Artist-in-Residence Gretchen Yanover: Final Findings

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As cellist Gretchen Yanover wraps up her time as Artist-in-Residence at Town Hall, she shares her final reflections about the beauty — and sometimes discomfort — of creation. We’re delighted to have shared this time with Gretchen, and hope you’ll join us for her final Findings Night: Cello in Connection performance on 1/21.

You can read more thoughts from Gretchen on her personal web log.


Final Findings

I feel a lot more at peace than I did a month ago! I am inspired by so many people I’ve seen through Town Hall and beyond, sharing their messages in different ways. There is so much good work happening. I can accept what I do seem to do pretty well, which is to offer some beauty and some comfort. I can also offer some discomfort (but not too much, or I seem to hurt myself). I took stock of the pieces I’ve created since my last album of original music, and I now have enough pieces for a 5th album. Yay! 

What have I seen? 

One of the events I (virtually) attended in the final month of my residency was a presentation by Benjamin Hunter & Joe Seamons on re-defining protest through music. I’ve had the honor of working with Ben, and appreciate what he shares about music and our human experience. I was inspired by the themes of practice and protest and how they intertwine. I decided I wanted to present two songs which have both resonance and dissonance when combined: Lift Every Voice And Sing, and America the Beautiful

I also attended an in-person concert by Homayoun Sakhi and Salar Nader, which felt like going into another world. The audience was beautifully diverse, and being together in physical space with the sound and lights all helped draw me into another state of mind. The performance of Homayoun Sakhi and Salar Nader was absolutely astounding. There was virtuosity, incredible rhythmic interplay, as well as entrancing beauty. Almost no words were spoken the entire evening. I love that with instrumental music, I can let my mind focus on the sound, or let the sound carry my mind freely…I didn’t know what to expect, and even when I arrived, I wasn’t sure what to expect as there were no selections listed on the program. There is a certain thrill in not knowing what will happen next (in this context!) and there is for me, also a bit of anxiety of not knowing what is on a program. This final blog post is also serving as program notes for my January 21st Findings Night. The subtitle of the program is Cello in Connection, and I am with joy giving shout-outs to many connections that helped bring me to this place.

Lift Every Voice (America the Beautiful) And Sing 

Welcome into discomfort. I have been given the space to go places musically I have not gone… 

2 part untitled piece with The Willows dancing 

“The Willows” dance duo is comprised of my daughter, Willow-Anastasia, and her friend, Willow-Iris. The two met through eXit Space school of dance, and they now attend the same Seattle public high school. I was thrilled that they agreed to create choreography and perform with me. The first part of the piece grew from the introduction to Taken From Us. I told the Willows the context of the piece (of me trying to depict running from violence), and asked what they felt in the music. They felt the fearful, anxious urgency, and they created movement around it. I watched their dance, and responded to their choreography as I grew and adapted the piece. The second part of the piece is my depiction of a journey out of the aftermath of violence which grew out of music I created for LeVar Burton’s reading of Nisi Shawl’s story, Black Betty. As I watched the Willows dancing, I felt the hope and beauty of their youth and resilience, and I changed the music to add some optimism into the loop I build. They embody the “why” we persist. 

I follow the 2 part piece with a composition that represents strength. I want to venture into painful territories to express those feelings; however, I wish to stay on the path of optimism as much as possible…

New composition for Different Drummer 

Different Drummer is my band. Anna and Brandon, the core members of the quartet, are my people. It is the one project I play in just for the love and fun of it! Anna and Brandon are my colleagues in Northwest Sinfonietta, and we’ve known one other for years. Our paths converged in the classical realm, but we all have different branches to our musical lives — fiddling for Brandon, jazz for Anna, and my journey from indie rock & electronic music to looping. I love how we work and play together. 

