On Sunday, June 3, 2001, I attended the official release party for Waking Hour, the debut album from Vienna Teng.
The event was held at La Maison Française at Stanford University. Originally known as Guthrie House, the La Maison is the French Academic Theme House at Stanford. During my senior year, I served as the Academic Theme Associate for the French House, where I organized theme-related events and taught several elective courses. Another responsibility I had was handing out housing draw-priority for those students interested in living at the house for the following school year.
One of the students that I interviewed was Vienna. At the time, I knew nothing else about her other than the fact that she was a bright-eyed freshman looking to get into the French House. As I did to each applicant, I asked her about her interests in France, her language background, and what kinds of activities she might want to do in the house, all in French. Although I don’t remember, she must have done well, as I gave her priority to get into the house. When the draw came to pass, Vienna found herself with a ticket to live in the French House the next year!
Passion In Life
From sophomore year on, I led a double life at Stanford. No, it wasn’t much of a secret life, nor was it filled with salacious details. Rather, my double life involved my passion with technology. I had begun my company, Foundation Systems, during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years. I carved out pieces of time during my school years to work on my software projects, some of them which became the foundation for my company. Being holed up in my dorm room coding on Friday nights didn’t exactly help my social life at Stanford, but I rarely complained to anyone but myself. After all, I felt like I was building something for the future… and given the choice of spending Friday night partying at Sigma Chi (a.k.a Sigmachi and Party Tonight!) or working out a difficult coding problem, I usually chose the latter.
I have been fortunate to have transformed what I did in my spare time into an interesting career. How does this apply to Vienna? For the longest time, I didn’t know the depth of her interest in music. Sure, I remember during my frequent visits to the French House from 1997-2000, I faintly remember her humming some tune or playing the piano. I chalked it up to the fact that she was musically inclined. Little did I know that Vienna also had a passion that was fueling her life, one that would culminate in her debut album, Waking Hour.
In her own words, Vienna describes her experiences at Stanford:
… my intention upon arriving as a freshman at Stanford was to be a biology major and a music minor, so music had already figured prominently into my plans. in general, my parents impressed upon me that college was the time to pursue anything i found interesting, so of course i worked music into my curriculum and into the ways i spent my “spare” time.
that said, i think my passion for music, and my decision sophomore year that i would make it my career at some point in my life, was one of the major factors in my decision to abandon the premed track. in addition to questioning whether i had the mental stamina to survive medical school, and feeling discouraged by my impressions of life as a doctor, i couldn’t figure out how a music career would fit into it all. it seemed like either a burnout or a lifelong regret waiting to happen. in the meantime i’d become interested in fields whose careers weren’t quite as rigid, and i ended up going with a day job i figure i can always quit.
I’m continually fascinated when I meet people whom I knew at Stanford who are now doing exciting work in fields such as music, journalism, acting, medicine, and technology, to name a few. It’s amazing to think that just a few years ago, we were all hanging out in the dorms and being college kids! There’s sooo much creativity and ability in the people that I know that I wonder what things would be like if we all banded and created a company together. I have no idea what we’d do, but I think with all the brainpower and skill, we could fashion something exciting and groundbreaking. Yet, we’ve all moved along separate paths, paths that crisscross only occasionally during the year: a wedding here, a party there. Work often gets in the way of meeting more often, and again I wonder what things would be like if we all said, “Forget the office! Let’s work together on something great!”
Singing and Covering Fiona and Tori
I remember the first time that I saw her Vienna’s face on her web site. I practically screamed in my living room, “Wait a second! That’s… I know who that is!” After downloading and listening to the MP3’s that she had posted on her web site, I remember being absolutely enthralled by her musical skill. It’s certainly better than a lot of the stuff playing on the radio today. On her web site Vienna lists as her musical influences artists such as Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Sarah MacLachlan, and Ani DiFranco. Those influences are evident in her album Waking Hour. I absolutely love the song Gravity (esp. the Lake version), Enough To Go By, and Momentum.
At the release party in the French House, Vienna played a number of songs, some from her album and some not, to a small, enthralled audience. There’s something about hearing a live performance, especially an intimate one such as this one, which feels so special to me. I can see why people connect more with music (in my opinion) than they do with art. With a musical performance, you can see the musician playing the instrument, singing, and giving it her all. With art, you often see the finished product, not the hours of labor it took to create the art piece. I’m an artist, not a musician, so sometimes it pains me to see the musicians getting all the credit and glory, but I can certainly understand why they do… I was all wrapped up into the moment just like everybody else!
At one point in the evening, Vienna asked if there were any requests. My friend Randy asked her if she would do a cover of China by Tori Amos. Humbly beginning by saying that she didn’t know all of the words, Vienna then proceeded to perform a wonderful rendition of China. After that song, I asked her to play my all-time favorite song, Never Is A Promise, by Fiona Apple. I didn’t expect her to know the words or the music to the song; after all, most people who are familiar with Apple’s work know only her songs like Shadowboxer or Criminal (or they know of her kiddie-porn romping in the Criminal video). I was pleasantly surprised, then, to see that she did indeed know the words and the music to the song!
Every year, I choose one song to represent the entire year. I think for the 1997 and 1998 year, that song was Never Is A Promise. It captured so well the events that happened in my life at that time. Even today, it feels so real and relevant. Yeah, I’d say right now that is my favorite song of all-time. Hearing Vienna sing that just made me sing, err… lipsync the words along with her in the French House! The other people probably thought that I was psycho, but it didn’t matter to me.
Autographs and Final Thoughts
After her performance, Vienna began to do something that she’s going to have to get used to, sign autographs and get her picture taken. Randy and his friends posed as Vienna Teng Groupies for my camera, which was alternating between my 28-70 and 17-35. I wish I’d brought the 50 since it would have worked much better in the low-light situations than the others.
During this time, I met up with a bunch of her friends, including a few who lived in the French House in the years after I had graduated, such as Jeremy and Serban. I reintroduced myself to Eric Miller, a fellow Symbolic Systems alum, who worked extensively with Vienna on the album. Jess, a friend of Joe Norman, was also there, and it was good to see her back up in the Bay Area again.
Someone noted to me that there weren’t that many people at the release party. If you look at the pictures, it’s true, there were less than two dozen people who showed up. Some of my friends weren’t able to make it, as they were either out recuperating from a long weekend or had arranged other plans. As for me, I think nothing of the small number of people who were at the party. In my opinion, this was a clarion call for a new phase in Vienna’s musical career. All new beginnings begin as small moments, insignificant when compared to the events in the coming months and years. This girl’s got what it takes, and she can make it. This small group of friends and fans isn’t going to stay small much longer. I for one am looking forward to seeing that group get larger and being continually enthralled and mesmerized by this talented musician.
Additional resources on all thing’s Vienna Teng:
Here are some additional photos that I took at the Waking Hour Release Party, held on June 3, 2001, at the French House on Stanford campus: