Talk about perfect timing: soon after our recent shoot for Steinway & Sons wrapped, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vivian Fang Liu, an incredibly accomplished pianist and singer-songwriter who has performed at the Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Hammerstein Hall, and Steinway Hall, among many other well-renowned venues. She's sung the National Anthem twice at Citi Field, served as a judge of the 2010 Global Chinese Youth Musical Instrument Competition, and is a piano adjudicator at the New York State School of Music Association. As if those accolades weren't enough to make everyone else look lazy in comparison, Liu is currently pursuing a Master of Music Education at Columbia University (it will be her second master's) while teaching and managing her own music school...phew! Even though she's so busy that she probably rarely sleeps, she took the time to answer each of my questions with such kindness and enthusiasm that I couldn't help but want her to be my new best friend.
When did you begin playing music? My mom said that when I was two years old, I would sing loudly in public with no shame! That was probably the moment my parents discovered my love for music. I started playing piano at five years old and never looked back.
What made you decide to pursue music professionally? It just happened naturally; I never really tried to plan it. I was constantly surrounded by music, and recall feeling free and happy whenever I played. I believe I’m incredibly fortunate to have a job that I'm passionate about.
Why is music so important as an art form? We start making music the day we’re born--newborns make sounds to communicate with their parents. Even though the sounds coming from their little mouths don't make sense, it's amazing how parents can understand their baby, construing if they are happy, sad, or hungry. As our minds mature, we develop the ability to sing and/or play music to express feelings that often can’t be described through words. Sometimes music and rhythms are more direct than words. Music is an attitude: it's imaginative and it relaxes your soul and frees your mind. Music is a friend, and even though you can't see him/her, no matter where you are, you know he or she is there for you. Music is a journey: you can travel from Baroque to Impressionism with a click. Music makes you smarter! Haha, I'm not sure if that's actually true, but music does help you develop empathy, compassion, and creativity. It's a universal language that connects people from all corners of the world. It is powerful and unlimited, with no restrictions. Music is a movie. You can play any role you want and be your own director. And finally, music is love!
Who are your favorite musicians? Too many to name! But my college piano professor is the best. He didn't just teach me piano, he also taught me how to be a compassionate, open-minded, and confident person.
In addition to playing piano, what other musical talents do you possess? I love singing and songwriting, and I'm learning guitar now. Making music is super fun to me. Songwriting is like writing a novel--you're always surprised by how it comes out. I’m releasing my EP later this year!
What was your most memorable performance? Every performance is unique to me, whether it’s performing at Carnegie Hall or singing at CitiField. All are unforgettable. But, I have to say, performing at a senior [citizen] center was one of my most meaningful performances. Putting a smile on someone's face with your music is incredible! I would like to do that more often.
Can you tell me more about your students? I love teaching. My students are adorable! It sounds crazy that I have more than 50 students, right? But I do! They range from kindergartners to high school seniors. I emphasize to my students that exam grades or competition certificates are not important, as those are not the reasons we learn music. I hope all of my students study piano because of their passion for music. Even though a number of my students have won international or national piano and composition competitions, and have performed at Carnegie Hall (one of the 10-year-olds has already been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall three times), my greatest pride is that my students love and enjoy music!
What is your favorite part of teaching? I just received a handmade card from my little student that says she loves music and I am the best music teacher she's ever had. It's just too sweet to see those words and drawings. You can't imagine how often my students write and draw for me. I feel like the luckiest teacher in the whole world! I encourage my students to play music and explore their own original ideas. I often tell them, "Don't be a follower, be a creator!" I hope my students will not just learn how to play music, but also how to solve problems, be creative, and explore their own unlimited potential through learning music. I agree with Maxine Greene, who once said, "The arts, it has been said, cannot change the world, but they may change human beings who might change the world."
Besides making music, what are your hobbies? I have two lovely cats. I adopted them when they were tiny little kittens, and they just had their 9th and 10th birthday a few months ago. You can't imagine how big they are right now. They're very cute! Besides loving animals, I'm also a foodie and love to travel!
All pictures are courtesy of Vivian Fang Liu.