Ju-Ping Song Classical Pianist... by Dave Lefever...
If you think classical music is mainly by dead white men, Ju-Ping Song is here to make you think again. To her it’s a living breathing organism and the future looks as exciting as any “golden age” in the past. Just watch her play the piano and you’ll see.
Ju-Ping came on the Lancaster scene in 2008 to join the piano faculty at the Pennsylvania Academy of Music . Arriving from New York by train for the job interview she decided to take a cab downtown to the academy. “It took about two minutes.” Welcome to a small town -- even though, as she came to see, one with a big appetite for music. “I had a really good feeling,” she says of her first time in Lancaster. PAM called her two days later to offer the job.
Born in Taiwan to a professor father and musical mother, raised in Switzerland and having spent a lot of time in New York, she naturally found Lancaster a bit of a backwater. But four years later she’s still here and that’s a testament to what’s going on in the local music scene and the greater potential she sees in it. Even though PAM has closed its doors, Ju-Ping has other plans in the works.
She started playing piano at age 4 and learned the classical repertoire, finding favorites in Brahms, Liszt and Beethoven -- less so in Mozart. “It didn’t seem complex enough and it was so damn hard to play,” she says of probably the most famous classical composer’s music. “It’s very structured and transparent. There’s nowhere to hide.” Already as a child, Ju-Ping was leaning toward breaking out of the confines of the classical canon. But she played it in concerts through high school and college, which included time at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.
A foreshadowing of her future direction came when she moved back to Switzerland for a year in her early 20s and discovered the music of Ferruccio Busoni. This composer was one of the “more forward thinking musicians” of the late Romantic period, using lots of chromatic scales and key shifts. It was the first time Ju-Ping was transported outside of her standard classical sonic knowledge.
But all those years of classical music had taken a toll and, after moving back to the states, living in California, Ju-Ping stopped playing. “When you hit a wall, either you quit or you find a new way,” she says. It took two years before that fate was determined -- when she moved to New York and began getting back into music. But this time, she was going to be setting her own course, not one picked out by century-old keepers of culture. “That’s when I started looking for repertoire on my own.”
Studying at the Manhattan School of Music she encountered the music of John Cage and even made friends with people who had known the pioneering composer famous for his unconventional soundscapes, weird use of instruments and other avant-garde forays. “It opened up another world for me.” And she wasn’t the only one who was embarking into a brave new world of music. She found other musicians who were doing so and that community is thriving today.
“A lot of the perception that classical music is locked into the past – that’s breaking down right now,” she says. “A lot of people are trying to find their own way. “
Since coming to Lancaster, Ju-Ping founded NakedEye, which she calls a “flexible new music ensemble.” This past spring, she hosted a concert featuring herself and a mix of other avant-garde classical musicians along with some local rock musicians at the Stahr Armory. She called the event “NakedEye: Storylines Crossing” to show the variety of genres – the crowd was treated to a mash-up of styles and techniques with slim to non-existent references to the classical music canon of centuries past. One of the pieces, written in 2009 by German by composer Moritz Eggert, “One-(Wo)Man Band 2”, featured Ju-Ping on piano and other instruments including a harmonica, percussion and a squeeze toy -- at one point she even played the piano by sitting on the keys .
Another composition, by Andrea Cavallari, featured Ju-Ping on toy piano using playback and pedal distortion effects. The toy piano recently became a passion of hers because of the novel sounds it makes.
“Isn’t that what performance is about – getting out of your element?” she says. “I want my shows to elicit some kind of reaction . . . show people how beautiful life is.”
A lot of the confidence needed to do that comes from knowing who you are first. Ju knows this about herself: she loves live music and the unexpected. She loves the “anything could happen” element of performing in front of an audience.
She plans to continue bringing NakedEye concerts to Lancaster and has an exciting 2012-2013 season lined up, filled with commissioned new works and artful noise. To learn more on NakedEye, visit NakedEyeEnsemble.com.
Still a world traveler, Ju-Ping recently returned from Taiwan and Italy, where she performed with the FlameEnsemble, an eclectic group of 25 musicians of which she is a founding member. But Lancaster has become her home base and that’s great news for anyone in the area looking for something entirely new and different on the music scene.
A link to The NakedEye: nakedeyeensemble.com/