of instability in our faculty, with really wonderful musicians who were getting pulled in many different directions. I’m extremely happy with the faculty we have in place now, and I’m looking forward to seeing the growth in the younger groups, and how that will trickle up to my own choir in 7-8 years!

JS: As a kid, when did you get introduced to music? What did your parents listen to? When did you start singing? When did you think you could make a career in music?

JW: My parents listened to a mix of classical music and folk. There was a lot of Simon & Garfunkel and Ian & Sylvia. I started off taking piano lessons probably about age six and joined the Northwest Boychoir when I was seven. I played and sang throughout high school, adding string bass into the mix mostly so I could hang out with the kids in my school orchestra, who were some of my best friends. I’m not sure when I started actively thinking about a career in music, but I remember coming to the realization in college that it really wasn’t going to be possible to pursue degrees in both music and biology (too many direct conflicts), and asking myself  “which one can I not do without?”

JS: Who are some of your favorite composers?

JW: I’m awfully fond of Beethoven. Film music was also an early love of mine, so John Williams too!

JS: What are some of your favorite choral pieces?

JW: Every year we sing Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” during the holiday season. I keep waiting to get tired of it, but it hasn’t happened yet!

JS: What are the steps involved if a child wanted to join SGC?

JW: Step one is always going to be getting in touch with our office. What happens next depends a little on age: In kindergarten or first grade they would probably be placed in out Piccolini group. All other groups require a short and, hopefully, non-threatening audition where the child is asked to sing a song and play some ear games to demonstrate their ability to match pitches. Older girls may also be asked to demonstrate any prior knowledge like identifying notes on a staff or rhythmic values.

JS: If you could sing a duet with someone famous, who would it be?

JW: What a great question! I’m going to go with Paul McCartney. There were some great duets between Paul and John Lennon in the Beatles’ early material, and it would be really great doing things like “If I Fell” or “I’ll Follow the Sun” with Sir Paul!

Join Jacob Winkler and fall for the wondrous sounds of the Seattle Girls Choir on June 15. Get your tickets here.

The Titans of ‘Canto General’

“Look at me from the depths of the earth,
Tiller of fields, weaver, reticent shepherd,
Groom of totemic guanacos,
Mason high on your treacherous scaffolding,
Iceman of Andean tears,
Jeweler with crushed fingers,
Farmer anxious among his seedlings,
Potter wasted among his clays –
Bring to the cup of this new life
Your ancient buried sorrows.”

What writer could possibly write a poetic history of the entire American Western Hemisphere from a Hispanic perspective? The Nobel Prize-winning Chilean writer Pablo Neruda. Who could possibly put Neruda’s poems appropriately to music? The Lenin Prize-winning Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis. The titanic piece is going to be showcased at Town Hall’s Great Hall on June 8 by the Seattle Peace Chorus. It will feature soloists alto Nadia Tarnawsky, a Fulbright recipient, and baritone Jonathan Silvia, who will be featured soon in Seattle Opera’s production of Rigoletto. Tickets to “Pablo Neruda’s Canto General: A Concert” are on sale now.

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was first and foremost a poet. As a teenager he started getting his work published. He published a great many love poems thick with passion throughout his life. His most known collection is Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924). Some of these love poems were featured prominently in the Italian movie Il Postino, a film that was nominated for Best Picture in 1995.

More than a poet, Neruda was a diplomat and politician. He was a senator for the Chilean Communist Party. When communism was outlawed in Chile in 1948, a warrant went out for his arrest. He hid underground for a time before he was able to escape to Argentina. Years later, he became a close and trusted advisor to Salvador Allende, Chile’s socialist president from 1970 to 1973. Allende asked Neruda to read his poetry in a Chilean stadium. 70,000 came for it. Allende was soon overthrown in a coup d’etat, orchestrated by Augusto Pinochet. Again, Neruda’s life was in danger. If fact, with Pinochet’s rise, Neruda died. He was poisoned. His remains were recently unearthed to prove it. Gabriel Garcia Marquez has called Neruda, “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.”

“My land without name, without America,
Equinoctial stamen, purple lance,
Your aroma climbed my roots up to the glass
Raised to my lips, up the slenderest
Word as yet unborn in my mouth.”

Canto General was Neruda’s tenth book of poems. Published in 1950, it consisted of 15 sections, with a total of 241 poems. For it, he won the the Nobel Prize for Literature. Each section was a “canto.” The first canto: A Lamp on Earth. The second: The Heights of Macchu Picchu. The ninth: Let the Woodcutter Awaken. The fifteenth: I Am. Each section is rich with the trials and tribulations of emperors and explorers, dictators and freedom fighters. Considered Neruda’s masterwork, it mixes his communist sympathies with national pride, depicting Latin America’s history as a constant struggle against oppression.

