Vienna Teng calms nerves with sweet piano performance

Early Friday evening, Baxter Hall was filled with the sweet music of Vienna Teng, a Taiwanese American pianist invited to the College in honor of Asian American Heritage Month. Those who passed through to the Snack Bar or the mailroom missed a night of lovely songs and an enchanting performance.

The classically trained Teng set a peaceful and pondering mood with her opening piece, “Gravity,” off her first label-produced album, Waking Hour. Reminiscent of Evanescence’s “My Immortal,” but lingering on a more positive note, the song immediately won the crowd’s attention.

The Stanford alum’s next several songs had a faster tempo and more of a beat as Teng’s quick fingers pranced across the keys. Although she broke a promise made as an eight-year-old never to write a love song, she avoided the oversaturated genre by adding an extra twist to the storyline of her next song. “Stray Italian Greyhound,” a song about being involved with what is happening around you instead of being jaded and cynical towards it, particularly caught my attention.

By the time Teng played several unrecorded songs, the audience had nearly doubled in size. These new tunes had a solemn, if not sad feel – the kind of contemplative music perfect for a long drive after the conversation has petered into quiet. The feeling would have sunk deeper except for the distracting pitter-patter of ping-pong balls and the sizzling of the grill in the background.

The mood lightened up as the crowd clapped along to “City Hall,” which was requested by an audience member who had skipped work to see Teng’s performance. Going out of the way to see Teng wasn’t uncommon – a group of students from Middlebury College and a couple from Hartford, Conn. joined the crowd for the night. The chosen song, “City Hall,” is about a same-sex couple that has waited ten years and driven 500 miles just to get married, even though their closest friends have left them.

Although Teng usually records and tours with a band, the solo show she put on was excellently done. Impressively, she tapped out a beat on her keyboard while singing and still playing the keys.

Teng next spiced things up a cappella style, abandoning her keyboard and using only her voice and percussive hands for her next piece. Similar to K.T. Tunstall’s “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” the song revealed a different singing style that was stronger and jazzier than Teng’s usual.

Teng, approaching the age of 30 as she pointed out to the audience, has been playing piano since age five. Graduating with a degree in computer science, she quit after two years as a software engineer in order to pursue her music career. Soon afterward, in early 2003, Teng performed on the David Letterman Show, and things haven’t slowed since. She has already successfully completed three studio albums, she is set to start recording her fourth.

Teng rounded out her set with a somber piece inspired by the film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Not wanting to end the night in a minor key, Teng then played “the other happy song,” “Harbor,” whose heartwarming lyrics like “the light in me will guide you home” left us all fuzzy inside. Overall, Teng’s music offered the much-needed opportunity to slow things down, relax and contemplate in the midst of a hectic semester’s end.