composrer & musician

Stuart Dempster

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 & musician Stuart Dempster is one of the contributors to this creative city. Read on for a look at the city through his artistic lens.

Q&A with Stuart Dempster

Do you have favorite places to perform in Seattle?

The performance space of the chapel in the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. The Wayward Music Series there is titled from the fact that it was once a home for wayward girls, and we are wayward musicians. It has been such a boon to us. Gallery 1412 on Union is a nice sounding space; it was an old Baptist church. The walls still hum. I also like Jack Straw, another small venue. I have also really enjoyed playing at the Georgetown Steam Plant—we played former Seattle resident David Mahler’s brass piece from all these huge turbines throughout the space. It’s open to the public on some Saturdays and by appointment but it’s a bit out of the way so people might not know about it.

Are there any musicians or concert series that you recommend?

I like to follow Paul Kikuchi, who I’ve worked with before—we’ve performed together at Union Station. And Bill Smith—we’re all connected through Earshot Jazz. And there are many great groups, such as Seattle Chamber Players, Julia Tai’s Seattle Modern Orchestra, and Seattle Phonographers Union, just to name a few. And there are so many outstanding individuals, duos, and so on of all stripes. It is rather overwhelming…

When you’re not performing, what do you enjoy doing?

Chopping wood. That’s what I was doing yesterday in the backyard. I enjoy chopping wood just for the hell of it. I don’t really ever have a day off; if I do, I should be working on all the different books I’m supposed to be writing!

Where do you take visitors if you have just one day to show them around?

It depends on their interests, but the Chittenden “Ballard” Locks. They were one of the first things that intrigued me when I came here in 1962 during the World’s Fair on the Shasta Daylight train. It’s the same route that the Starlight now uses. The Burke Museum has a lot of marvelous Native American stuff. I also like the Henry Art Gallery. Visiting the UW campus should be on everybody’s list, especially when the cherry blossoms are blooming in early spring. It’s really worth a special trip. The change-ringing bells at the UW are the country’s only change ringing bells west of Texas. Magnuson Park; on a breezy day, you can hear the big outdoor tubes from Doug Hollis’ Sound Garden sing—make sure you approach via the NOAA entrance. In the airport I make a point of sitting next to Jim Green’s Talking Fountain on Concourse C. And I recommend people see and hear David Mahler’s Bell Garden on the north side of the Washington State Convention Center. ew minutes away. It’s one of the last of a dying breed and I hope it’s here forever.

Do you have any favorite Seattle sounds?

Listening to the front of a Washington State ferry when the ferry starts going badabadabada. It happens a lot when the current hits it in just a certain way on the bow, and the combination with the wind—it’s absolutely amazing. It’s probably the best Northwest sound that you can find.


Interview by Jess Van Nostrand, 2012.

Photo taken at the Good Shepherd Chapel.



Experimental musician master, Stuart Dempster, shares a few thoughts about music and the art of listening.



Seattle’s best every month in your inbox

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Book Your Trip

Partner Advertisements