Category Archives: Blog

From the Remnants of Horror

Music of Remembrance: Ceija
Sunday, May 21, 2017 @ 5:00 pm
Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall, Seattle

Traveling through Zion National Park, I found myself strolling through a slot canyon. I was noticing the smoothly carved rock, cut and shaped by eons of rushing, flowing water. Climbing out of the slots, back up to the road, I noticed a very different rock formation: turbulent, violent waters had crushed against this wall. Continuously.

(Zion National Park. Photo by Kent Karnofski)
(Zion National Park. Photo by Kent Karnofski)

It occurred to me that water has this duplicity – smooth or turbulent, flowing or crushing, friend or foe. We, too, have this parallel with our fellow humans, our neighbors, our friends. Each of us wants to think that we can love and respect each other, live and flow together. But sometimes that doesn’t happen. The human turbulence becomes inhuman and horrific.

The water we can understand, watch, and marvel. The humans? Painful and not understandable. We fail to confront.

Seattle’s Music of Remembrance gives us a way to begin the confrontation, in a space where music, art, and community come together to address conflict and horror.

MOR has commissioned Mary Kouyoumdjian to compose an original piece. Mary has found meaning in meeting and studying people who have lived through genocides; it provides an understanding of her own family. Her grandparents, both maternal and paternal, lived through the Armenian genocide, eventually being displaced to Lebanon, where much of her family still lives.

Mary’s new piece, to open myself, to scream, celebrates the life of Austrian-Romani Ceija Stojka, born in 1933, who survived the Holocaust and internment at Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, and Bergen-Belsen. Ceija was a painter, artist, writer, and musician; she passed away in 2013.

I spoke with Mary about her work, about Ceija, and about being a first-generation Armenian-American.

Mary got to know Ceija through her artwork, books, and, later, documentaries that featured her.

“She was an incredibly joyous person, but then you see the burden of her experience weigh her down from time to time. Understandably. Getting to know people on that level where you start to understand how these events, which happened so long ago, still eat away at them every day… That’s how I connect to these people,” Mary tells me.

Still from an animation by Kevork Mourad.
Still from an animation by Kevork Mourad. (Photo courtesy of MOR)

Mary’s new work is a multimedia piece in 4 movements, each movement inspired by selected paintings of Ceija’s. Each movement features a pre-recorded audio track as a backdrop, on top of which a 5-person ensemble (clarinet, trumpet, violin, cello, and double bass) will play live. The audio playbacks are influenced by Mary’s observation that past events continue to impart sorrowful backdrops to survivors’ lives; they live in the present, but they are also always living in the past. In addition, a hand-painted, 25-minute, animated film by projection artist Kevork Mourad will be synced to the pre-recorded audio, adding a visual experience for the audience.

This is a heavy, emotional space to work in. I asked Mary: Does the work become a burden?

“It can be totally burdensome, and these are not easy topics to confront, but I think it’s good to confront them,” she says. “Given my own family’s history, I’m drawn to these topics, and every time I re-approach them, it gives me a bit more understanding about my own family history and what my family members have gone through… and why my community is where it is in our present day. Selfishly, I’m getting something from it, too.”

Emotionally and intellectually, the enormity of genocide triggers overwhelm. As we’re stymied on how to proceed, this phenomenon continues to occur throughout the world. Music of Remembrance, Ceija’s art, and Mary’s new work give us a way to begin to understand – and discuss – the horrors of genocide. Perhaps, by learning the stories of individual lives and sorrows, some humanity can be regained while opening the door to progress.

Music of Remembrance’s Ceija will take place on Sunday, May 21, 2017 @ 5:00 pm in the Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall, Seattle. With Laura DeLuca (clarinet), Alexander White (trumpet), Mikhail Shmidt (violin), Walter Gray (cello), and Jonathan Green (double bass). Full details are here.

GreatWall_GreatKent_BWxKent Karnofski has been a Seattleite most of his adult life. By day he is a research engineer at a local manufacturing firm, by night he is an extraordinary audiophile. In addition to his work with the Live Music Project, he is the curator and primary contributor at CommunityNoise.blog.

Community update: May 2017

Aaron Grad rocks out on his electric theorbo at the LMP’s 3rd birthday celebration last month.

In this edition: Board update, seeking developers, birthday bliss, local media & grant deadlines, and more!

LMP news

We turned 3 :)
What a phenomenal evening! An astronaut, an electric theorbist, and 60 wonderful guests walked into a bar, and it was magical. We raised cupcakes in a toast, raised funds for the coming year, celebrated local ensembles, and got to hang out with our community. If you’re as sad as we are about waiting a year for the next party, you can relive this one [VIDEO] or join us mid-year for a Calendar Squad shindig.

