Amazing Asians in the Arts: Lily Ling
Lily Ling is a keyboard player and music director based in Toronto, Canada! This multi-lingual instrumentalist has worked on Broadway productions all over the world including the Canadian premiere of The Light in the Piazza, the Chinese language premiere of The Lion King in Shanghai, and is currently the first female Music Director and Conductor of one of the US touring companies of Hamilton! Keep reading to find out more about what makes Lily an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Lily Ling
Current City: Toronto
Current Project: Music Director/Conductor of And Peggy company of Hamilton
What are some of your favorite credits/projects?
- Assistant MD: Canadian premiere of The Light in the Piazza
- MD/Conductor: 20th Anniversary Off-Broadway Revival of John and Jen and recording the soundtrack with an expanded ensemble with Andrew Lippa at the helm
- Associate Conductor: Chinese Language premiere of The Lion King in Shanghai
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
- My first instrument was the accordion. Due to Russian folk influences, the most popular instruments in China throughout the 80’s were piano, violin, and accordion. I began learning the accordion when I was 3 and a half, and it was my accordion teacher who suggested I also learn the piano. When my mom and I immigrated to Canada in 1993, our carry-on’s consisted of my accordion and a rice cooker!
- I am fluent in both Cantonese and Mandarin. Cantonese in the language I speak at home to my family and Mandarin came in handy during my year with The Lion King in Shanghai. One of my roles was to teach the African languages to the Chinese actors and to teach Mandarin lyrics to the South African actors
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you’d like to share?
It has been an honor to become the first female music director for Hamilton. There is nothing like the sense of pride when I step onto the podium and head a young girl exclaim to her parents or friend, “Look! It’s a girl!”
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Try everything, learn as much as you can, and always say Yes! The arts is a trade and the only way to get better is through work and different experiences. If you have the time and energy, say Yes. You never know who you are going to meet and where each opportunity will lead. Each job or project, even the bad ones, is a learning experience.
How did you get your start?
I am a classically trained pianist. In high school, I was introduced to the world of musical theatre through our high school theatre program and I continued to work through different theatre groups during my time at the University of Toronto where I obtained my Bachelors of Music in Piano Performance. During my undergrad, I realized I enjoyed working theatre much more than the solitary life of a classical pianist. I was very lucky to intern at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake right after school. I also learned a lot working throughout the Toronto theatre scene before moving to the State for grad school and work.
Who do you admire?
My parents. They gave up their lives in China and moved to a foreign country where they still mostly do not speak the lingua franca. They both worked multiple minimum wage jobs so I could have a piano and continue lessons. If not for them, I can’t quite imagine what my life would be like if I had grown up in China.
Do you have any mentors?
Many! I have had the pleasure of working with amazing music directors and mentors!
In Canada, Paul Sportelli from the Shaw Festival was the first person who took a chance and gave me the opportunity to intern and work at a professional level.
Diane Leah from MCC Toronto taught me so much about pop piano playing and let me hone my choral conducting skills
Dan Riddle was my MFA professor at Penn State. He gave me an amazing amount of freedom to craft my graduate studies. His piano playing and conducting is unparalleled. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive mentor.
David Kreppel is the associate universal music supervisor of The Lion King. He taught me how to conduct the show. The clarity and strength in his movements and his ethos as a music director and conductor are things I turn to everyday.
Alex Lacamoire, my current big boss! Lac’s attention to detail and his ears are frighteningly acute. He is one of the most remarkable and talented people I have ever met. But what makes him all the more amazing is that his patience, kindness, and sense of empathy is just as strong as his talent. I feel extremely lucky and an enormous sense of pride to work for someone like Lac.
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
I didn’t know I wanted to be in the arts until I was around 16 – after an outdoor concert with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Prior to that, I wanted to be a lawyer – a prosecutor to be exact. I actually spent five years in undergrad because I started in pre-Med. After a couple of months it became very clear that I would not be happy in the sciences. I switched over to music and restarted my freshman year all over again.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
I think this is a challenge in all parts of everyone’s career, but I find effective and succinct communication to be quite difficult. As a young woman, it was hard to straddle the line between assertiveness and not coming off too impatient, shrill, or bossy – even thought I was quite impatient. Currently, it is working on a show were I didn’t grow up with the particular style of music but still being able to give notes in a way where I am maintaining the integrity and flow of the show, while respecting the musical background and viewpoints of each actor. To be honest, I think the ability to listen is the biggest part of the challenge. To acknowledge just because “I’m the boss” doesn’t mean I have all the answers. To approach each person and experience with an open heart and a wiliness to learn.
Where did you study at?
Bachelors of Music in Piano Performance at University of Toronto
MFA in Music Direction from Penn State
What is your greatest accomplishment?
- Gaining success in my field as an Asian female immigrant
- Being a source of pride for my family and showing young girls that a career and success in the arts is achievable
What are some goals you hope to achieve?
- I would like to do more outreach with BIPOC youth, especially the Chinese and Asian community
- I believe music education – especially in early childhood education – is integral in the development and fostering of empathy and critical thinking. I would love to do more research and career building on that end.
- I am immensely proud of my Chinese heritage and I am also thankful for the freedom I received from my Western upbringing and education. During my time in Shanghai, I enjoyed my job not only as a language translator, but also as a cultural ambassador as well. As borders are now closing and xenophobia is growing worldwide, I would love to use my skills to help rebuild the bridge between the East and the West.
What do you love most about what you do?
Music and text are both equally important. I love my job because I am able to help actors and musicians make sense of both. I love bridging connections between the two- finding subtext in the musical notes and infusing more acute points of view from the text. For me, music theatre is the most collaborative art form. Telling a story where text, music, and dance along with lighting, scenery, and costumes are working in perfect harmony.