Fall Artist Residency at Town Hall Seattle—reflecting on month one… 

I am so grateful to have this opportunity! My daughter heard me squealing through our apartment when I read the email that I had been chosen to be the Artist in Residence. My head has been spinning with inspiration, new ideas, a bit of stress on the desire to produce some new and compelling work… A residency is an amazing thing. An organization pays an artist to utilize their space, to create and share! It is a joy to work on the stage, getting used to the feeling of being a soloist in the Great Hall. 

I will admit, I had not previously attended events at Town Hall (not including performing there with Northwest Sinfonietta years ago, when Town Hall was our Seattle performance venue). I didn’t realize everything was so accessible, with most events being $5 or free! (Also, many of the virtual events can still be accessed online.) There’s so much to take in… So far, I’ve (mostly virtually) attended talks by: Farah Jasmine Griffin (on the Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature); Keith Boykin (on America’s Overdue Reckoning with Systemic Racism); Nir Barzilai w/Dr. Nathan Price (on the New Science of Longevity); Allison Cobb w/Clayton Alden (about her book, “Plastic, An Autobiography”); Paige Harden (on DNA and social equality), Ross Reynolds (on How Audio Technology Changed the World), Beth Simone Noveck (on Solving Public Problems), Richard Culatta w/Dr. Margaret Morris (on Raising Kids to Thrive in an Online World), and Ian Boyden with Shin Yu Pai (on Boyden’s poetic work, “A Forest of Names”). I encourage you to check out the happenings at Town Hall--click here for their website. 

Wow! That’s more events in one month than I’ve experienced in a long time. I’ve sometimes sat and taken notes, and other times, listened as I drove my daughter to ballet class or worked in the kitchen (oh, the silver linings of attending virtually!) I was wondering if I would find threads, themes than connected ideas in events from one to another, or to my own work… I might make a poster of post-its and take a picture of words that connect. “Imagination” is a word that has appeared in different contexts… 

It was interesting to go from Farah Jasmine Griffin’s ideas about reading and re-reading works (which I hadn’t considered, the way I will listen to a piece of music so many times over, but rarely think to pick up a book once finished, though poetry, yes….) to Keith Boykin, who also referenced poets—and who on some level is, I think, trying to convey similar messages through a different approach in his book on systemic racism. And I am grateful that so many people are trying so many ways to get IN to our consciousness, to find ways to shift our thinking. 

I’ll also admit, I haven’t necessarily gotten on board with every idea I’ve heard, which seems absolutely reasonable. There’s a good platform for interacting with presenters by submitting questions through an app, and everything I’ve seen has been really respectful. It is fascinating to take little dives into a range of topics and reflect on what I take away. Sometimes a fundamental assumption is kicked over, as was the case with Dr. Nir Barzilai who started off by saying that age causes disease, not the other way around. That is certainly a perspective shift! When I was walking around Greenlake today, I was thinking how amazing it is that there’s this beautiful lake in the middle of a city… but of course really, there’s a city around this beautiful lake. At Paige Harden’s talk about DNA, I was really stressed by the presentation (in which Harden claims a genetic basis for social inequality. Though I could acknowledge that she was coming from a theoretically politically progressive perspective, her ideas seemed very problematic). I brought my teenage daughter, and as it turned out, she was really stressed as well. When we got home, I looked at some different reviews of her work, and definitely found scholars who do not agree with her. Of course, one can always find opposing views, and it is certainly worth seeing what ideas are making their way around. I appreciate the opportunities to stretch my thinking in different directions…. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, two of the talks that have been most powerful to me so far were from poet-authors (who both also work/write in a variety of other media). Allison Cobb brought ideas around imagination (or failure of imagination), exploration of what hope means, and looking at how grief, fear, and desire drive us—all of this around plastic! Ian Boyden expressed such thought-provoking ideas around translation, and what happens when one removes elements of a name…. The way he created poetic meditations based on the names of children who perished in an earthquake in China in 2008 was heart-wrenching. I listened to that particular podcast in parts—I started crying as Ian Boyden read his first selection, and decided I would take this interview in over time (also knowing that I could revisit the entire episode). 

When I applied for this residency, I said that one thing I wanted to do was spend time creating music that was emotionally challenging, that I hadn’t found the space to do—namely, to express the energy of carrying on from brutality. In 2020, I did a virtual musical collaboration, based on my piece titled “Taken From Us”. I visualized performing this live, with myself and percussion, possibly incorporating dance… On the piece that was produced and released in 2020, my bf Ben Thomas did hours of heroic sound editing (compiling the dozen wonderful musicians who contributed audio tracks), along with playing percussion. I’m interested in presenting some iteration of the piece, and called my friend, drummer/dj Davee C Carpenter to explore possibilities. We spoke at length about music, race, identity, and the concept of Afrofuturism. Davee C is an amazing musician, someone who can play with a fantastic level of intensity. He is also someone who wishes to live in joy and not dwell in anger and pain. To play this piece with me, he would have to go there. I’m still writing the yet-to-be-named piece that follows the introduction of Taken From Us, but it is taking shape. And the conversation with Davee C led to my next swirl of an idea…. 

I play in a band called Different Drummer. The core players are two of my colleagues/friends from Northwest Sinfonietta: Anna Doak on bass, and Brandon Vance on violin. The group started out with a “different” drummer—tap dancer Mark Mendonca. When he moved on, we for a time performed with Jessie Sawyers, another fantastic tap dancer. After that, we joined with a wonderful percussionist, Don Dieterich. The group performs as a string trio (or duo of Brandon & Anna), and the whole quartet. In the spirit of expressing joy and having Different Drummers, I’m writing my first piece for the group, which will have optional percussion. I’m inviting Davee C to consider performing with us—because if I’m asking him to go there, into pain, I also want him to go somewhere fun musically! This is for my own mental health too. I realize I’m working on (at least?) a few branches of emotion—grief/rage, healing, and joy. If I’m going to spend time thinking about and writing music to depict the aftermath of an attempted lynching, then I’m also going to think about bubbles, smiling babies, dewdrops in sunshine…

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