There was no grand scheme in mind as I began to write for and perform as a soloist; however, I did eventually see that the solo path was one in which I could sustain myself financially. It is occasionally lonely. Anna and Brandon have been patient and kind with me over the years, as I navigate my level of involvement in a project that isn’t career-driven. It has been amazing to be financially supported by Town Hall in my own work, and given resources for collaboration. And so, I have now written my first composition for our ensemble, joined by our Different Drummer for this piece, Ben Thomas (who is releasing his own album of original tango music on January 27th)! I envisioned swirling bubbles, playing children, and general ease and joyousness. 

A bit of background on the band: Anna started this group as a trio of bass, violin, and tap! Mark Mendonca was the amazing tap-dancing original Different Drummer. I joined for a few tunes, and Anna and Brandon continued to create arrangements that included me until I was also a part of the ensemble. Perhaps in a foreshadowing of this chosen band name, we proceeded to have a number of “different drummers,” leading to our current Principal Percussionist, Don Dieterich. 

Greenland Man’s Tune – I’ve asked Anna and Brandon to perform one of my favorites of their arrangements. This is a traditional Irish tune, and they play it with beauty and grace. 

Sluggo ( in 3 movements) – Anna definitely has a wide expressive range in her compositions, and this one is groovy and fun! There is, of course, a story… It involves a slug that found its way onto the motherboard of an automated entry gate to Anna’s driveway… The first movement is “crawling along”, followed by “zappy”, and ending with “crawling along” once more — this time perhaps into The Great Slug Beyond… 

Be the Butterfly 

In 2021, I wrote a composition commissioned by Dr. Sarah Bassingthwaighte for her flute choir at Seattle Pacific University. I searched some of my favorite poets for inspiration and landed upon Reagan Jackson’s poem, On Being Black And A Butterfly. I incorporated looped sections (played by alto and bass flute parts) with the text of the poem spoken by the players. I visited the flute choir in rehearsal back in October, and it was lovely to meet the students working on the piece. Dr. Bassingthwaighte had herself on the bass flute part, and so the ensemble was working without a conductor. They felt like it would be very helpful to have a conductor, and so I was recruited for that position! It was fantastic to be a part of the process of bringing the piece to life this fall. We premiered the piece in November at SPU, and the ensemble was kind enough to create a recording of the piece in December, which Dr. Sarah mixed. (I edited a new version that did not involve looping pedals or spoken text.) I am thrilled to present the piece in this form at Town Hall, with Nia-Amina Minor dancing. Nia-Amina and I first connected through a virtual collaboration. Scholar and filmmaker B.J. Bullert combined my music with Nia-Amina’s dance and Jourdan Imani Keith’s poetry in her film, Space Needle — A Hidden History. I was introduced to Reagan Jackson through poet Jordan Chaney, another very inspiring human. Reagan gave her blessing for me to speak the poem. The piece is dedicated to my sister, Natasha. 

My “Duh/Aha” convergence  

I’ve been thinking a lot about naming my pieces — finding those few words that will express what I hope to articulate through my music… and it didn’t occur to me until very recently that there are so many powerful phrases in poetry — phrases I may be able to utilize as titles for my compositions (with the blessing of the poets, and attribution…) I had already just done this very thing with the piece Dr. Bassingthwaighte commissioned me to write for the SPU flute choir. My boyfriend, Ben Thomas has used many lines from poems as titles for his compositions. I’m so happy to have this realization and to hopefully utilize (and hopefully also in some way amplify) poetry. I’m honored to be connected to poets such as Jordan Chaney, Abby Murray, Jordan Imani Keith, and Reagan Jackson. I hope people introduce me to more poets who have spoken on themes related to the idea of home. I feel like there was a convergence with the experiences around poetry from the Town Hall presentations (of Allison Cobb, and Ian Boyden with Shin Yu Pai), and going into the process to present Be the Butterfly, along with the continued realization/internal reassurance that I don’t have to come up with so much myself…. I will continue to read poetry, and search for phrases that resonate as potential titles for my pieces. I will joyfully point to those poems so that others can explore those words if they wish. 

Final set: 

Part 1: (a feeling of home) 

Part 2: (loss—go where…?) 

