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.

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.

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.

Town Hall Isn’t City Hall. City Hall Isn’t Town Hall.

I once asked Town Hall’s Ticketing Manager how often we get calls from people attempting to reach City Hall? “At least a couple per week. Maybe even one per day in the summer.” It didn’t take me long to wonder if City Hall got calls intended for us, and whether there was anything we could do to fix that. I had to know more. So in honor of the the 50th Annual Municipal Clerks Week I reached out to City Clerk Jaci Dahlvang, who answered questions all about phone call confusions and day-to-day life in city government.

AE: Can you tell me about a day in the life of a City Clerk? What roles do you play? What’s the most interesting aspect of your job?

JD: On any given day we can be found registering domestic partnerships, accepting claims for damages, explaining where a bill is in the legislative process, training folks on legislative research, or helping candidates begin the process of running for office. If you’ve ever signed a Seattle Initiative Measure, it was filed here first!

This office is also home to the Seattle Municipal Archives, a treasure trove of City records of enduring value. We can help you find out what the legislation says, but they can help you put it in context. I’m a huge nerd, so I love that I’m now a part of Seattle history. I wrote City Council meeting minutes during my first year here, so now my name is in bound volumes that will stay in the Archives forever. I also love puzzles, so any day that I get to dig in and help solve a legislative mystery with a researcher is a good day. We’re proud of the part we play in maintaining government transparency and supporting democracy in action.

I’m part of a team of Legislative Information Specialists. We are just one part of the Office of the City Clerk, but we are the face of the office. We’re the folks who answer calls, emails, and in person questions about City filings, the legislative process, and more.

AE: If there was one thing you wished people knew about City Clerks (or about city government in general) what would it be?

JD: That we exist! I didn’t know anything about City Clerks until I started working here. The City Clerk is a public officer who takes an oath of office, and some of the important responsibilities of the position include providing neutral stewardship of the legislative and election processes, as well as supporting meeting and record management requirements, all in service of civic engagement and transparency.

City Clerks are often the first point of reference in a city, though Seattle has the tremendous folks in the Customer Service Bureau as well. In addition to the services above, the Office of the City Clerk also manages official filings from departments across the city and, of course, assists city staff with their research, which means we have a broad awareness to help direct the public.

We have many online resources, including title records of legislation all the way back to 1869. Old legislation and filings are fascinating; they are the record of Seattle figuring out what it values as a city.

Also, searching for animal-related terms is a gold mine. One of my favorite records is a collection of protests against stabling horses in the basement of the Opera House during the World’s Fair.

Also, not enough people know about our research room! Come on in and look at City Council records on microfiche (it’s not scary, we promise) or check out holdings from the Archives. We love showing people our discoveries, and we love learning from your questions.

AE: How often do you get calls intended for Town Hall? What do you usually tell them?

JD: It is more common for us to get calls intended for the courts or for the County. In short, we handle records related to the City and the County handles records related to people. We’ll always do our best to get people where they need to be! It’s hard to say, because we get so many calls that are not intended for us!

AE: What’s the most memorable conversation you’ve had with a Town Hall caller?

JD: My favorite calls are from people looking to make change, be they residents looking to file an initiative or connect with their councilmember, or officials from other jurisdictions looking to replicate legislation Seattle has passed. Helping lead other cities, or guide them with our history, is always satisfying.

AE: If you could put on your own Town Hall talk, what would it be about?

JD: I’m a year-round volunteer for SIFF and I write a film blog, so mine would probably film related. My team could speak on digital equity, family history as local history, how to fight City Hall (but not the people who work there), the history of clerks, and Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science as adapted for the government context (this is something we discuss a lot as a team).

AE: To help alleviate the confusion, is there any chance City Hall could change its name? What would you change it to?

JD: It looks like City Hall is only mentioned once by name in the Seattle Municipal Code, so that wouldn’t involve as many amendments as I’d feared. Though to be fair, City government has had a City Hall off and on since the late 1800s, and you’ve only been Town Hall since 1998, so maybe we should reconsider who’s responsible for the confusion!

