Pillbox

Artist connects with audience

Vienna Teng is a master of performance skills beyond the mere musical. The young singer gave a successful concert to a packed house at the Carnegie Museum of Art Theater on Friday, October 28. She performed 15 songs, including some from her past two albums as well as new songs that she is practicing. Some of the songs included ?Eric?s Song,? ?Gravity,? ?Nothing Without You,? and ?Mission Street.?

Her performance invited the audience into her world as she discussed the backgroud of each song before playing it. Teng took the time to give the audience an inside look at the inspiration behind the songs, some of which are like confessions while others are more narrative. She also lightened the mood with a variety of humorous stories. She was very interactive and gave two encores that members of the audience requested. For the second encore, she invited members of Soundbytes, an a capella group at CMU, to come up on stage and sing one of her songs with her.

Her remarks were well-tailored to the college audience. Teng herself is not far removed from college. The 26 year-old singer studied computer science at Stanford and worked for Cisco Systems for two years as a software engineer before she decided to pursue a career in music. She described her success as ?the rarest of gifts.?

Teng has a rather low key, mellow style of music similar to that of Sarah McLachlan. Normally, she performs her songs with other instrumentalists, including a drummer, violinist, and cellist. For this concert, she accompanied herself fluently on a keyboard. Her voice is rather low and velvety, but she has a higher range. Unfortunately, her voice is very one-dimensional. She had very little rubato despite an abundance of long-sustaining notes. All of her songs were at this low key level, something that she acknowledged, saying, ?I don?t really write fast, perky, upbeat songs. But these next few songs are my attempt to up the energy level.? Her attempts were still very similar to what we had heard before. While her songs do accumulate poignancy and pathos, she needs more variety in her repertoire.

Teng has two albums so far. As she explained to the audience, she finds that she needs time off from touring to write new songs. She told the audience, ?I want to develop what I?m doing [music] and get better at it.? She thinks that each new album will be better than the last. She also cherishes her roots in classical piano, which she studied from the age of five through her senior year of high school. Also, the violinist and the cellist who she tours with were conservatory-trained. They often give her music to listen to. They sparked her interest in the music of Claude Debussy, and in particular his ?gorgeous? string quartet. As for other kinds of music, she tries to listen to artists that are different from her. She is a fan of Outkast, Radiohead, and Coldplay.

Teng?s music used an expanded harmonic palette to increase the range of emotions present in her music. There was a lot of interaction between what she was singing and what she was playing on the keyboard. She is talented at thinning out the volume of sound to consist only of her singing accompanied by single notes played in the higher registers of the keyboard, rather than chords. These are very quiet moments which make you afraid to swallow because you think the noise will ruin the moment.

Teng?s appearance was sponsored by the Awareness of Roots in Chinese Culture (ARCC) organization. Vanessa Shyu, the president of ARCC, said, ?We?re trying to change our image and find a balance between serious Chinese culture and broader appeal.? I-ting Ariel Wang, the vice president of ARCC, added: ?There?s not that many Chinese-American performers. It would be a good chance for people to learn about another aspect of Chinese culture. I feel her background, being at Stanford for computer science, is similar to CMU students'. I think it would be interesting to see what compelled her to change to music.?