Part 3: (the spiral shell, the iridescence inside, what holds us) 

I wrote about this set of pieces in my mid-residency reflections blog post. I know that whatever feelings I have around loss of home are infinitesimally small in relation to the losses actually experienced by my ancestors, by Indigenous peoples, by people experiencing homelessness right now…  It is with all this in mind that I wrote this music. 

As a related side note: through a series of kindnesses (which involved a couple attending my Town Hall Scratch Night), I was nominated for and awarded a microgrant in December! I donated some of the money to WHEEL, the women’s shelter on the block south of Town Hall (on the other side of the large LMC apartment project). I also donated to the Tenants Union of Washington State, and Town Hall. I really appreciate the support, which I could then turn around in some support! 

With gratitude, I thank every person at Town Hall who has supported me through this residency. I have been floored by the level of care given to every aspect of my involvement with Town Hall. This has been an incredible, enriching experience, and I’m so glad for the opportunity to perform my music on the Great Hall stage, along with the gift of seeing so many fantastic presentations over the last few months. I will look to make more connections with people creating film content as a place my music can potentially enhance what is being communicated, and I know also that I’ll be back in the studio when the time is right to record my 5th album! I so appreciate this connection to Town Hall, and I look forward to attending many more events here in the future.

Apply Now to be Town Hall’s Winter/Spring 2022 Artist-in-Residence

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Town Hall Seattle is seeking to work with one Artist in Residence (AiR) from March to May 2022. For our next AiR, we’re seeking a writer. Some of our past writers in residence have included Elise Chavez and Jordan Alam. We invite applications from both published and unpublished writers working in genres that may include poetry, fiction, non-fiction, journalism, and playwriting.

The AiR will be expected to attend TH events and contribute to audience engagement and the life of our community through activities that might include blogging about events after they take place, serving as an on-stage interlocutor or podcast correspondent, or curating an evening of programming. The AiR will produce two programs 1) an evening of work-in-progress; and 2) a final public event in which the artist shares what they worked on during the residency.

If you are a writer based in Seattle, or King County, we welcome you to apply.

– Individuals must be at least 18 years old and a resident of Seattle/King County when you apply through completion of your project.
– NOT be a high school, undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral student enrolled in any degree program related to your artistic work or career
– Individuals should not be a former artist in residence nor have had your work commissioned by Town Hall
– Current consultant, advisor, staff, board members, and their family members are not eligible to apply

Applicants are encouraged to check out Town Hall’s calendar of events: https://townhallseattle.org/event-listings/

Town Hall Seattle is prioritizing applicants that come from historically under-represented communities. Creators of color are strongly encouraged to apply.

Apply below. Applications due by Tuesday, February 1, 2022. Applications will close at 5 p.m.

A 3-month period between March to May 2022.
Stipend: $3,000 + up to $1,000 in production support.
Additional benefits: access to Town Hall’s facilities and events.

Apply Here

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

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

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

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

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

A Letter from Joshua Roman to the Town Music Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

With deep gratitude, 

 

 

 

Joshua Roman

Artistic Director, Town Music 

Town Hall Seattle 

 

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

Program Director Shin Yu Pai on Highlights from our Fall Calendar

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Shin Yu Pai is no stranger to Town Hall Seattle. She began her relationship with us back in 2018 as an Inside/Out Artist in Residence for the Phinney/Greenwood neighborhood, curating programs that brought new local voices like author Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma, Kathleen Alcalá, Rex Hohlbein of Facing Homelessness, and artist Susan Robb to the Town Hall Stage. In 2020, she wrote the vital blog piece, Town Hall Land Acknowledgement: Beyond Gestures, and pitched the concept to produce what would eventually become Lyric World, her podcast series centering on poets and poetry by BIPOC writers, with an emphasis on AAPI authors.

Over the years, Shin Yu’s presence at Town Hall has brought intention and community focus to our programming; it only seems natural that she became our Program Director earlier this year. Town Hall is thrilled to have Shin Yu onboard— read on to learn about what she looks forward to the most this season.