AE: Is there anything else you’d like to add? Any final thought you would like to leave us with?

JD: We always want people more involved in their city government, and we welcome all your questions! If you like information, and lots of it—in great detail—we hope you’ll stop by or give us a call.


There’s plenty going on at Town Hall and at City Hall—and both are here to make Seattle a better place. Just be sure you call the right one!

Town Hall Seattle: 206-652-4255

Office of the City Clerk: 206-684-8344

Arts & Action To Better Our Community

Can arts change our communities like they change our lives? ArtsFund will share pivotal research from their first-ever Social Impact of the Arts Study in King County on May 17 at Town Hall’s newly renovated Forum. Town Hall asked Sarah Sidman, ArtsFund VP of Strategic Initiatives and Communications to interview KUOW’s Marcie Sillman about the study and the impact of the arts.

Marcie Sillman and Sarah Sidman

Sidman’s recent interview with Sillman is below:

It’s a pivotal moment for King County. We’re experiencing rapid economic and demographic growth while simultaneously grappling with pressing challenges around education, homelessness, healthcare and mental health, workforce development, and income inequality. On May 17th, Town Hall and ArtsFund are presenting “Arts & Action to Better Our Community”, a panel discussion and civic dialogue focused how arts advance positive and equitable outcomes in our community.  I’ll be sharing findings from our new Social Impact of the Arts Study, followed by a panel and discussion examining how we can harness the impact of the arts to address these challenges and advance community priorities. The panel will feature Randy Engstrom, James Miles, Vivian Phillips, and Jay Vogelsang, and will be moderated by Marcie Sillman, Arts & Culture reporter at KUOW who has been covering the sector in King County for more than 30 years.

I recently sat down with Marcie to talk about the program, arts’ social impact and the potential for making positive change in our community, and the urgency around having conversations like this one.

SS: What’s your passion around the topic of arts’ social impact? Why are you involved in this program?

MS: I’m involved because I respect ArtsFund. My passion goes beyond the social impact of arts. I have a passion for the arts and cultural realm of society in general. If you want to narrow it down to talk about social impact, I truly believe that ‘art outlives politics’. I think this is a realm where what can happen is changing lives. I think the way that you really make change is to touch somebody in the most ineffable of ways. An artistic experience can do that. And, more than that, there’s a whole lot of scientific study that talks about neural pathway development and creative problem-solving. So, scientists are on the side of what I always knew.

SS: You’ve said before, and just alluded to it now, that the ArtsFund study reinforces what you’ve seen to be true…can you elaborate?

MS: Over many years, I’ve done a lot of stories that talk about community engagement, or as I was just saying, creative problem-solving. Most of them have an educational focus, but also community-building. Participation in something as simple as singing together can create new kinds of communities, where maybe they didn’t exist before. The results of your impact study confirm all these stories. I’m like, ‘well, of course!’.

SS: You’ve been covering arts and culture in our region for over 30 years. Over the course of that time, what do you think is unique about the Central Puget Sound arts and cultural landscape and how it has evolved?

MS: I think we don’t really understand the breadth and the quantity of what we have. We have everything! I think the cultural community is so varied. We’re rich in areas like contemporary dance, we’re a center for literature, we’re clearly a center for theatre, visual arts as well. This is a center where people come. I think what’s unique about our community in all areas, is a willingness to collaborate and work together. So, what I’ve seen is both a growth in what’s offered, but also a community that has a lot of mutually supportive elements. A third strand of change that touches on social impact, is that when I first started reporting on the cultural community here, it was on individual productions or individual artists. I still do that, but what I see now is less of a divide between professional performances or professional artists and community-based arts and arts that come from growing immigrant communities for example.

SS: The scope of partnership was one element that we uncovered in the study—4 out 5 arts nonprofits are working together with partners outside the sector, with schools, city departments, refugee and immigrant organizations, hospitals and clinics, senior centers, and so much more. How do these trends that you just mentioned plug in to this conversation?

MS: Based on close observation over a long time, what I’ve seen is more intentional partnerships from big organizations, like the Seattle Symphony working with Mary’s Place on the Lullaby Project. The Seattle Art Museum is a great example as well, of really being much more strategic in the kind of partnerships that it’s building with intention to make social change. I think there’s a growing awareness across the city in all sectors that they don’t just exist on an island; that they’re part of an ecosystem—and for an ecosystem to remain healthy all parts of it have to be healthy. Arts organizations are doing what they can to really be intentional about building that health.

SS: What are some ways you’ve seen the arts and cultural sector take on community challenges?

MS: That has started in the Office of Arts and Culture. I think under Randy Engstrom’s leadership the Office of Arts and Cultures’ main mission is to use culture in all of its forms to foster social and racial justice and equity in this city. To have that city department setting the tone sends a message all the way down the line. They’re modeling what they think organizations can do and I see that reflected in the kinds of offerings at major professional organizations.

SS: Where do you see ArtsFund plugging in?

MS: Clearly ArtsFund has played a major role in the health of the city. Before we can even have the social impact conversation, there have to be organizations to have that conversation. So, I think what you do has been pivotal in really shining a spotlight on why arts and culture really matter to our region. If you were not developing board members, if you were not providing funding, if you were not holding organizations up to a certain level of health, the conversations that ensued could not exist.

I think that this study is the next step. I think one of your roles is to try reach beyond the community itself, and try to fold in community members who, as you found in your survey, have attended arts events but who may not think that arts are critical in any aspect of their life. I think your role, if you have the means to do the kinds of studies you have done, is to have hard numbers. Data seems to speak to a large portion of our citizenry in ways that maybe stories of the heart don’t. I may be able to touch 10 people who don’t need the statistics, but the statistics in our data driven society really seem to make an impact.

SS: Why do you think it’s important we be having these conversations now?

MS: Ever since 2008 with the great recession, arts organizations have been really struggling to rebuild their funding. I think that they’re also trying to figure out how to expand their audience base and provide programming that speaks to an increasingly diverse population. In doing so, to make these cultural entities and cultural activities something that is indispensable in our society. I think we need to talk about the social impacts. I think we need to talk about economic impacts. I think we need to talk about community ties. I think we need to talk about what the arts say about who we are. We have increasingly diverse populations that are coming from places and bringing their own cultural traditions with them and they’re important, they’re touchstones. I think every conversation about why arts and culture are intrinsic to who we are as human beings is important. We can’t have enough of those conversations!

SS: You’re the professional interviewer—what should we have asked you? Anything else you wanted to say?

MS: I’m glad that this event is happening, I expect it will be a really fruitful conversation because there are some great minds who are going to be on the panel. Arts and cultural activities not only make us richer and well-rounded human beings, but as you’ve shown, they really do change lives.

Join us at Town Hall on May 17th to continue the conversation. You can purchase your tickets now.

The artwork atop this blog post is entitled ‘Seattle Artist’s Magic’, created by Taylor Hammes.

We Are All Made of Stars: A Brief Conversation with Moby

What do you do when you realize you have everything you think you’ve ever wanted but still feel completely empty? In the summer of 1999, Moby released the album Play, arguably the album that defined the millennium and propelled him to stardom. But then it all fell apart. He’ll discuss the second volume of his memoir, Then It Fell Apart, on May 10 at Seattle First Baptist Church. You can get your tickets now. Before he hits the stage, he sat down to chat with Town Hall’s marketing manager, Jonathan Shipley.

JS: I was curious as to how you navigated and navigate friendships, pre-fame and post. Post-fame you must be leery of anyone befriending you, asking yourself, ‘What do they want from me?’ Friendships you made before you were famous must have been hard to navigate as you became a star.