We’re looking for JavaScript and Python volunteers!
Are you well-versed in JavaScript and Python? We’re looking for volunteers to work with our Web Development team as we prepare to serve other cities in the Fall. Join us this summer as we rebuild our site to make event data easier to discover and explore! If this sounds like fun to you, learn more here or contact us at dev@livemusicproject.org.

We’re growing our board
We’re welcoming two new members to our board and saying farewell to another. Our treasurer, Nadine Stock, has moved on to pursue her growing business. Nadine brought a unique combination of energy, calm wisdom, direct communication, and open-mindedness to our team. We’ll miss you, Nadine!

Meanwhile, Maggie Stapleton joins us as our new treasurer. For several years, Maggie helped launch and cultivate Second Inversion, a 24/7 streaming project from KING FM dedicated to contemporary classical music. She maintains an active role in the orchestral community as a flutist with Puget Sound Symphony Orchestra and Seattle Rock Orchestra. Outside of music, Maggie enjoys middle distance cycling, hiking, rock climbing, cooking, and traveling.

Also joining us is Tim Schmuckal. A teacher, attorney, and strategist, Tim is focusing the second half of his life on helping people and organizations thrive. Currently, this includes his kids, a few non-profits, and a couple friends launching new businesses.

We’re thrilled to be working with Maggie and Tim! (You can also read about our entire team here.)

We felt supported! 
A huge thank you to our donors this month: Heather Bentley, Galen Broderick, Karin Brookes, Christina DePaolo, Jessica Fredican, Ossa Haddas, James Holt, Brendan Howe, Mike Holzinger, Jon Icasas, Nyaradzo Kundidzora, Bryan Lineberry, Jonathan Lyon, Jane Turbiner, and Hannah Turbiner Lyon, Bill Manos, Carol Martin, Sheila Oh, John Reale, Tim Schmuckal, Heather Smith, Jen Steshenko, Daniel Stiner, Paul Taub, Donna Thomas, and an anonymous friend. And to our volunteers and interns: Andrea, Dan, Emily, Hailey, Jeff, Jennifer, Jon, Kent, Lily, Maddie, Marjorie, Nick, Phil, and Veronica. You rock!

(Hey, do you love getting our classical listings? Consider supporting our work with a $10 monthly donation.)

Community announcements

  • Ladies Musical Club of Seattle is conducting new member auditions (May 20)
  • The Seattle Symphonic Band is looking for additional musicians to join the group.
  • Sammamish Symphony Orchestra is auditioning for trumpet and section players in all string sections.
  • KING FM is hiring a program director, webmaster, and more
  • Velocity Dance Center is hiring a technical director
  • KEXP is hiring a traffic assistant
  • On the Boards is hiring a bookkeeper
  • The Seattle Symphony announces its Celebrate Asia Composition Competition seeking to recognize emerging composers interested in Asian culture, music, and traditions; the winning composition will be premiered by the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall.
  • As Town Hall prepares for the upcoming renovation of its historic space, they invite you to a behind-the-scenes tour of the building as it stands today, and how it has been envisioned for the future (May 11 & 24).

Notable deadlines

Media calendar deadlines

  • Seattle Magazine – submit events 3 months ahead for the print calendar
  • City Arts – submit 6 weeks ahead for the online/print calendar (and/or send releases to editorial@cityartsmagazine.com)
  • Seattle Times – submit 14 days ahead for consideration in the curated classical listings (online & print)
  • The Stranger submit any time to the online “Things to Do” calendar; for the quarterly Seattle Art & Performance, submit at least 5 weeks before the start of the quarter in which the event will take place
  • Seattle Met – submit 2-4 weeks ahead of event for the online calendar
  • Live Music Project – submit 1 week prior to performance date (online); deadline for weekend email listings is Wednesdays @ 5pm

To receive this LMP monthly community update by email, subscribe to our newsletter.

We invite you to submit announcements/deadlines for inclusion in this newsletter by the 25th of each month. You can do that here.

~ Newsletter archive ~

Set Free: Compositions for Guitar

The Guitar In My Life
Friday, April 21, 2017 @ 8:00 pm
The Chapel at the Good Shepherd Center, Seattle

In recent months, I’ve been consciously interested in finding the opposite of what I’m currently listening to – adamant to reach out, find something new. New-to-me. As I settle in to write this piece, I’m randomly listening to an album of Jack Kerouac reading his poems, with Steve Allen playing piano accompaniment.

It’s not about music; it’s about the jazzy aura of the Beat Generation: energy, sorrow, exuberance. Wonderment! It’s lyrical. Air and wind.

Kerouac becomes the perfect backdrop as I think about meeting guitarist, composer, and educator Tom Baker to chat about his upcoming show with the Wayward Music Series. “The Guitar In My Life” will feature highlights of Tom’s 25-year career playing guitar and composing new music. The show will include solo classical guitar, electric guitar, and works for guitar and soprano. I asked him what he thought the show was about.

“It’s a celebration of the guitar as an instrument,” he says, without hesitation.