Season notes from Program Director, Shin Yu Pai

Shin Yu Pai, Program Director

In many ways, 2021 feels brand new. As we begin to safely host in-person events, I am honored to develop programs that reflect new relationships with community partners, center conversations on racial equity, and increase the visibility of work done by BIPOC creators. (Learn more about our racial equity statement and commitments here.) Below is a small preview of what the season holds:

Our Arts & Culture series elevates the work of local artists and brings world-renowned cultural icons to Seattle audiences. This fall is no exception as we welcome national luminaries like Pixar cofounder Alvy Ray Smith and Guggenheim Fellow Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin, along with South Seattle Emerald founder Marcus Harrison Green and illustrator Susanna Ryan of Seattle Walk Report in conversation with Crosscut‘s Knute “Mossback” Berger

The new season also offers more musical opportunities than ever before. Our five-concert Global Rhythms series (tickets on sale soon!) begins in October with Quetzal, a Los Angeles-based rock group founded by Chicano Artivista and guitarist Quetzal Flores. Further into the series, we’ll hear from master of the rubâb Homayoun Sakhi, Korean shamanic folk-pop band Ak Dan Gwang Chil (ADG7), and other exciting artists. 

 Bridging the realms of literature and music, The Bushwick Book Club Seattle will present their entire 9-concert series in The Forum, including songs inspired by Michele Zauner’s Crying in H Mart and a tribute to children’s author Beverly Cleary

Gage Academy of Arts founder Gary Faigin returns to host a series of conversations with visual artists, including Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo of Lead Pencil Studio and critically-acclaimed portraitist Rose Frantzen. Later in the season, our Short Stories Live series makes a grand return.

Town Hall’s Community Partnerships start the season strong with a mayoral candidate forum presented by Inspire Washington. Later this fall, look for several free, interactive racial equity workshops, the first of which will be led by Seattle-based MIT author and speaker Ruchika Tulshyan

Our Civics series brings New York Times best-selling author Keisha N. Blain, journalist and former White House aide Keith Boykin, youth literacy advocate Tracy Swinton Bailey, radio host Thom Hartmann, and many more thought leaders to our stages for thought-provoking discussions on social and political issues. 

 Last but not least, our Science series explores topics like longevity with Dr. Nir Barzilai and Dr. Nathan Price of the Institute for Systems Biology, the response of plants and animals to climate change with natural historian Thor Hanson, and a lifetime of musings on animals with author Susan Orlean. Town Hall and Grist will also present Dr. Rupa Marya and Raj Patel as they explore systemic racism and its impact on the human body. 

So much more awaits us as the season progresses and I’m excited to bring even more diverse events to Town Hall this year. You can see the full list of upcoming events and purchase tickets on our website; new events are being added every day so check back often. And if you have ideas for events you would love to see on our stages, let us know! 

– Shin Yu and the Town Hall Seattle Team

A More Perfect Version of Ourselves

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“To tell a story of Seattle.” “A looooong discussion about the kind of city we want to share.” These phrases don’t appear in Town Hall’s mission statement but they’ve become a shorthand for the goal of our perpetual, expansive calendar. It’s inevitable and appropriate that Town Hall should ultimately be described by what we do, and not how we do it—but it’s at odds with our DNA.

Underneath our busy calendar is an essential passivity. Town Hall was founded as a collective resource to support other non-profits. While we program some of our own events, we are at heart a tool, waiting to be picked up by other people, and other organizations. This makes us different from most cultural producers; even the events we program ourselves are designed to complement the work of our community partners.

To be maximally useful Town Hall has long prided itself on what we’ve called “an architecture of inclusivity”, designed to encourage participation and help people feel at home. Low ticket prices would mean low barriers to attendance in the pews. Low rental rates would mean low barriers to presenting from our stages. A program philosophy of saying “yes to the good ideas of others” would mean the community itself determines the defining events of the Town Hall calendar. An intentional informality would help us feel welcoming, even while high production standards elevate professional and community-based presenters alike.