M: It’s not so much that I question people’s’ motives, it’s more that pre-fame friendships tend to be based around shared circumstances and frames of reference which makes friendships more effortless. It can be hard to navigate resentments and bitterness on the part of old friends.

JS: What celebrities that you’ve hung out with have been positive influences on your life? Which ones, not so much?

M: David Bowie, Lou Reed, and David Lynch have all been wonderful, positive friendships. I’ll avoid that second question—I don’t need more enemies.

JS: Now that you’re on the other side of fame, what skills do you wish you had developed before becoming famous?

M: I honestly have no regrets, nor do I wish I’d done anything differently. I’m grateful for the weird life and perspective I have. Life and perspective are, by definition, the product of the circumstances that led to them.

JS: What did you wish you did differently after Play blew up?

M: Nothing. I love the mistakes I’ve made, as they’ve taught me more than any of the things I ended up doing reasonably well.

JS: Having ‘fallen apart,’ what are you most proud of about yourself after the fact?

M: That I can still, at times, string sentences together.

JS: Are there ways that being a music celebrity better than being, say, an actor?

M: In a way it’s better that I have a lot of creative autonomy. A musician’s work can generally be more bespoke, personal, and sui generis.

JS: You mention being sad and lonely before Play. Post Play, did that amplify it or diminish it? In what ways?

M: Curing loneliness post-Play became compulsive, at least until I got sober.

JS: What sort of emotional connections to audiences are you hoping to make with your music?

M: Ideally, a connection based in honesty, shared experience of the human condition, and service. That might sound cliché, but it’s true.

See Moby discuss his life, and maybe he’ll play a tune or two, on May 10. Get your tickets here.

Also, according to Moby’s Twitter feed, he’s the adopted son of John Waters. John Waters will be at Town Hall on May 29. You should attend that, too! Tickets are on sale now.

Conducting an Interview with Lake Union Civic Orchestra’s Nikolas Caoile

The Lake Union Civic Orchestra (LUCO) is celebrating the retirement of Christoph Chagnard this season. It’s his 20th and final season with the orchestra. The person taking his place is Nikolas Caoile. LUCO has two more concerts to round out Chagnard’s final season. On May 4, Chagnard conducts pieces by Ravel, Schumann, and Debussy at the First Free Methodist Church. On June 14, at the same location, Chagnard and Caoile share the podium in works by Nicolai, Jones, and Shostakovich. More information about those concerts can be found here.

Town Hall’s marketing manager Jonathan Shipley chatted with Caoile, LUCO’s newly appointment music director, about Sibelius symphonies, the Mozart of our time, and what a conductor actually does up there on the podium.

Caoile is currently the Music Director and Conductor of the Wenatchee Valley Symphony Orchestra, and Director of Orchestras at Central Washington University (CWU). Since 2017, Caoile has served as Acting Chair of the Department of Music at CWU and he’s guest conducted with many orchestras including Yakima Symphony, Olympia Symphony, and the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas.

JS: What interested you in being a part of LUCO?

NC: In addition to being talented and dedicated musicians, the members of this orchestra are also fun people. I had already worked with the group as a guest conductor in 2016, and we continually found ourselves laughing and having a good time. When a group loves what they are doing, it comes through in the performance and the music.

JS: What initially got you interested in classical music? What did/do you play?

NC: I’m trained as a pianist and percussionist. I grew up as a member of the Portland Youth Philharmonic, and there were many conductors who mentored me when I expressed interest in pursuing a career as a music director: Huw Edwards, current conductor of the Olympia Symphony Orchestra; Bruce McIntosh, professor emeritus at Willamette University; and Peter Erös, the late music director at the University of Washington.

JS: What are some of your favorite composers/pieces to conduct and why?

NC: Lately, I have been drawn to composers whose language is unique and interesting. Sibelius symphonies, Benjamin Britten operas, Korngold film music. Ravel ballet music.  

JS: What are some unheralded composers you wish had more prominence?