There are certain expectations – rules and norms – that composers may feel compelled to follow when writing for a more traditional ensemble; for example, a string quartet. The guitar? There is no tradition to follow; there are no rules to follow or rules to break.

Tom muses, “It’s only been a concert instrument for about 100 years.” Without a legacy to draw from, a composer is free to innovate, experiment, find the new sound. What can a composer do with that space? “I think of non-traditional sounds and find a way to create those sounds with a guitar.”

Tom Baker with his fretless guitar. (Photo by Tim Summers)
Tom Baker with his fretless guitar. (Photo by Tim Summers)

I frequently wonder if instrumental music is meant to have themes. Would a person image spring or autumn whilst listening to Vivaldi, if they’d not been told, beforehand, the name of the concerti was The Four Seasons? Should the audience think of stories that a piece is about, or is a piece about sounds?

Tom is quick to tell me that for his music, “it’s about sounds.” He uses stories, poems, pieces of literature as motivation; he strives to create sounds that work with the imagery in his head, but the final piece has to stand alone.

Green Guitar, for example, is about a dream he had after buying a new guitar. In the dream, his favorite old guitar, and this new guitar, have a battle for supremacy. Great story! Close your eyes and imagine two guitars duking it out, showing off, playing secret chords and magic riffs; now imagine a composer writing that down. Very cool! However, “I always tell my students that it’s risky to expect an audience to have a certain reaction,” Tom instructs.

Here’s my recommendation: Just listen and enjoy. If the listener has guitar compositions in their repertory already, this should be a great show; Tom has been doing this for a long time, and has a well-respected catalogue, and a catalogue that he is notably excited about. And for the listener without guitar composition as part of their normal? It’s time to come out and give it a try; let it be your opposite experience.

Tom Baker & friends will perform on Friday, April 21, 2017 @ 8:00 pm at The Chapel at the Good Shepherd Center in Seattle. Full details are here.

GreatWall_GreatKent_BWxKent Karnofski has been a Seattleite most of his adult life. By day he is a research engineer at a local manufacturing firm, by night he is an extraordinary audiophile. In addition to his work with the Live Music Project, he is the curator and primary contributor at CommunityNoise.blog.

The Astronaut, the Electric Theorbo, and the Plan that Wasn’t

When I arrived in Seattle in 2013, the Live Music Project was just a little nugget of an idea. On March 31, the LMP turned 3! I want to pinch it on the cheeks and say annoyingly, “I knew you when you were this big!”

On Tuesday, April 11, we’re throwing a party for the LMP so we can all pinch its cheeks. There will be cupcakes, door prizes, musician/composer Aaron Grad, his electric theorbo (it’s like a large lute mixed with an electric guitar)… and an ASTRONAUT named Heide.

Heide will tell stories about mishaps in space.

Aaron will improvise based on a flight of beer.

The program begins at 6:30pm at Naked City Brewery in Greenwood. Tickets are $15 online and $20 at the door (very limited availability).

Can’t make it but would still love to support us? DONATE HERE and watch the livestream!

Happy birthday, little LMP!

~ Shaya

Community update: April 2017

LMP software engineering interns Jeff, Maddie, and Hailey.

In this edition: Lost in space, artist interviews, software engineering, local media & grant deadlines, and more!

LMP news

We’re hosting an astronaut! And an electric theorbist! (And you’re invited!)
April 11 is your chance to meet an astronaut and find out what happened when she lost an important item during a spacewalk. Also, if you’ve never heard an electric theorbo, well… NOW YOU CAN! Join us at Naked City Brewery as we raise our cupcakes in a toast to improvisation. Tickets are $15 online, or $20 at the door. Seating is limited. Get tickets here.

We launched a tech internship
March showers bring April interns! (Or so it seems…) We’ve launched a software engineering internship and are excited to welcome SU students Madeline Wong, Hailey Nam, and Jeff Atwood to our team. In their own words:

» A technology enthusiast, gamer, exercise lover, and HUGE foodie, Maddie is a first-year MSCS student at Seattle University. She is fairly adventurous and always on the lookout for new and interesting discoveries (especially when they are related to food).

» A hard worker and a self-motivated learner, Hailey is a master’s student studying computer science at Seattle University. She believes one of the best ways to relax is by listening to any type of music, including classical music, movie soundtracks, and K-pop!

» Passionate about exploring, cooking, gaming, and helping others, Jeff is always up for a challenge! Currently a sophomore at Seattle University, he aspires to help those around him with his work and make an impact in his community. Although he enjoys genres of music from classical to rap, odds are that he is listening to techno/electronic while working on this project!