It’s a great system and we’ve been justifiably proud of what we’ve created. But a system is only as good as its inputs—and if those inputs are limited, the output is inherently limited. (This is officially the end of the tech metaphors.)

Our system hasn’t created a deeply inclusive place—owing to that passivity at our heart. Town Hall itself is the product of a network of people and institutions who call it home, and that network is overwhelmingly white. Despite our desire to be welcoming, historically not enough BIPOC artists or BIPOC-led non-profits have seen Town Hall as the right place to express their ideas or creativity. Many people don’t know about Town Hall (we’ve been around for 22 years, but we’re still pretty small). Still others know about it, but don’t see themselves or their concerns represented in our calendar. Whatever the reason, if we embrace the goal of a calendar that truly reflects the full breadth and diversity of our community we have a long way to travel. And that journey begins by rejecting our passivity and embracing a more active approach to the community we want to support beyond our walls, and foster within them.

And so our four years of equity work—four years and still just beginning—is a declaration that a mere architecture of inclusion is no longer good enough. And though it might have felt sufficient, it never was. If you read the Equity Commitments accompanying this post, you can understand the concrete steps we plan to take in the coming year, and you can even hold us to account.

Town Hall isn’t a social justice organization, but we are vested in modeling a more just society; our equity journey is toward a “more perfect version of ourselves.” Becoming a place where as many as possible feel truly welcome is essential to delivering our mission; it’s essential to our vision of a story of this city told through many voices; and it’s essential to any meaningful discussion—looooong or short—about the kind of city we want to share.

 

-Wier

Looking Toward a Brighter Future Next Season

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In a typical year, June marks the end of our season. Same thing in 2021— but truly nothing else about the past year+ has been typical. Since last March we’ve produced over 250 events, only a -handful in our actual home; over 100,000 viewers tuned in to our digital stage, from Ballard and Boston, from London and Lake City. Some of the coolest events were only possible because of this remote approach, like dream discussions pairing authors from across the country with interviewers around the world (Elizabeth Lesser and Jane Fonda, Steve Davis and Chelsea Clinton, Kehinde Andrews and Russell Brand, J Mascis and Richard Thompson). Amid the darkness of the pandemic it felt like a small gift simply to do (a version of) what we do: connecting authors, ideas, artists and activists with curious, engaged Seattleites. 

Last year also allowed for exciting growth close to home, through new relationships, initiatives and clear focus on our equity goals. We fostered deeper collaborations with partners like Northwest African American Museum and Urban Native Education Alliance, found new partnerships with organizations like Young Women Empowered and YouthShallLead, launched a brand new ticketing and donation system called my.THS, and hosted three remote artist residencies, with Hailey Tayathy, Joshua Roman, and Timothy White Eagle. 

All good—even great—stuff. But all that gratitude aside, we also confess we’re weary of screens, and eager for the chance to be our truest Town Hall self, by offering shoulder to shoulder, face to face experiences in our building. (Remember that place?)

It’ll take a while to tidy up and air out the joint so plan on a customarily light summer, and a return to new normalcy in September. As we finalize work on our building flow, safety modifications, and “front-of-house” protocols, we’re aligning our approach with the latest guidance from King County Public Health and our colleagues in the regional cultural sector.

Meanwhile, in nearly every conversation we’re asked, “How is Town Hall doing financially?” Like most organizations the pandemic required creativity, and difficult choices. To survive the last 14 months, we weathered two separate staff-wide furloughs, cut three full-time positions, enacted significant pay and hour cuts on leadership, and laid off nearly all of our event staff. Together these measures reduced the budget by about 35%—but they kept the majority of our administrative staff intact. Combine this strategy with humbling generosity from our individual, foundation and corporate supporters, and sustaining commitments from our membership, and we’re in a strong position to ramp up to full operations in September. 

