Town Hall mid-residency reflections

In the middle…. (November reflections) 

I’m probably right where I should be now—a mix of feelings: inspired, overwhelmed, reassured, anxious… Here is what has been on my mind. 

New piece written for my string trio 

Getting the AIR position filled me with swirling thoughts of happiness… and then the reality set in of creating content to present. I set to work almost right away on writing a string trio for my “band” (with Anna Doak and Brandon Vance) to play—something joyous. I was pretty nervous to have them read it through, and waited until after my “scratch” night to meet up with them. Happily, they seemed pleased, and mostly asked to do some repeats to extend the piece. There’s edits I heard that I wanted after hearing the music “in real life”, but overall it felt really nice to have my friends play this new work—my first time writing for our ensemble. 

Desperate desire to do more 

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/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…) On one hand, I think about how infinitely insignificant I am as an individual (which is actually a reassuring thought, in the context of agonizing over my individual actions—which is not to absolve myself of responsibility, but to remind myself to keep things in perspective). When I think of my work in the grand scheme, I can calm down and remind myself that calming at least some people down seems to be something I do pretty well, and that has its own worth. On the other hand, I want to find ways to speak up. I’ve previously been so concerned with not alienating anyone (after realizing that people with a rather wide variety of world views connect with my music) that I tried to avoid commenting on much… It seemed “acceptable” to comment on issues of race (on social media), because it how could anyone question me, as a brown woman, bringing up race? (although I did “unfriend” one Facebook cello fan/“friend” who could not bring himself to understand the Black Lives Matter movement.) I did create (with the help of many friends) a collaborative piece in 2020 titled Taken From Us, which people can download for free from my website. There’s an invitation to donate to the ACLU through a link next to the piece—I have rotated organizations on the link, between NAACP, Fair Fight, and ACLU. It may inspire some contributions, and it lets people know something of my social values. I have ideas on how to share another track in this spirit—more to come. 

Finger injury 

Mid-month, I tweaked my left index finger somehow, leading to sharp nerve pain if I move “wrong”. I’ve been trying to move slowly, still playing cello carefully, and getting some housework help from my daughter. I’m trying to take the opportunity to re-focus and catch up on reading/writing (carefully!) and program watching… Thankfully, x-rays did not show arthritis or any other serious damage. 

Acceptance of limitations 

There’s only so much I can “say” without words or images. I’m accepting that. And, I realize I’d like to connect more intentionally with film makers who are working on projects that I find meaningful. It hasn’t been something I feel like I can pursue in the scope of this residency, but it has inspired me to work toward this. 

Taking things away. 

Back to this idea, which I saw again in Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo’s presentation/talk. As a fun aside, it was a joy to see Annie and Dan in conversation, as I’ve known them for many many years (which becomes evident at one point in their presentation, when a photo of me appears on screen as a part of their latest project with the light rail station, and they explain that I was Annie’s first cello teacher when they moved to Seattle!) 

It was amazing to see what Annie and Dan did with their scanning machine, looking at all the structures attached to buildings when you take the buildings away… and their exploration of negative space in nature/forest landscapes. This theme seems to be recurring in different ways, and I’m definitely utilizing it in my music. 

Rent increase 

I've been a renter for my whole adult life. For the last 7 years, I’ve been renting a one bedroom apartment in Seattle. A few years ago, we converted our big walk-in closet (with two doors and a window) into a sleeping nook so that my daughter could have her own tiny space. My latest rent increase notice arrived last month, an amount which would bring my rent to around a 70% increase from when I first moved in. This felt like a breaking point. There was an irony to working through a piece of mine that I wrote to evoke a feeling of home, of comfort… That piece uses my 4 open, “home” strings as a plucked ostinato. After this particular emotional break, I kept the melodic themes and removed the “home” ostinato from underneath. I created a new sound landscape for the melody that reflected the pain and uncertainty I feel around this idea of home. I think about the absurdity of land ownership as a concept. I grapple with living in Seattle, where I was raised—the only place I’ve known—and how it breaks my heart now. I don’t want to stay in pain, so musically, I once again create a transformation--this time from the new ostinato, into something calm and comforting. 

Dance with The Willows 

My daughter, Willow, and her friend (also named Willow) are creating choreography for a connected pair of my pieces. This is my first time collaborating with my daughter! The music is evolving as I watch how these two young women respond and move… This is the same pair of pieces for which I was going to have Davee C Carpenter join with drums; however, I realized there was going to be too much happening onstage with the dancing. As I continued to practice, and then have the Willows join, I could feel that this combination would be enough. 


Imagination (and also lack of imagination) is another theme I’ve observed with the Town Hall events I’ve seen. I’m still exploring what this means to me as someone who composes and performs instrumental music.

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