From keyboard to piano

Folk singer Vienna Teng puts substance before riches.

Jenny Phan

Her soulful rhythms and poetic lyrics shatter the stereotypical folk genre. She takes the model minority stereotype and spits on it. Vienna Teng, a 25-year-old singer-songwriter, has shaken the folk/pop music industry with her melodic voice and pure talent in music.

Former folk musicians, such as Jewel, have dropped their pretense to the folk title and jumped in the pool of pop culture to swim with the million-dollar mass culture sharks. But there are still some folkies out there who won’t make monetary rewards their only motivation.

Nobody ever said it was easy to make it in the music business. Many set out to make music with their whole heart and soul and claim they are in it for the love of their art. However, few have the fortitude to stick it out even when success comes slowly.

Take, for example, Britney Spears. While she might be a competent singer and dancer, it is clear that it’s her sex appeal that’s gotten her where she is today. However, she must have walked a long, hard road to become the Pepsi girl, and who knows what kind of mad experiments the Mickey Mouse Club did to her. So for the sleazy industry regimen she’s endured, she deserves some credit. It takes a lot of character and persistence to survive in the music business.

But much more astonishing than being one of the few Asian-American folk singers is that Vienna Teng has lived the stereotypical model minority life. A San Francisco resident, she graduated from Stanford University with a degree in computer science and worked for Cisco before she quit her job as a software engineer to pursue music.

The change in lifestyle is “infinitely better,” said Teng, who admitted her income is dramatically reduced. However, her satisfaction after a day’s work is much better than before.

Within six months of signing to Virt Records, she was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition that led to a Letterman show appearance. It is surprising that the pressure Asian- American parents place on children to learn the piano doesn’t generate more artists like Teng.

Though ethnically Chinese, her music relates to her experiences as an American, with little reference to her Chinese background. She bases her ideas and music off of what life throws at her, making her lyrics accessible to many U.S. audiences.

Folk music has been looking for singers like Teng who use music as a form of expression, not as a form of income. With Teng’s optimistic look on traveling throughout the nation, and her joy in meeting new people, she has found time to be down-to-earth and honest about what she wants to convey to listeners.

Music is not a competition. “There will always be someone better than you,” Teng said. “Music is about doing something you love and others love without worrying about money.”

Teng is now touring nationwide promoting her album, “Waking Hours,” released in November. Her new album, “Warm Strangers,” will be released in February.