We welcomed a volunteer coordinator!
The LMP is a small organization that relies on volunteers and interns to have a BIG impact. As we grow, we are thrilled and inspired by the dozens of volunteers who have given their time and skills to help us provide free services to our community. Enter Jon Icasas, LMP’s new volunteer coordinator and a long-time volunteer and supporter. Among other things, Jon is an engineer and a hobbyist musician who plays viola with the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra. If you’ve signed up to volunteer, you’ll be hearing from him very soon. Welcome, Jon!

We shared stories from Jennifer Ellis and Stuart Dempster Endlessly fascinated with how artists do their craft, we love getting their stories out. This month, guest writer Kent Karnofski talked to harpist Jennifer Ellis about the impetus to take things apart and put them back together, and we also interviewed composer/trombonist Stuart Dempster about smores, ticking timers, and the art of listening.

We felt your love!
A big squishy bear hug to our donors this month: Heather Bentley, Jessica Fredican, James Holt, Mike Holzinger, Jon Icasas, Jonathan Lyon, Jane Turbiner, and Hannah Turbiner Lyon, Bill Manos, Carol Martin, Sheila Oh, Jamee Pineda, and John Reale. And to our volunteers and interns: Hailey, Jeff, Jon, Kent, Lily, Maddie, and Nick. You make this all possible!

(Hey, do you love the LMP? Join us as a volunteer or consider supporting our work with a $5 monthly donation!)

Community announcements

  • Tacoma Opera is holding auditions for principal roles (April 28-30).
  • Sammamish Symphony Orchestra, under the musical direction of Adam Stern, announces auditions for all strings.
  • KING FM is hiring an administrative assistant.
  • Town Hall is hiring a marketing manager.
  • KEXP is hiring a digital director and digital content manager.
  • As Town Hall prepares for the upcoming renovation of its historic space, they invite you to a behind-the-scenes tour of the building as it stands today, and how it has been envisioned for the future (April 12 & 26).

Notable deadlines

  • April 24 – ArtsWA Project Support application deadline (level B – $200K to $1M annual budget)
  • April 30 – 2017 Pacific Northwest Conducting Institute application deadline; PNCI provides a unique opportunity to study with the internationally-acclaimed conductor and educator, Diane Wittry, author of Beyond the Baton and recent workshop leader at the New York Conducting Institute (Whidbey Island, July 31-August 5)
  • May 22 – ArtsWA Project Support application deadline (level C – over $1M annual budget)
  • Rolling – 4Culture Open Arts Grant; apply at least 6 weeks prior to event date
  • Rolling – Seattle Office of Arts & Culture smART ventures grant application deadline
  • Rolling – Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute facility grant; apply at least two months prior to event date
  • Rolling – Spontaneous Free Tickets; contribute tickets up to 1 week prior to performance date

Media calendar deadlines

  • Seattle Magazine – submit events 3 months ahead for the print calendar
  • City Arts – submit 6 weeks ahead for the online/print calendar (and/or send releases to editorial@cityartsmagazine.com)
  • Seattle Times – submit 14 days ahead for consideration in the curated classical listings (online & print)
  • The Stranger submit any time to the online “Things to Do” calendar; for the quarterly Seattle Art & Performance, submit at least 5 weeks before the start of the quarter in which the event will take place
  • Seattle Met – submit 2-4 weeks ahead of event for the online calendar
  • Live Music Project – submit 1 week prior to performance date (online); deadline for weekend email listings is Wednesdays @ 5pm

To receive this LMP monthly community update by email, subscribe to our newsletter.

Submit announcements for inclusion in this newsletter by the 25th of each month.

Community update: March 2017

Late-night design sessions bring out the best in us! (Photo: LMP)

In this edition: An astronaut, a new website, local media & grant deadlines, and more!

LMP news

We’re turning 3 (and an astronaut is coming to the party)
In a truly spectacular display of inter-disciplinary thematic linking, we invite you to our 3rd birthday party: “The Astronaut, the Electric Theorbo, and the Plan that Wasn’t.” What happens when things don’t go according to plan in space? We’ll find out from former NASA astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper! What happens when you decide to merge an oversized lute with an electric guitar… and beer? That, too, will become clear (we think) when Aaron Grad hits the stage. Join us on April 11 at Naked City Brewery as we raise our cupcakes in a toast to improvisation! Tickets are $15 online, or $20 at the door. Get your ticket here.

We’re building a new website!
Speaking of turning 3… in our wise old age, we’ve learned a few things about maintaining concert listings. We’ve also invited concertgoers into our (makeshift) studio to observe them accomplishing tasks on the LMP. (One example: “Friends are coming to town next weekend. Find a concert to take them to. They’re flexible, but prefer Saturday if possible.” Or, “As you’re looking at this event, you realize the date is incorrect. What do you do?“)

Working with programming lead Nick Pozoulakis and designer Veronica De La Peña, we’re building on the best of the LMP and incorporating our learnings into a new website that will launch in the coming year. We’ll be focusing on comprehensiveness and accuracy; the event submission process; search; site speed; and more. We’ll keep you posted along the way!