NC: Alban Berg needs more attention—he tended to use very, very large orchestras, but only used the instruments sparingly. John Luther Adams (not to be confused with John Adams) has written an amazing body of works inspired by the natural world. If you look at the prolific and varied output by Daron Hagen, well, I think he could be regarded as the Mozart of our time. He has complete control of his voice.

JS: What does a conductor bring to a performance that the layperson may not realize?

NC: The conductor makes no sound, but yet is somehow responsible for coalescing many musicians into one whole. The conductor is an active, collaborative participant but communicates silently through gesture. As well as directing the musicians, I feel that the conductor also “shows” the audience what to listen for in the music. Symphony orchestra is not a spectator sport, but as the most physically active person on the stage, the conductor can help “describe” what is happening in the music.

Watch Chagnard and Caoile coalesce the musicians soon. Buy your tickets now.

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!

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.

In Session with Psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb

Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist. Lori Gottlieb is also a human. She, herself, went to psychotherapy. Soon, on April 10 at the Summit on Pike, she’ll talk to Luke Burbank about her career as a psychotherapist, what it means to give advice, and ponders the question of what we all want in life. Get tickets to the event here. To give us a preview of her story she spoke recently with Town Hall’s marketing manager Jonathan Shipley.

JS: What got you interested in psychology and therapy to begin with? Was it your major in college or did you have interest even before that?

LG: I did a lot of other things that seemed unrelated to therapy. I worked as a film and television executive in Los Angeles. I went to medical school. I was a journalist for many years and then I became a therapist. And so all of the things that I was doing were related to therapy in a way that I didn’t realize at the time. When I was working in film and television I was dealing with fictional stories, but they all had a lot to do with human struggles. And then I went to medical school and I saw real human struggles. I later became a therapist and I got to help change people’s lives.

JS: As a kid were you already analyzing yourself, your friends, your parents?

LG: I think I was always curious about psychology when I was growing up. I was very curious about friend dynamics; about my family dynamics. I never envisioned doing it for a living, but I was always curious about why people do what they do.

JS: So how did you finally make the leap into being a psychotherapist?

LG:  I’d been working as a journalist for many years. I was really happy as a journalist, but then I had a baby and I realized that there were no verbal humans to talk to during the day. And I thought I need colleagues. I need to get out of the house. So I called the dean at Stanford Medical School, which is where I had been in medical school, and I asked her if I should come back and do psychiatry and she just laughed at me. ‘Wait, you want to come back to medical school?’ She knew about me from medical school and so she knew that I was really interested in the relationships with the patients and being involved in people’s lives as a guide, as someone that they could rely on over time. And so she suggested that I get a graduate degree in clinical psychology and go that route, which is what I did.

JS: What are the skill sets involved in being a psychotherapist? What do you bring to the table?

LG: Well, all of the training and credentials and everything that needed to happen in order to get licensed and then to learn the craft being a therapist. I think that my most significant asset is that I’m a card-carrying member of the human race. That I know what it’s like to be a person in the world. And I think that it’s really important for therapists to be human and to not position themselves as the expert up on high, but as another human being who understands what it’s like to struggle with the daily problems of living.

JS: Is there some amount of hubris involved? That you can change their lives?

LG: We can help them change their lives, but we can’t change their lives for them. They have to do the work and we can be there to help smooth the path so that they can see why they’re getting in their own way. So many times people who come to therapy are shooting themselves in the foot in ways that they don’t realize. I think that I can hold up a mirror to them and say, ‘look at this reflection,’ and do it in a very compassionate way. Say, ‘This is something that you should pay attention to because you keep ending up in the same place and not understanding why. Here are the clues as to why.’

JS: This is probably difficult to identify, but are there any commonalities among all your patients? What is it that we want? Love and acceptance. Is there anything more than that?