Mikis Theodorakis with Neruda in attendance.

When Neruda was still in Chile he met a Greek exile, Nikis Theodorakis (1925- ), arguably Greece’s most famous composer. He has written over 1,000 songs and has scored the movies Zorba the Greek and Serpico. His Mauthausen Trilogy is considered one of the greatest musical works about the Holocaust.

He, like Neruda was, is an artist-politician. With ties to the Communist Party of Greece, he’s been elected to parliament and became a government minister under Constantine Mitsotakis (Greece’s Prime Minister from 1990-1993). Theodorakis continues, now in his 90s, to be a voice against oppressive regimes.

Neruda and Theodorakis met and discussed Canto General. Perhaps it could be set to music. The two picked the poems that were to be included in the piece. Theodorakis finished four movements in 1973, the year of Neruda’s death. He continued to work on the piece, expanding it in 1975 and again in 1981. The complete oratorio (now with 13 movements) was recorded live for the first time in Munich in 1981.


Hear these greats of their respective disciplines on the 80th anniversary of the publication of Neruda’s Canto General. Seattle Peace Chorus presents it in its glory on June 8 at Town Hall.

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, “In the Northwest the game of golf seems to have wrought havoc with tennis,” and, “Mrs. Thomas Bordeaux entertained with a dinner of sixteen covers on Saturday 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…

On the cover of the May 24, 1919 edition of the Town Crier was Mme. Borgny Hammer. Mme. Hammer and her husband Rolf were coming to Seattle to perform at Norway Hall. They were going to perform Henrik Ibsen’s play, The Master Builder. Adele Ballard, a Town Crier regular, with her column “Various and Sundry,” said of the acclaimed actress, “I saw her the other day for a few minutes. She came into the office and it was a warm and rather enervating day, but in about one minute, or less, she re-vitalized the whole atmosphere with her vivid personality: she is like the breezes blown from the sea across the snow-capped mountains, or like the wild flowers of her own land, the hardy ones that force their way up through the rocks into the sunlight of Norway.” High praise, indeed!

Forcing its way today through the bustling busy blocks of Ballard has come the newly redesigned National Nordic Museum. The gleaming edifice opened in May of 2018. It is an internationally recognized museum and cultural center dedicated to collecting, preserving, and educating since its founding in 1980. The National Nordic Museum is the largest museum in the United States to honor the legacy of immigrants from the five Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Current exhibitions include “Studio 54 & Beyond: The Photography of Hasse Persson” and “Bamse: The World’s Strongest Bear.”

Also, Town Hall’s Capital Campaign Manager, Grant P.H. Barber, is doing a class there on June 8. You can learn how to brew a batch of Finnish Sahti in the traditional method of USING A HOLLOW LOG.

We wonder if the Nordic Museum has anything about Mme. Hammer in their permanent collections? We at the Town Crier will investigate. Stay tuned.

Henry, Sandy, and a Commissioned Painting

What do happy squirrels, paper bag sing-alongs, and wall-to-wall murals have in common? They’re coming together for the final performance in this season’s Saturday Family Concert series. Town Hall presents Sandy Buchner, local musician and co-founder of Happy Squirrel Arts, alongside Seattle’s prolific muralist Henry for a fun whizbang show at Town Hall’s Forum on June 1. Tickets are FREE for kids and only $5 for adults. They’re on sale nowCome early (doors open at 10) for arts and crafts!

Town Hall, having been a fan of Henry’s work for years, asked him if we could use some of his artwork for the cover of our June print calendar. He said that would be fine. That’d be swell. After a little negotiating with him, we thought it’d be fun to commission Henry for an original painting to be displayed proudly at Town Hall’s newly renovated building. He said that would be fine. That’d be swell.

He came into the offices after he finished the painting. We were like giddy schoolkids when he entered the office, approaching with the canvas. “You guys want some stickers, too?” YES, WE WANT STICKERS! He pulled out a wad from his front shirt pocket and passed them around. He then showed us the canvas and we smiled hard.

Town Hall’s staff loves the painting with all those kooky characters in Town Hall’s newly renovated Great Hall. We’ve chosen what animal is each coworker (to note: I am the giraffe). Wier Harman, Town Hall’s Executive Director said, “I’m feeling the octopus.” We’re feeling giddy now that we have a Henry to display in Town Hall for years to come and we’re feeling giddy about seeing Henry and Sandy for the coming Saturday Family Concert.

Music as a Bridge

With our Great Hall reopening, we’re excited to get back into our historic home and see what the space can do. To help put the Great Hall through its paces and show us a truly unique musical experience, composer and Fremont Bridge Resident Paurl Walsh is coming to Town Hall on May 23 to present his incredible concert Bascule. FREE tickets are available now. Town Hall’s Copywriter Alexander Eby sat down with Paurl to talk about Fremont fulcrums, and the ways music can help us connect to each other.

