Face2Face with Vienna Teng
Software engineer turned singer-songwriter finds life
to be a big storyline
By Joe Nguyen and James Dann
Sept. 14, 2007
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Vienna Teng is living a novel.
At least that's what the 28-year-old, California-born
“My life has definitely followed this strange plotline,”
she said. “Like I won't say that everything has
worked magically or according to plan, but there definitely
seems to be a plot to it.”
Whatever you want
As a student at Stanford University, Teng – whose
real name is Cynthia Shih – began writing music.
After graduating with a computer science degree in 2000,
she started a job as a software engineer for Cisco Systems.
But after two years, she left the position to pursue a
career in music. She said she sees her friends in the
industry who have gotten married and started families,
and there are points when she thinks about where she would
be if she didn't make a change.
“The joke is they've progressed from the milk crate
to the Ikea to the Pottery Barn phase of life,”
she said. “ ... There are moments when I think that's
the life I could have had.”
She said her family was both hesistant and supportive
when she told them about her shift in career paths.
“(My parents) didn't have any of the usual stereotypical
objections,” she said. “My mom and my dad
sort of had different reservations for it.”
Teng said her mother was concerned about the ulterior
motives that exist within the music business, and asked
her if there was another way to follow her passions without
completely immersing herself into the world.
“My mom said that the music business can be a place
that sort of is motivated by the wrong intentions,”
she said. “ ... She was really worried about what
a life would be like in that environment.”
Her father knew that she had many interests growing up,
Teng said. His concern was about the difficult path she
“His real question is, 'If you have so many different
interests and so many passions, why would you choose the
hardest thing to make a living at?'” she said.
Since devoting herself to music full time, Teng has released
three albums and toured around the world. However, she
said she has a hard time whenever she comes out to Colorado.
“I have to confess, Colorado and I have a difficult
relationship because of the altitude,” she laughed.
“Whenever I arrive here, I get a headache and I
feel really dehydrated and tired.”
What she feels and how she sounds are two different things.
Teng's lucid vocals carry well as her fans respond by
packing shows in Colorado. In her last trip, her Denver
show was sold out while the Boulder venue filled to capacity.
Since she began playing with a band, she said she enjoys
being able to concentrate on specific parts of the arrangement.
“It's nice to focus on listening to other people
and to focus on singing,” she said. “And pianowise
to sort of contribute to the overall arrangement of things.”