BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
We can all relate to feelings of isolation during the pandemic. We have lived through lockdowns, concert cancellations, and anxiety about how the world is changing. But beyond our shared experiences over the past two years, we each possess a personal story about the way COVID has touched our individual lives.
London-based Taiwanese pianist-composer An-Ting 安婷 started documenting her personal story between March and September 2020, and now shares it with the world in Songs From My Room — her first original solo album. We chat with An-Ting about the events and feelings we can hear in her music — starting with one of its most surprisingly joyous tracks Ping Pong Dance, which you can watch below.
An-Ting, you’ve just released your first original album — and with music videos to boot! This album has been a way for you to document how you’ve felt through the pandemic. So I have to be honest, I was absolutely not expecting something as delightfully playful as your Ping Pong Dance (above)! Tell us how you came up with this creative idea.
My feelings during the pandemic were going up and down, not just in one direction. Sometimes I felt so upset from all the news, and sometimes I felt that I needed to relax and have some entertainment!
Ping Pong Dance came out as the entertainment that I created for myself. One afternoon, I put many balls inside of the piano, and had a lot of fun using different speeds and rhythms to make them dance inside of the piano!
Let’s get serious, now — your other works do sound more complex and emotive, as opposed to just plain fun. How would you describe the way you felt during the pandemic, and as a consequence, the themes or emotions you explore through this album?
The music of the album is emotion-based, yet I found through my music that my emotions during the pandemic period were affected heavily by the events that happened in London, the United Kingdom, and around the world.
I’ve played Songs From My Room in many live concerts. It was very interesting to find that there was a kind of ‘collective emotion’ everyone in the UK felt during that period. The emotions I had were all very personal, but at the same time not just personal as they were a part of a bigger event.
How can we see the narrative of this album — including the way it progresses through the tracks in the order you’ve curated — as expressing your experience of those pandemic events?
The first seven pieces are literally what I wrote every month from March to September of 2020. I have thought about curating the music, not in this literal way, but found the different emotions or styles of the music in order formed a journey in itself, and also reflected what happened in different months of the pandemic, which affected us in deep but different ways.
March 2020 was the beginning of the lockdown [where I lived]. I suddenly felt that London was very quiet and peaceful, and I actually felt very calm in the quietness. Then from April to June, my emotions went up and down. I was all by myself in the room, watching the news and getting along with myself and my bubble — my flatmate and my ex-boyfriend. What happened in the news included that many people in the UK died, Black Lives Matter happened, and what we were all experiencing: the period where we dropped our ’normal’ life before the pandemic — going to theatre, concerts, and hang-out with friends — and stayed at home every day.
July was exciting and refreshing as we suddenly could go out to the street, and there were people and shops. August was when I broke up with my ex-boyfriend, who I knew from the beginning of the pandemic and broke up after the lockdown was released. In September, it all became very complex again, when we can still enjoy the beautiful summer out; while seeing cases and deaths on the rise and other cities in the UK started to go into lockdown again.
That was what happened in the first seven months. The last three pieces of music were responding to my life events before the pandemic. Option 7 responds to my difficult period in different relationships after getting a divorce. I wrote The Jolly Frog when I was doing musician-in-residence at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, where I felt I was like ’the frog in the well’ — how Chinese people describe people who don’t know how big the world is — but I felt that I was a jolly fog!
The Midnight Whisper was, again, written in response to one relationship where I had a fight with my ex-boyfriend at midnight every weekend.
How does it feel to document all of those challenging times, then show them to the world? I feel like it’s a musical version of “wearing your heart on your sleeve”; is there a vulnerability you feel in releasing this music?
I played the album to a live audience many times before releasing the music. That really helped me to feel not afraid of sharing my personal experience and feelings with people; I always tell my audience the stories behind the music.
For me, music is the most honest expression one can have. It is very important for composers to be honest and sincere to themselves and to the listeners. And to perform and release the album is to share our honest feelings, experiences, and expressions with the listeners.
Listeners will have different kinds of resonance from their experience and feelings [compared] to the honest feelings musicians put in the music. I always love listening to my listeners’ stories and interpretations of my music.
Any parting words about this incredible journey you’ve been on?
Thanks so much for the interview so I can share more thoughts and processes behind this new album! I know myself so much more through those compositions, and my life has changed a lot after the pandemic. I think many people in the world also have the same feeling that their life has irreversible changes.
I hope the music can have any kind of resonance with you, and open up some feelings deep in your body.
Hear An-Ting’s original album Songs From My Room on Spotify, and learn more about the artist on her website.