|Tiffany Tieu, Violinist|
every city has its own distinct rhythm and tempo. i can remember each of the cities i have lived in, visited, or passed through by its pulse, the beat of daily life, the speed of people moving around. the suburbs of atlanta where i grew up, a constant, organized, and steady stream of cars, school buses, moms taking kids to soccer practice (or in my case, orchestra rehearsal). nashville, where the sounds of the honky tonks and frat parties blended with the ever present whirring of helicopters and ambulances (perks of having a major hospital on campus), at once idyllic and quiet and fast and ever-changing. loja, a city cradled in the temperate valley where the andes meet the amazon, slow and calm, irregular and comforting. i remember being frustrated in loja at how slow people walked and at the same time, scared to cross the streets as there where hardly any crosswalks or traffic lights (and apparently no traffic laws either). caught between wanting to make a run for it, survival instincts, and a "look both ways" american voice that contradicted all the random and bold street crossings other people made, i realized i would be stuck for ages at every intersection until i toughened up. one day, it dawned on me that the street dogs always knew exactly when to cross, and sometimes were better law-abiding citizens than the humans! from then on, i would always cross when the street dogs did.
i find myself in the andes once again, this time as far south as i've ever been, in santiago, chile. what with the pollution, the cigarette smoke, and whiffs of cologne and perfume, i feel like i am always walking through a cloudy haze of contradicting smells. this city, unlike many others i have been to in latin america, moves fast, though the street dogs here are very astute street crossers even with crosswalks and pedestrian lights nearly everywhere. in the past few years, my violin and i have traveled all over latin america, and i have had adventures i could have never even dreamed of. each trip brings new experiences, new friends, new sights and sounds, new cities and new opportunities. and each trip reaffirms my belief that music is everywhere, and i am filled with gratitude knowing that because i am a musician, i have been able to share and live and connect with so many people in such different yet similar places. what began as one month in ecuador in 2011 has evolved into a series of beautiful convergences, and i feel that each decision i have made since that life-altering trip five years ago is in some way connected to both my past and my future.
people often ask if my parents or anyone in my family is a musician, and are surprised when i tell them that i'm the only one. but in a way, i believe that this path of mine it is not so out of the ordinary. my maternal grandmother, who as a young girl in northern china had her feet bound and was not allowed to go to school, saw that each of her eight children went to the best school she could provide them for, and her three daughters all graduated with college degrees in teaching. she was illiterate in the sense that she could not read or write, but she had such a wealth of knowledge and history and culture, sacrificed everything for her children, and was a strong matriarchal figure in our family. she married and moved straight away to south korea, initiating three generations of migration, of risk taking, of searching for something better even at a great personal cost. my paternal grandmother had a surprisingly similar path, going from southern china to southern vietnam, where she raised ten children as a widow during the vietnam war. decades of oppression and war ruptured their family, but they eventually found each other in the united states, where she spent the final years of her life. i am the american, chinese, spanish-speaking, violinist granddaughter of these women. i often think about how they must have felt, moving and leaving and rooting so many different times, seeing their children move all across the world, witnessing so many beginnings and endings.
maybe my lust for traveling and risk taking was born more than a century ago in a small village in china, where a young woman with bound feet and no formal education was preparing to move to a new country with nothing more than a husband she barely knew. maybe my journey as a musician is my way of narrating this multicultural, multi-continent story of my heritage. maybe my affinity for music grew out of the cacophony of all the sounds and languages and pulses of all the cities that brought me here. maybe this is my way of communicating my own story without having the barriers or definitions of where i am from, because i feel that i am from so many different places. yo yo ma so perfectly and eloquently describes how i feel about my music and my identity, so i'll let his words do the talking:
"We live in such a measuring society, people tend to put a person in a box they can put on their mental shelf. People think of me as a cellist because they can see my performances and take my measure as a musician. I think of my life as a musician as only the tip of an iceberg. That is only the audible part of my existence. Underneath the water is the life I’m leading, the thoughts I’m thinking and the emotions that well up in me.
We all get into trouble if we think the universe only exists of the matter that we can see and measure, and not the anti-matter that is the counterpart that holds it all together.
Michelangelo famously said, 'I liberate the statue from the marble.' Similarly, my music emerges from the life all around me and the world we all share together. One is the condition of the other."