The best thing about a music festival is blindly experiencing greatness — catching those bands or musicians you’ve never heard of, but make you a lifelong fan. That happened to me a few times at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival this past January. The musician who absolutely blew me away was folk-pop songwriter and pianist Vienna Teng, who performs at the U of M Power Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, October 7.
Weaving together her unique style of classical piano and literate, evocative lyrics, Teng’s music lives on the outskirts of folk, blending elements of jazz and Americana. Her strong, warm vocals are both sad and comforting, covering both fiction and personal experience, including “Grandmother’s Song,” a tune about a conversation she had with her Grandma, who expressed concern with Vienna’s career choice in music.
Teng, 32, was born Cynthia Yih Shih in Saratoga, California to Chinese parents who were raised in Taiwan. She started taking piano lessons at age five and wrote her first song on piano at six. The earliest original piece that she still plays live was written in high school. After graduating from Stanford with a BS in Computer Science in 2006, Teng worked a few years as a programmer before pursuing music full time. She’s released four studio albums, a live disc and a demo, but now has slowed down recording and touring since enrolling in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.
Teng is the perfect mixture of new-school and old, —rooted enough to flash the complexity of classical music and progressive enough to embrace exploration. So, catch her taking a break from being an ordinary student and stepping into the spotlight — you won’t regret it, someone with her kind of talent, style and songwriting skill doesn’t surface all that often.
Vienna Teng performs at the UofM Power Center for the Performing Arts, Huron at Fletcher, October 7, 8pm. Tickets are $30. 734-761-1800. www.theark.com