Interview by Jack Gold-Molina
Tiffany Lin is a creative music pianist based in Seattle, Washington. A native of Tainan, Taiwan, when she was a young girl her family immigrated to the Central Valley of California where she began studying piano. She studied performance at California Institute of the Arts with pianists Vicky Ray and Peter Miyamoto as well as with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and violinist Leroy Jenkins before completing her education at Cornish College of Music in Seattle. Her projects have included traditional performances with piano and toy pianos as well as non-conventional composition and performance using prepared pianos and installations featuring reconstructed pianos.
Perfect Sound Forever: What influenced you to start playing music?
Tiffany Lin: There was no immediate influence! I was given the opportunity to take piano lessons when I was younger and as most little kids will do, struggled to find any meaning in practicing and sitting in front of black and white rectangles you can press. But, my parents pushed me through those tough years until I realized for myself that music was about communication. When that happened, the world opened up for me a bit, I began traveling to play music, met new people, had experiences I would have never had otherwise. As a quiet little girl, this other voice music gave me was the impetus and influence to keep it going.
PSF: Who are some of your early influences?
TL: It seems strange and probably really egocentric, but I think that one of my early influences was my future self. I grew up in an incredibly small and reserved town in Central California and had a tough time managing being a minority immigrant. So, all I wanted was to get to my future self and music was slowly leading me down a path where I could see a potential self that was outside of that community. Though, I was so fortunate to have great musical mentors who supported me on every musical decision I made during this time and it made all the difference. My main teachers taught me that I could believe in what I wanted, and how to be realistic about it all.
PSF: Do you think your influences are the same today?
TL: Am I still waiting to get to my future self? Funny thought because it seems like every moment is a move towards perhaps changing a bit, or learning something new, etc. This is perhaps a bigger conversation...
Another thing about my musical training and education is that I never really listened to music during my formative music years. My family never had the means to buy CD's (or tapes) or go to concerts really, and my mom was very adamant that when I did listen to music, it was Classical music. I lived on the few CD's my music teacher gave me and a couple of mix tapes a friend made for me through high school - and YouTube wasn't even a thing then.
Today, with the internet and the freedom to purchase music of any genre, I'd say my influences are way different. I've got so much catching up to do - and almost everything influences me. I have things I fascinate over at intervals. Currently, I've been listening to a lot of Pygmy music and Tibetan popular and ceremonial music. I put it on and my eyes and ears just open wider.
PSF: How did you come into playing creative music?
TL: Leroy Jenkins. I had a tiny amount of time with him at CalArts when he was there while Leo Smith was on his sabbatical. His small ensemble class was the first time anyone let me play the creative music. He was supportive, he said I played good things, and he taught me the first steps in listening. He also called me Tiffy, which made me think of him as an uncle. I really loved those moments.
PSF: How would you describe your approach to composition and performance?
TL: Well, those things change from time to time. Generally, composing for me is about movements, shapes and how thought and ideas react and interact and transition with each other. Performance is more about taking the time to be generous and diplomatic. Performing and I have been having a troubled relationship lately. But, I believe if we just talk it through, we'll get back on track. Communication, you know?
PSF: I know that you perform compositions for prepared piano as well as pocket piano and toy piano. How do you approach composing and performing with those instruments?
TL: Well, prepared piano is more like 'what's this gonna sound like?' And pocket and toy piano is more like 'could this button or key get stuck at any moment?' Like I said earlier about performing - these instruments really make me practice being generous, diplomatic, communicative.
PSF: Can you talk about some of your more recent projects?
TL: I've been getting back a little bit into 'the repertoire.' My last show had some Bach in it (which kicked my butt, by the way) and moving forward, I'm playing some Satie and then maybe I'll tackle some Mozart or Beethoven. I've been thinking about touching base with my roots lately, so recent projects are exploring the relationship between past and future/present.
PSF: Do you have any upcoming projects that you are particularly enthusiastic about?
TL: Ah, yes. I've been granted some residency time at Montalvo Arts Center. I'm excited about practicing and eating all day.
PSF: What do you suggest for people who are learning to perform and compose creative music?
TL: Don't get stuck on it? Life is big, there's trees, foods, places, people and relationships, water. It's all connected.
Learn more about Tiffany Lin at her website
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