It was emotional to have only six months back in the renovated building before shutting our doors. Soon, just over two months, we’ll throw them wide and welcome you back into Town Hall. You can expect a blended program this fall, featuring in-person and livestream attendance at a mixed calendar of programs originating from both 8th and Seneca and the world beyond. Until then, revisit the media library to catch something extraordinary you might have missed—and take five minutes to create your account on our new ticketing system my.THS

Town Hall belongs to all of us, and we can’t wait to invite you back home…

Wier

PS: We’re Taking a Summer Break! The Town Hall administrative offices will be closed from July 2 – July 11.

Town Music | A Conversation with Artistic Director Joshua Roman

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Our Town Music chamber series has returned! In this age of COVID-19, the season has been transformed. Town Music, in the coming weeks and months, will explore how digital spaces can enhance our experience of art, rather than simply remind us of what we are missing.

Joshua Roman, Town Music’s Artistic Director, has spent much time in quarantine thinking about what a season of concerts can be without a concert hall for everyone to gather in. He sat down with correspondent Jonathan Shipley to discuss what it means to be a curator in this day and age and what silver linings there may be in a pandemic.


JS: What’s the role of a curator?

JR: To present a view of what chamber music is right now. It’s my responsibility to have the audience trust me. I don’t want to push audiences, I want to pull them into new discoveries. I want to develop a circle of collaboration with them. I want them to experience those discoveries and have that discovery bring them joy.

JS: Has that definition of being a curator changed with the pandemic upon us?

JR: The pandemic has given me a lot more time to think. That’s been the most meaningful thing for me – to think about what’s been done (what we’ve always done), and what we can do now to change things and experiment; to find out what is possible.

JS: You mentioned you have been asking yourself, ‘What is chamber music today’? What answer have you come up with?

JR: It’s constantly evolving. There has been a lot more emphasis, particularly in the last decade or so, on new music. That’s very exciting. I’m always wanting to showcase new music, while looking back on those old favorites. Remember that those old favorites that we know and love were brand new when they were played. Audiences were eager to hear the latest from Beethoven, or Brahms, or whomever. What was new music back then is now classical music. I want to honor that tradition.

JS: Has that evolved at all as you thought about the coming season? Do you not only want to reflect what it is today but push it forward towards some new future?

JR: I’m a preacher’s kid, but I’ve also always had a rebellious spirit. I appreciate the structure of something but, also, what can I do to push it? Chamber music is no longer funded by kings. Chamber music today is being present and creating something new while honoring the past.

JS: You have to know the rules before you break them.

JR: Exactly. I love learning history. I love context. I love connecting something from the past to the present. What is the same as it was during Beethoven’s time? What is different? From that, what can I apply to a coming concert?

JS: What does it mean to curate concerts when you can’t have concerts in a traditional sense?

JR: It’s changed my thoughts. We all want to experience a live concert. There’s nothing like sitting in an audience hearing a piece performed live. Now, though, there are no geographic barriers. If you have access to the internet, you can listen to a concert. But how can we make that more tangible? How can we make it a less passive activity? I’m thinking about that. It’s also giving me a chance to be more nimble. Instead of planning out a concert for, say, next February, I can respond to what’s happening in the world much sooner. If we want to reflect Seattle this week, we can.

JS: Not only is the nation facing the pandemic, we’re confronting racial inequities in this new uplift of the Black Lives Matter movement. What does it mean to curate as a white man in this era?

JR: We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to do better, to be better. My white privilege can help. Money, relationships, capital, space, attention, performers. I am blessed with resources. I want to allocate those resources that address the issues the best that I can.

I have been asking myself, ‘Am I the right person to do this? If not, can I change to be the right person? Or do I give it to someone better suited?’

JS: What are you, as a white man, doing to remove your blind spots in regards to race?

JR: Sit. Listen. Learn. I’ve attended seminars and discussions on DEI. I always welcome all these conversations.

JS: Does the pandemic give you any silver linings? Does it help that perhaps there is no going back to normal?