We welcomed a volunteer coordinator!
The LMP is a small organization that relies on volunteers and interns to have a BIG impact. As we grow, we are thrilled and inspired by the dozens of volunteers who have given their time and skills to help us provide free services to our community. Enter Jon Icasas, LMP’s new volunteer coordinator and a long-time volunteer and supporter. Among other things, Jon is an engineer and a hobbyist musician who plays viola with the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra. If you’ve signed up to volunteer, you’ll be hearing from him very soon. Welcome, Jon!

We felt your love!  
A big squishy bear hug to our donors this month: Heather Bentley, Jessica Fredican, Andrew Goldstein, James Holt, Mike Holzinger, Jonathan Lyon, Jane Turbiner, and Hannah Turbiner Lyon, Bill Manos, Sheila Oh, Jamee Pineda, and John Reale. And to our volunteers and interns: Andrea, Emily, Jon, Kent, Lily, and Nick. You make this all possible! (Hey, do you love the LMP? Join us as a volunteer or consider supporting our work with a $5 monthly donation!)

Community announcements

  • Tacoma Opera is holding auditions for principal roles (April 28-30).
  • Seattle Chamber Music Society is hiring a Director of Development with a focus on Individual Giving – a one-person department responsible for designing strategic fundraising initiatives and plans as well as for implementing donation processes and maintaining donor records.
  • Cornish College of the Arts seeks a director of marketing and and administrative assistant for the dance department.
  • KING FM is hiring a part-time music assistant.
  • Town Hall is hiring a full-time social media coordinator.
  • KEXP is hiring a lead audio engineer and donor services manager.
  • Resonance at SOMA Towers, an Eastside venue perfect for intimate music performance paired with wine and beer, is seeking nonprofit performing arts organizations and/or independent unincorporated musicians and ensembles interested in partnering during our 2017-18 season.
  • As Town Hall prepares for the upcoming renovation of its historic space, they invite you to a behind-the-scenes tour of the building as it stands today, and how it has been envisioned for the future (March 14 & 22).

Notable deadlines

  • March 6 – Seattle Office of Arts & Culture Youth Arts grant application deadline
  • March 27 – ArtsWA Project Support application deadline (level A – under $200K annual budget)
  • April 24 – ArtsWA Project Support application deadline (level B – $200K to $1M annual budget)
  • May 22 – ArtsWA Project Support application deadline (level C – over $1M annual budget)
  • Rolling – 4Culture Open Arts Grant; apply at least 6 weeks prior to event date
  • Rolling – Seattle Office of Arts & Culture smART ventures grant application deadline
  • Rolling – Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute facility grant; apply at least two months prior to event date
  • Rolling – Spontaneous Free Tickets; contribute tickets up to 1 week prior to performance date

Media calendar deadlines

  • Seattle Magazine – submit events 3 months ahead for the print calendar
  • City Arts – submit 6 weeks ahead for the online/print calendar (and/or send releases to editorial@cityartsmagazine.com)
  • Seattle Times – submit 14 days ahead for consideration in the curated classical listings (online & print)
  • The Stranger submit any time to the online “Things to Do” calendar; for the quarterly Seattle Art & Performance, submit at least 5 weeks before the start of the quarter in which the event will take place
  • Seattle Met – submit 2-4 weeks ahead of event for the online calendar
  • Live Music Project – submit 1 week prior to performance date (online); deadline for weekend email listings is Wednesdays @ 5pm

To receive this LMP monthly community update by email, subscribe to our newsletter.

Submit announcements for inclusion in this newsletter by the 25th of each month.

Listening in the Round: An Interview with Stuart Dempster

Seattle Modern Orchestra / Solaris Vocal Ensemble: Double Portrait
March 11, 2017
Chapel Performance Space
Interview with Stuart Dempster 7:30pm
Concert 8:00 pm

Stuart Dempster’s living room emits a sound: a softly insistent rhythmic noise that my ears, then eyes track to an electrical timer plugged into a corner outlet. Long on this planet, plastic yellowed, its bits charge around in circles, increment by increment, with steadfast metronomic regularity.

I bring my thoughts back to S.M.O.R.E.S., the topic of our discussion. Dempster, 80, is a composer and trombonist; he’s premiering a new work by that name with the Seattle Modern Orchestra on March 11. The program also includes works by his colleague, Robert Erickson, who would have turned 100 this year. Erickson was part of a group of composers he commissioned in his early career that also included Luciano Berio, Andrew Imbrie, Ernst Krenek, Pauline Oliveros, Robert Suderburg, and several others.