LG: We are all very different people in almost every respect. And yet, I think at our core, all of us, we are dealing with the same questions about how to love and be loved. What is it like to be vulnerable? What do we do with our pain? What do we do with the things that we can’t change, and how do we change the present and the future? Why is it so hard to change, even when we really want to? Why do we keep resisting change? How do we deal with the fact that we have a limited time on the planet and we’re all going to die? How do we live the life that we want to live in the limited time that we have to do so? I think all of those questions are the questions that every single person is dealing with in very different ways.

JS: When did you decide that you, yourself, needed therapy?

LG: I was going through something and I didn’t think about calling a therapist. The first person that I thought about calling was my best friend. You can’t go to your friends for therapy, but she said, ‘maybe you should go somewhere where you’re not being a therapist. Maybe you should talk to someone.’ And that’s when I decided to go talk to someone. And as it happens with many of my own patients, the turn of events in my life that took me to therapy was just a symptom to a larger problem.

JS: I am curious as to what you think of the bootstrap mentality—that we can just solve our own problems and that going to therapy is just a sign of weakness.

LG: Sometimes what happens is people who actually find themselves struggling don’t think that their problems are significant enough to get help for them. With our emotional health, if we’re feeling something we often think, ‘well, what do I have to complain about. I’m really functional and all these people in my life love me.’ But struggles are struggles. Therapy isn’t a place to go complain. It’s a place to help you with your struggles. A lot of people feel there is a hierarchy of pain. I don’t think there is. Pain is pain. Your pain isn’t less because you don’t have cancer. Your pain isn’t less because you happen to have a loving partner. Your pain is your pain.

JS: What are some tools for someone battling depression?

LG: Minimizing our feelings or trying to pretend them away doesn’t work. In fact, if we keep up with that stiff upper lip mentality, they get bigger. Suppressing your feelings does not make them go away. People are afraid of those unpleasant feelings. They don’t realize that our feelings are like a compass—they guide us to say something’s not right, something’s not working, and something needs to be paid attention to. I think it’s really important for someone who experiences depression to get help as early on as they can.

JS: Why did you start your advice column in the Atlantic?

LG: I love advice columns. I think there are so many talented columnists out there and I think they’re really useful. I think that a lot of times people need an outside person to look at their situation. I wanted to do an advice column with a twist—I wanted to do what a therapist does, which is to help people see their situation from a different perspective and through a different lens. By doing that maybe they can see their problem differently and make a better choice. I’m not telling them what to do, I’m guiding them in terms of looking at their situation from a different angle. 

JS: You must be popular at dinner parties.

LG: There are so many reactions when someone knows you’re a therapist. Some people feel like, somehow, we have x-ray vision into their souls. They don’t want to sit next to you because they don’t want you to analyze them. It’s not like if you sat next to a gynecologist you’d ask if they were about to give you a pelvic exam. I think I understand where it’s coming from, though. I think there’s this this fear: how will you see me? Will you see my shame? My vulnerability? All the things that I try to hide in polite company, will you be able to see it?

JS: What do you wish you knew in your youth that you know now?

LG: I wish I knew that we’re all more the same than different. I think the ways we imagine our lives compared to other people’s lives are often grossly inaccurate. And that we are really all okay the way we are, and even if we need work and even if we are working on changing that, we’re still together in this.

I know this sounds cheesy, but I think that so many times people feel isolated in their situation, their feelings, what they’re going through, and they don’t realize that they’re not alone. Quite the opposite. Everyone is struggling, some in big ways and some in small ways. They’re human. We all are.

We need to have a lot of compassion for ourselves. The more compassion we have for ourselves, the more we have compassion for others.

JS: What don’t you know yet that you wish you did?

LG: I start to look at these existential questions that we all have about love and mortality and I’m made aware that we all have a limited time on the planet. You should live your life in a way that you want to live it and not wait for some unknown date in the future to really do the things that you want to do. And I think we can all live every day that way.

Join Lori Gottlieb and Luke Burbank on April 10 at the Summit on Pike. Tickets are available now.

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