JR: The jury is out on that one. Each of us as a human being has an opportunity to sit back and see how things fall, or reach up and have a hand in how it all works out. We can take on these long-standing issues and better ourselves.

JS: Are there music organizations that have inspired you by what they’ve been doing during COVID?

JR: The Seattle Symphony. They were one of the first orchestras to adapt to the pandemic and it’s been really successful. The Music Academy of the West is another one. It’s been really heartening to see young musicians evolving, not only themselves, but music during this COVID time.

JS: What are you most excited about the coming season?

JR: I’m excited but also nervous. I’m excited to be nervous about all of this. This is all new. We’re all going into this together without knowing the outcome. There’s this vulnerability that I think everyone has been feeling. We’re not entirely in control and that’s both frightening and exciting. The creative spirit wants to explore and if we are all fully present with the right questions we can find meaningful answers.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


Click here to find out more and become a subscriber of Town Music during the 2020-21 season.

An End-Of-Season Message from Wier

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Looking back, I don’t think anyone will remember Town Hall’s 2019-20 as easy, but it certainly started and ended in celebration. This eventful year featured our first (almost!) full season back in our beautifully renovated building, and a return to our nomadic, Inside/Out years with an (almost!) fully virtual program. I reflected a bit on the highlights of the year in the video below, and I hope you’ll take a look.

I’m in the building once-twice a week, and every time I experience a deep feeling of loss. I wonder when we’ll have a full audience in the Great Hall again; when the building will hum with the energy of multiple events, when we’ll gather for another party in the Reading Room or a pre/post-show drink in the Otto. We don’t know when it will be, but we’re already planning for the time that we can welcome you back, and envisioning how it might work. Here’s our commitment to you for the next season:

  • continued presentation of digitally-produced events
  • livestreaming events that happen once we’re back in the building, in addition to small live audiences when its permitted
  • sustaining our $5 ticket model

Since early March, we’ve offered our digitally-produced events completely free with an option to support us with a donation. Everything you’ve heard about the struggles of non-profits right now is true; and like other organizations, we’re facing decreased revenue and deep impact on our financial stability. Next year’s budget is 65% of our 19-20; to address this shortfall, we’re introducing a $5 charge for our digital events. Though we will continue to offer free tickets to anyone 22 & Under, reintroducing ticket income will allow us to continue to produce at our fullest capability.

Our programming will be dark—and our administrative offices will be closed—from July 3 – July 26. If there is a time-sensitive need while our office is closed, please send us an email at help@townhallseattle.org. We’ll be back in the office on Monday, July 27 returning phone calls and emails. Before we go away for July, be sure to join us for Pramila Jayapal sharing stories of her political and personal history with Naomi Ishisaka on Wednesday, July 1 and a special live episode of Life on The Margins, featuring Ijeoma Oluo, on July 2. We’ll pick up the thread again with a cool program with the Institute for Systems Biology on July 30.

And so here we are—celebrating the start of a new chapter with a new building, and celebrating the start of a new chapter with a new online stage. Wherever we find each other in the year to come, thank you for being essential to Town Hall’s commitment to the truth; to civil discourse; and to strengthening our community, through shared experiences of ideas and arts, at a time when we surely need it.

With gratitude,

Wier Harman
Executive Director

Town Hall Seattle Statement on the Deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd

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Whether seen as individual lives tragically taken, or the latest examples of our nation’s 400 year history of systematic disregard for Black Americans, the heartbreaking deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd over just ten weeks have left our nation—and this community—convulsed with grief. As sad and shocking as these stories are we know that they are just the reported examples of an incomprehensible structural crisis, at once too big and too painful to comprehend.

As individuals and as an institution, Town Hall Seattle shares the pain felt by so many. We are in solidarity with our Black and Brown colleagues and community members in the fight for justice against police brutality and the institutionalized racism that enables it.

Town Hall is committed to becoming an anti-racist organization. We have made specific commitments around our present and future operations, with the goal of modeling the society we want to live in. We have a very long way to go toward this goal; more information about that process and our commitments is here.

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