Stuart Dempster, February 2017.
Stuart Dempster, February 2017. (Photo by Shaya Lyon)

(Lest you think this commission or his performance of it is an unusual occurrence, I should mention that Dempster’s many recent performances include a collaboration with Wayne Horvitz at the Asian Art Museum; an 80th birthday concert with William O. Smith, who was turning 90; several events with and in memory of his longtime collaborator and dear friend Pauline Oliveros; Bull Roarchestra at the Henry Art Gallery with Ann Hamilton; and a UW Dance Department commission with UW alum and Broadway/Merce Cunningham veteran Holley Farmer. Just last month, he led SMO in a performance of his work Choral Riffs with the Solaris Vocal Ensemble, who will join SMO to perform S.M.O.R.E.S.)

Dempster’s voice is low and gentle. As I record our conversation, I worry that the ticking timer will overpower it, but they work well together.

S.M.O.R.E.S., or “Seattle Modern Orchestra Resonating Enthusiastic Solaris,” was commissioned by SMO and Solaris Vocal Ensemble. The orchestration calls for mixed ensemble, voices, and audience – yes, audience – and seating is in the round, with the audience and Dempster at the center and the performers surrounding them.

Like other pieces Dempster has written recently, S.M.O.R.E.S. pairs structure with improvisation. Both the audience and the performers will have a score and a part to play. Dempster himself will play the trombone as a conductor-leader, and the performers will follow his lead.

“I move around in a circle, giving information to different people,” says Dempster. “I give them information by what I play, and then I give instructions for them to stop, or to do something else. There is the danger that I ‘abandon’ players if I get involved with one section… If I play something else, or if I abandon a player, they have the option to change what they’re doing – for example, choosing a different register, or a different pitch.”

S.M.O.R.E.S. can be played for any length of time; this performance will run for about 12-15 minutes. Beyond that, Dempster says, “I do it in real time – so I can’t really tell you what’s going to happen.”

SMO and Solaris will prepare for the unpredictable in rehearsal, and each time they go through the piece, it will yield a different result. As for the audience, you’ll be humming! (Dempster’s advice: Don’t be timid.)

Joining S.M.O.R.E.S. on the program is a similarly structured piece, Milanda Embracing, written in 1993-94 and named for the child who greeted Dempster and his fellow artists with open arms at a studio at the start of a residency.

Milanda Embracing also involves audience participation. It is more complex than S.M.O.R.E.S., and – unusually – the audience will have a score of its own. (No music-reading skills are required.)

It also differs from S.M.O.R.E.S. in that it’s not led by Dempster. Performers read the instructions, which include directives like “Send sounds across space.”

From the score of 'Milanda Embracing.'
From the score of ‘Milanda Embracing.’

“There’s no piece there, actually,” he says. “If you look at the score, there’s no piece. It’s what you should think in playing a piece, and through that, you can make a piece. It’s what I call the original minimalist piece – because there’s nothing there, among all this verbiage. But most of it is stuff people should be thinking about when they’re playing Haydn, or playing whatever.”

Dempster reassures that he’ll preface the performance with an explanation of the score and the piece itself, but that the players need the audience to join in.

“I have found that the kind of sounds that I make will be influenced by the kind of sounds that the audience makes, or thoughts that an audience has,” he wrote in 1994. “There is a beautiful feedback loop here.”

Also on the program are Erickson’s The Idea of Order at Key West, Pacific Sirens, and General Speech for solo trombone, commissioned by Dempster and written in the late 1960s by his colleague, Robert Erickson.

General Speech is performed with costume (an abstraction of a military costume) and lighting (for pomp and circumstance), and is designed to mimic the sounds of a military speech – specifically, General MacArthur’s “Duty, Honor, Country” farewell speech of 1962.

“MacArthur always seemed to be about nine feet tall,” says Dempster. “He had a huge presence in WWII, and certainly in Japan after the war. Erickson heard a recording of him speaking, and he was intrigued. We got together and decided to try this speech. I figured out a way to sort of say ‘Duty, Honor, Country’ on the trombone, and that’s how it got started.”

It was a 300-hour-long, side-by-side process. Dempster would start playing sounds, and Erickson would work on the score.

“First he’d say, ‘Play the words of the speech.’ After trying this, and then that, I would finally get it figured out. That would take 20 minutes, that one little phrase. Then he would ask – ‘What are you doing?’ – ‘I dunno…’ and we’d have to go back all over it again, trying to figure it out.”

After hours of working through it, they had a score that made some sense. (For a sneak preview, check out the video below.)

The sound of a speaking trombone is not only eerie, but unique to that instrument.

“Erickson – and others too – used to say trombone pieces were mostly piano pieces masquerading as trombone pieces, but when you start using the larger sound palate of the trombone, that’s a different thing,” says Dempster. “It’s idiomatic to the trombone to have all those vowels available. You don’t have that on harp, you don’t have it on piano, you don’t have it on much of anything.”

Dempster is a careful listener; he tunes in to everything from a passing garbage truck to the resonance of a specific corner of the Chapel space in the Good Shepherd Center, where this concert will take place.