AE: What can you tell me about the concert?

PW: The concert is six movements—three long movements interspersed between which are three short movements from string quartets. The show features a pianist and four string players who send their music as signals to me directly, and I use electronic mixing equipment to process and shape their sounds in real time. There’s also a unique visual component to the piece which mirrors the electronic mixing, presenting everyday images that have been heavily abstracted. It’s the culmination of a year-long project that I did as the 2018 Fremont Bridge Composer in Residence.

AE: Can you tell me more about the Fremont Bridge Residency? What was it like to work creatively in that environment?

PW: It was such a cool opportunity to be able to write music in such a weird space. The northwest tower of the Fremont Bridge is a small office about twelve foot square, but with 360 degree windows all around. You can see out over the water and down to the ship canal. You can see Lake Union and the Aurora Bridge towering above, and Gas Works Park splayed out on the left. You can see over to Queen Anne Hill and down into Fremont proper. It’s a beautiful view. I was in there about 20 hours a week with my laptop, notebooks, and speakers working on music.

It’s noisy in there. Lots of it was from traffic. Whenever a bus would cross the bridge, the whole room would vibrate and shake. And then there were the actual movements of the bridge. Fremont Bridge is one of the busiest bridges in the country, with an average I think of 15 openings per day during the summer for everything from shipping traffic to sailboats. The operator in the south tower would have to call me on the intercom every time the bridge opened to make sure I was clear. So there were lots of distractions; you can imagine trying to write music in that context. It took me probably a good month or so to adapt, just to get to the point where I wasn’t hearing it anymore, and to be able to get back on my train of thought in between interruptions.

My hope was that the environment would sort of seep into my work through osmosis. If I had tried to write this piece while all isolated in my studio I think it would have come out entirely different, so I like to think that the environment has seeped into the thesis of the music.

AE: Was there a part of the bridge that you feel most influenced your work?

PW: One of the coolest parts was actually a safety orientation that I had to take. The Department of Transportation had to show me all the safety stuff related to the bridge, and part of that involved going on a full tour of all the inner workings. I got to go down into the bowels of the bridge and see all its mechanics, and while we were down there I got to stand in the middle of a pivot point while the bridge was opening.

There’s this fulcrum point that the whole half of the bridge tilts on. Behind that point, dug into the side of the hill, is a huge concrete counterweight. I stood on a gangplank between the two, totally open to the air with the water directly below me. The bridge started to open, and it felt like the whole planet had started to shift, and for a split second I had no real sense of up or down. It was a very disorienting and very interesting sensation. I wanted to recreate that feeling in my music—that intense feeling of disorientation followed by an adjustment that makes this strange and uncanny sensation suddenly feel normal.

AE: Where did the name Bascule come from?

PW: Bascule is a technical term for a drawbridge. Specifically, it’s what engineers call the type of bridge that the Fremont Bridge is—a Bascule bridge. But in my mind, this piece of music isn’t about all bridges or waterways but the Fremont Bridge specifically. I was inspired to apply for this Residency because I felt like I had something really unique to say that involved the Fremont Bridge.

The piece is my way of talking about a very difficult time in my life when I was living in that area. For me, there’s this really visceral connection between the Fremont Bridge and a period of my life when I was experiencing homelessness and dealing with severe depression and serious substance abuse issues. My hope is that this project sheds some light on these topics. The way we treat mental illness, substance abuse, and poverty is really unhealthy. A lot of people are affected really directly by them, but they’re issues we don’t really talk about directly. I want to help destigmatize these issues, to make people feel like they can talk about them and understand them.

As a result, this musical piece very intense. I’ve really tried to design an experience that presents an impression of how it felt to be in that place, and how lost and awful I felt. But I also think there’s moments of really extreme beauty and bittersweet moments in there. My hope is that by telling this story in such an abstract way, the audience can make their own connections and imbue their own sense of meaning with it.

AE: What do you hope that audiences can take away from this piece?

PW: The piece is certainly experimental, but in a lot of ways I think it’s also universal. We all experience periods where we go feel things similar to this. I feel like there’s a lot to identify with in this work, a basic sort of fundamental emotional understanding that we experience as humans. Everyone experiences their own version of the music. No two people’s take on this is going to be the same. But I hope that people respond to the intensity of what I’m making and come out of the concert with some feeling of solidarity, for the audience to feel supported by each other.

We can feel so isolated when we’re having these crises, these feelings of depression or even just all the difficult stuff that comes from being human. My goal with this concert is to create an experience that communicates what that’s like—to present something that everyone can identify with and show that no matter what you’re feeling or how strongly you feel it, you’re not alone.

Join us at Town Hall’s Great Hall on Thursday to hear Walsh’s piece. Tickets are free.

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