Photo: Frank Huster

ByronAu Yong


Byron Au Yong

From the moment you set foot in Seattle, you can feel it: art is everywhere.

The thriving arts scene is a priority in this city—in fact, Seattle has been recognized for having more arts-related businesses and organizations per capita than any other metropolitan area in the U.S., according to Americans for the Arts. Composer Byron Au Yong is one of the contributors to this creative city. Read on for a look at the city through his artistic lens.

Q&A with Byron Au Yong

Would you share some special childhood memories about growing up in Seattle?

I performed in musical theater as a kid at a venue in the Seattle Center. I was nine years old, and I got paid! I did all kinds of shows, and I also performed with the Civic Light Opera. I was also in the Northwest Boy Choir and we sang this Northwest Medley, and there was a song to Ivar’s restaurant in it. When I was growing up, Ivar’s had spokespeople who were dressed up in clam costumes with black leggings. They were like the Rockettes, but clams!

My dad worked in real estate, so I learned Seattle really well from studying the giant map in his office—his office is also, incidentally, where I learned how to make coffee. Later I worked as a barista at the cafe in the Grand Illusion cinema. I have also worked at the University Bookstore in the buy-back section in the basement, which was fascinating.

How does Seattle influence your work?

The water is very powerful here. As long as I see water every day, I’m calm. So I think there’s something about my music that is foundationally grounded. I think that comes from nature and the humility of being human within that nature.

Where do you like to perform?

I like performing outside. We once did a performance called Bottled Opera, and performed in 64 waterways throughout the Northwest. So we performed outside in lakes and rivers, and in downtown we performed in fountains and so forth. Indoors, I love the Saint Ignatius Chapel for the materials that are used and the way the light works in the space, and the openness. It’s a place of worship, and when I go in, I feel like I am in a sacred space and part of that.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

Along with Seward Park, one of my favorite places in Seattle is Kubota Garden. Twice a year they have a plant sale in September and May, and it’s really worth going to. I get my hair cut at Osami’s barbershop in the ID, which is owned by a husband and wife from Japan who moved here in the 1950s (Editor’s note: Osami and his wife retired in 2015. The shop, now called  Pioneer Barber Company, continues the legacy of hair styling in this space). For a few years they have not been taking any new customers, but I have gone for over twenty years. I also love KOBO which is a Japanese shop that used be a five-and-dime called Higo Variety Store. Mutual Fish is still thriving, and that’s the best place to get seafood. I also go to Full Tilt ice cream in Columbia City because I like to play Ms. Pac Man there.


Interview by Jess Van Nostrand, 2012.

Photo taken at The Chapel of Saint Ignatius, Seattle University.


Byron Au Yong creates musical events scored for Asian, European, and hand-made instruments.



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