“The building has a lot of sounds to offer. I was doing a piece one time – it was the centenary of the building in 2007. It was a Saturday afternoon, and there was a leaf blower outside. When it came my turn to play, Steve [Peters] started to close up the window. I said, no, no, open it! Of course it stopped fairly quickly once I started playing. And oh, the heating! It’s not as noisy as some classic new York heaters that just pound and crash and bang. The Chapel radiator is a little too polite (he laughs) – just one clunk once in a while. I like that. I always enjoy it when that happens.”

Of S.M.O.R.E.S., Dempster reiterates: Just listen! Listen to the performers, the sounds of the room, the surround. Resist the temptation to turn around, or even to turn your head around. Get used to people being behind you. If you do turn, he says, “turn really slowly so that you can change how the piece sounds by what you do in the audience.”

As our conversation winds down, I ask Dempster about the ticking timer. He laughs.

“Oh, that thing! That’s from the Sixties. I keep thinking I’m going to replace it. I probably said that 20 years ago, too.”

His tone sobers.

“You’re sitting here, and suddenly the power goes out. The refrigerator’s off, the heater’s off, and that thing is off. You do have this magnificent quiet. But – it’s been sounding like that for a very long time. In an odd way, it doesn’t bother me… it’s in there with all the other stuff I listen to.”

Come hear Stuart Dempster perform with Seattle Modern Orchestra and Solaris Vocal Ensemble on March 11, 2017. Concert begins at 8pm; arrive at 7:30 for a moderated chat with the composer. Tickets/more info here.

2000 Moving Parts: Crafting Sounds

Sound of Late: 2000 Moving Parts
Saturday, March 11, 2017 @ 8:00 pm
Flutter Studios, Seattle

Somewhere in my home, amongst the heaps of scrap paper I have around, there is a To Do list, now several years old, scrawled upon a notepad; a bunch of checked off items, except one: “Buy a Harp.”

I don’t play, but as objets d’art, harps are remarkable pillars of craftsmanship: the wood, the strings and hardware, the assemblage. The visual anticipation of soothing sounds draws me to their constructed beauty. After the frame warps from strings’ tensions, as certainly a harp frame will do, people sell them off. I want one.

As I prepared for this interview, I kept saying to myself, “Each of us must have our own harp story.” So, I asked harpist Jennifer Ellis, “What drew you to the harp?”

(Photo credit: Jason Paige and Bonnie Lyn Paige)

The Secret Garden was one of my favorite books as a kid, and when the movie came out, my mom took me. There is this beautiful little harp solo in the score, and so I started poking my mom, ‘What instrument makes that sound? I want to play the instrument that makes that sound.'”

Years later, Jennifer joins us in Seattle. On Saturday, March 11, 2017 – together with Sarah Pyle on the flute and Andrew Stiefel playing viola – we’ll be listening to the collaborative trio Sound of Late.

The harp has some 2000 moving parts, inspiring the name of the show. I asked Jennifer to help me count to 2000. “A lot of where the moving parts come in is through the system we have to get flats and sharps.” There are 7 foot pedals; one pedal connects all of the “C” strings, one connects all of the “D” strings, one all of the “E” strings, etc.

When you move a foot pedal, it triggers a spring, which triggers a rod, which triggers the linkage, which triggers the discs, and the discs (2 per string) engage the string, fretting it like a guitar string. One disc raises the note a half step from flat to natural, and the second disc raises the note another half step to sharp. Jennifer manipulates these discs to develop sounds that most harpists try to mute.


That impetus to take things apart to understand them and put them back together is a wonderful one in our world.


I listened to some preview materials prior to the interview. There’s the identifiable harp strings providing sounds, but there’s other stuff; blurts and bits and twongs (I literally heard a “twong”); extra reverberations that help to fill spaces. John Cale would be proud.

I suggested to Jennifer: “The way you’re manipulating the harp, it adds texture and sounds, and it sounds like you’re accompanying yourself.”

I wasn’t far off. “Yeah! Yeah, that’s a fair thing to say!”

Many orchestral instruments play only one note at a time. The harp is played with both hands, 4 fingers each (the pinky finger is too short), so you can play eight notes at once. It’s a very rich instrument to play solo, but, says Jennifer, “it’s really fun to get the opportunity to expand and collaborate with others and play chamber music. Sound of Late is the best of both worlds, because you get to hear the harp solo and then you get to hear the harp with other instruments.”

In her work with the harp, Jennifer enjoys a sense of discovery; take something apart and you feel more connected with it, like something has been revealed to you. “That impetus to take things apart to understand them and put them back together is a wonderful one in our world. I hope people leave with a little glimmer of that feeling and are interested in applying it elsewhere in their lives.”

After the show, Jennifer will invite guests onto the stage to see the harp up close and ask questions.

“I hope this concert helps lift the veil and make the harp feel accessible and dynamic, interesting, and intriguing,” Jennifer added.

