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Face2Face with Vienna Teng

Software engineer turned singer-songwriter finds life to be a big storyline


Vienna Teng is living a novel.


At least that's what the 28-year-old, California-born singer-songwriter thinks.


“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 chose.


“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.


Blue caravan
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.” >> continue

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