Jenny Tang, co-director of the Chamber Music Society, naturally gravitated towards her mother’s piano one day during her kindergarten years, and thus began her career in music.
Her mother had studied music and wanted to be a concert pianist. However, after having four children she decided to spend more time with her family and teach piano lessons. When Tang was young, her mother chose not to pressure her into playing, waiting until Tang expressed her own interest to learn during kindergarten.
“She didn’t want to be the pushy mother that would say, ‘You’d better start when you’re still in the womb!’” Tang joked. “She thought that it needed to be more natural.”
Tang traveled from Hong Kong to Massachusetts to attend the New England Conservatory of Music and earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees there. During the process of studying for her master’s, she had the opportunity to perform in front of the guest choir conductor, who was working at Wellesley College at the time. The conductor was impressed with her playing and offered her a position at Wellesley. Directly from the New England Conservatory, Tang began working at Wellesley as a choir accompanist.
At the beginning of her career at Wellesley, Tang traveled back and forth throughout the week from Wellesley to New York in order to teach students in both locations, as she was also considering settling in New York rather than Massachusetts. However, as she established herself among the Wellesley College faculty, she chose to remain in Massachusetts. As a teacher, Tang strives to show students the relationship between music theory and performances and hopes to inspire students as much as they can inspire her.
Apart from her position at Wellesley, she teaches sixth grade through high school at Indian Hill Music School with her college students.
“I find it quite important for me to stay in touch with that age group,” Tang explained. “So that I when I teach in this college level, I always know where they come from. I don’t ever want to lose touch of that.”
Tang seeks to find a balance between teaching and performing, citing a lack of time as her main challenge. She finds value in performing with other musicians as well as playing solo; even as a soloist, Tang finds that she is never truly by herself while performing because it is important for her to have an understanding of the composer.
“When I perform chamber music it’s wonderful to be able to relate and to play with other musicians. Solo is also very important for me because I am trained to be a concert pianist,” Tang said. “A lot of people think that you just play by yourself and for me it’s that you’re very in touch with the emotions between you and the composer and to be able to express that feeling to lift the musical notation off the page and transfer that to the audience.”
Tang continues to find opportunities to perform solo through the Indian Hill Music School, collaborations with Wellesley’s theater department and the college’s students. She is accompanying a Wellesley alumna Kirsten Scott ’11 for “Queer as Opera” this Saturday, using music to comment on social conventions and reflect on views from historic composers. Her favorite piece, she explained, is generally the one she is working on at the moment, which in this case is “Wanderer Fantasy,” composed by Franz Schubert.
Aside from music, Tang finds joy in cooking and gardening, boasting her signature cherry liqueur that she makes from the cherries growing in her garden, which she calls her “little orchard.” She also grows apricots, peaches, blueberries, pears and other fruits. Music, however, is her true passion and she finds herself being free in a way that is different from what can be found elsewhere.
“I just feel very free up there. As someone from Chinese descent and as a woman or even a girl you are not supposed to express a lot of feelings; you are supposed to be seen in a certain way. But in music I feel like I can be very free and expressive, and no one can touch me for that,” she explained.