It’s your chance to see this beautiful object up close, and understand how it makes beautiful sounds, and develop a harp obsession of your own…

Sound of Late will perform on Saturday, March 11, 2017 @ 8:00 pm at Flutter Studios in Seattle. Full details are here.

GreatWall_GreatKent_BWxKent Karnofski has been a Seattleite most of his adult life. By day he is a research engineer at a local manufacturing firm, by night he is an extraordinary audiophile. In addition to his work with the Live Music Project, he is the curator and primary contributor at CommunityNoise.blog.

[LIVESTREAM] NOCCO’s Resonance: Celebrating Black American Composers

North Corner Chamber Orchestra (NOCCO) is celebrating Black American composers with a new work by composer Hanna Benn with text and film by Davida Ingram and additional original music by Alex Guy. Also on the program are works by Pulitzer Prize winning composers George Walker (b. 1922) and Scott Joplin (1868-1917) and a gorgeous string work by Alvin Singleton (b. 1940).

Tonight, February 19, 2017 they performed the following program:

Hanna Benn – Sankofa (world premiere)
Joplin – Selections from Treemonisha (1912, arr. Rick Benjamin) 
Walker – Orpheus for Chamber Orchestra and narrator (1994)
Alvin Singleton – Eine Idee ist ein Stück Stoff

For more information about the project, visit NOCCO’s website.

NOCCO is a conductorless orchestra of chamber musicians that performs a full spectrum of art music in a variety of spaces accessible to diverse audiences. They envision a community where the sharing of live, immersive events between musicians and listeners illuminates the profound and joyful interconnectedness of humanity.

Steinways & Screws: Myers plays Cage

Cornish Presents: Jesse Myers
Friday, February 17, 2017 @ 8pm
PONCHO Concert Hall, Seattle

“It transforms the piano into something not recognizable as a piano,” says pianist Jesse Myers, as we peer into his Steinway.

In 1940, while a faculty member at The Cornish School, John Cage devised methods of converting the piano into, as he described, “a percussion ensemble under the control of a single player.”

Originally aimed at a dance accompaniment, his innovation was to insert objects – screws, nuts and bolts, pieces of rubber – between certain piano strings, in specific locations. The foreign objects create unfamiliar timbres that result in sounds more like a wood block than a piano.

Jesse Myers uses screws to modify the sound of the piano. (Photo by Kent Karnofski)
Jesse Myers uses screws to modify the sound of the piano. (Photo by Kent Karnofski)

On Friday, 17 February, at the same Cornish where it all began, Jesse will be performing Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano. Jesse played some for me.

It sounds like a small ensemble of instruments, mostly percussion, with one piano, playing a song together. Instead of each instrument playing its own track, one instrument plays a note, then another instrument plays a note, and then another instrument plays a note, and so on. Sometimes one instrument plays a bar or two. Thus, there is a disruptive continuity, as so many small parts are rhythmically tied together.

I find the result to be pleasing and coherent, yet challenging. (I’ve been trying to count how many instruments I’m listening to, and understand what all of them are.) The piece will arrive at a nice spree of notes, then something fittingly discordant, followed by a short melody, then a clock striking 1 o’clock. Begin again.

“Do you think Cage was a genius?” I assured Jesse that I do not frequently use this term. (People are generally familiar with others tagged with the “genius” label – Beethoven, Einstein – but Cage is out there in the cold obscurity.)


Cage claimed that music consisted of combinations of different sounds, and therefore if you were making noises, you were making music.


Jesse pondered, “You can’t talk about music over the past 50 years without talking about John Cage. He completely changed how we think about contemporary music. So, yes, I would have to say he was a genius.”

I keep wondering, if Cage was a genius, why is he not more prominent in today’s performance spaces? Cage claimed that music consisted of combinations of different sounds, and therefore if you were making noises, you were making music. This assertion gave him space to innovate without rules or interference, and his fertile mind deserved the space.

Cage can be challenging, and sometimes (in my experience) unlistenable. I think this is a show where people not familiar with Cage’s work could invite him in from the cold. Jesse and I agreed that an audience should find this evening, these works, to be quite enjoyable.

“I just want the audience to relax,” Jesse tells me. “This is beautiful music, and people should be able to sit back and enjoy the sounds. If we could throw a couple of bean bags on the floor for people, I’d be all for that.”

The reader can get a preview from Jesse’s SoundCloud; here is Sonata V.

Jesse Myers will perform on Friday, February 17, 2017 @ 8:00 pm at PONCHO Concert Hall at Cornish College of the arts. Full details are here.

GreatWall_GreatKent_BWxKent Karnofski has been a Seattleite most of his adult life. By day he is a research engineer at a local manufacturing firm, by night he is an extraordinary audiophile. In addition to his work with the Live Music Project, he is the curator and primary contributor at CommunityNoise.blog.