Sheng-Ching Hsu is a violinist based in L.A. Finding a love for music from her parents, she was encouraged to follow the Arts and took up piano and violin lessons. Now, she is bringing her music to all over the world! Hsu’s path didn’t come without obstacles. After 4 of her fingertips experienced nerve damage, she was forced to re-learn her craft – and with the shutdowns caused by the pandemic, lost her ability to express herself. She rediscovered her passion through a series of live shows called S-C Sidewalk Performances, and got back on track to giving back through art! Hsu advises young artists to “stay positive and grateful, don’t forget to treat yourself with a piece of chocolate or any kind of comfort food once in a while!” Read on to learn more about Sheng-Ching Hsu and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Sheng-Ching Hsu
Hometown: Tainan, Taiwan
Current City: Los Angeles
Current project: We have just a few days left in our Arizona tour with composer Eric Genuis. Then I will go back home to my next project: Decluttering my closet and spending more time with my cat.
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
S-C Sidewalk Performances which were featured on Fox11 Los Angeles and the Lincoln Center Stage on Holland America Line.
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Be truthful and honest to yourself, be kind and humble with open minds to others. Trust that your work is meaningful and valuable, but work hard to sharpen and polish it so that it communicates well. Stay positive and grateful, don’t forget to treat yourself with a piece of chocolate or any kind of comfort food once in a while!
How did you get your start?
My parents love music. They are not musicians but my dad likes singing and composing simple tunes that go with the scriptures in the Bible; my mom always wanted to learn the piano growing up. Hence my sisters and I all learned the piano at a young age, and I picked up the violin about a year after. Later on I realized that being an introverted shy girl, I got to hide and let my instruments communicate without speaking a word.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
My first official Sidewalk Performance during the pandemic. I hadn’t taken a bow for 10 months, at that time and I remember looking down at my shoes, and my vision clouded over with tears. Lots of other memories from my Sidewalk Performances. Oftentimes, it felt like no one was listening, but there would be applause coming from the balconies all around me when I finished the performances, that people were actually listening at their homes. I have had a health worker come down and quickly give me a thank you card without saying anything, or men who tried to say thank you with tears in their eyes… It's those small moments when you realize your music has touched people’s hearts that mean a lot.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
The nerves in 4 of my fingertips are damaged, which is too delicate to do any medical procedure on. It took me years to re-learn how to be connected to my instrument, and I thought of giving up many times. The pandemic was also hard for everyone. As performing artists though, we not only faced financial difficulties, we lost who we were. Performing art is such a way to express and communicate ourselves, it is how we present who we are. When that was taken away, you lose yourself, and you start doubting whether art is needed, whether you are needed.
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
My favorite color is brown, and I am kind of obsessed with it. I didn’t choose to like it, but one day in middle school, I realized that everything I had was brown.
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between gigs to pay the bills?
I drove my 7 year old student and his 3 year old brother to school for a little while.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
Be more confident in what you do. It is okay to be bold, to take risks, to step out of the comfort zones and to try new things; you never know what you are going to get out of them.
What skills did you find to be the most helpful in your career?
Be efficient and organized with a grateful and relaxing attitude.
Where did you study at?
BM, The Mannes School of Music
MM, The Juilliard School
DMA, Stony Brook University
What do you love most about what you do?
As a freelance musician, I get to have something different to look forward to everyday. I get to communicate with a universal language without actually speaking with my voice. I get to travel to see the world and learn about all kinds of different people and cultures.
How do you deal with performance anxiety?
I found that if I know the piece well enough that I am clear about what I am saying and how I would like to say it, I look forward to the performance more than having anxiety. So for me, the best way to deal with it is to have a well-rounded preparation. When I get nervous though, if I can find my balance and gravity, focus on the core of my body and be grounded, I feel so much better. :)
Do you have any self care practices you do to stay focused and sane? What was your self care routine before the pandemic and how has that (as well as your views of self care) changed throughout the pandemic?
My quiet morning espresso time that set my day with a right start. That did not change during the pandemic.
Who is your favorite composer, and what do you find interesting about their music?
J.S. Bach. You start learning his music in the beginner stage, and you will be playing his music and still find something new until the day you stop playing. His music is so simple and yet complex, so pure and yet so powerful.
I also like S. Prokofiev. He writes cute music for the kids, elegant music for the ballets, also dark music to reflect the war...and yet you can always recognize that it's Prokofiev when you hear it.
Are there any habits you have that have shaped your playing?
I always wash my hands before playing. I guess in a way it brings an attitude of caring and respecting your instrument. The instrument is almost like a teammate, since you present a performance together. If you take care of each other well, the performance would be better. It’s kind of funny but I also talk to my violin all the time, her name is Sheng-Chin. (升琴）
If you’ve crossed the table from performing to music directing, conducting, arranging, or composing, what made you take the leap, and how did it change your way of thinking?
I arrange music. It all started with simply playing the music from the movies or soap operas on the piano when I was still a little girl. Then I started writing them down, as a hobby. That led to some projects I did professionally, for example I just arranged the National Anthem for The Knick’s Lunar New Year Game in Madison Square Garden. I also have arranged for the Boston Pops, Lincoln Center Stage, New Asia Chamber Music Society, New York Fashion Week, Manhattan Symphonie and more. That's why I encourage my students to keep doing what they are interested in outside of school work, because it might lead to something bigger one day.
How do you think your creative process has changed over time?
I think it's a self-discovering process. As I know myself more, I am more clear about what and how I am delivering my work. The work becomes more and more individual and honest.
Since so many of us spent a lot of time isolated during the pandemic, how has that experience specifically changed your creative or preparation process or your outlook on life?
I was lost and depressed during the pandemic. I used to perform every single day and then I was playing only for my cat and my bears at home. I think what I got out of it is that I treasure every opportunity to play even more, whether it's a concert in a big hall, or a small private event, I am thankful and do my best for all of them.
What other instruments have you played or learned to play besides your main instrument?
If you could name one point in time when everything changed for you, what was it?
When I started performing at Lincoln Center Stage on cruise ships. The work took me to so many places and worked with people from all over the world. It opened up my eyes and my mind to not only get used to the diversities, but actually appreciate them.
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