by Genevieve Long
Peirong Hsieh has been surrounded by music, dance, arts and culture her entire life. Although a long road, it’s led her to her current job as a stage manager and piano accompanist with Divine Performing Arts.
Hsieh, a resident of Seacaucus, is the daughter of a famous Taiwanese ballerina, and studied dance, piano, and viola from a young age.
Since 2007, Hsieh has thrown the full weight of her musical experience into performing in the Divine Performing Arts’ Chinese New Year show that tours around the world. And it’s for a good reason—Hsieh believes in what she is doing.
“The content is to revive the truly traditional Chinese culture,” says Hsieh about the shows. “As artists we want to pass [this culture] on to future generations.”
One of her favorite instruments in the show is the two-stringed Erhu, largely because of the impact it has on the audience.
“Erhu has that kind of melancholy sound, it’s very Chinese—you can feel it,” says Hsieh. “It’s kind of melancholy, it’s kind of aching.”
In fact, to her the entire show is one special act after another, “Each act of our production has meaning, and that meaning can touch people’s hearts.”
The diminutive powerhouse has not only lived a life surrounded by music, arts and culture. She boasts Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in piano performance respectively at Boston University and the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University. She also studied at the Hartt School of the University of Hartford.
Roots of Culture
Growing up in Taiwan, Hsieh feels lucky to have been raised in a part of the world where traditional Chinese culture is relatively well-preserved. It is these roots that give her a sense of gratitude and motivate her to perform. She even illustrates her point by drawing on a classical quote.
“There’s a Chinese expression that says ‘if you give me a papaya, I’ll give you back a jade’—it means if you give me something I will remember your kindness forever,” says Hsiesh. “I remember that because it shows how Chinese people have a big heart.”
As a pianist, she believes who she is as a person is brought to the stage, and to every performance. Even though each performance has its own characteristics, there are moments when the performers and the audience are connected.
“It’s different every time but the spirit is still there,” says Hsieh. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on stage or in the show, it’s part of a picture.”
Through helping to paint that picture, Hsieh realizes how a performer who lives an upright life can benefit a live audience.
“With performing you can never hide your life from the world,” says Hsieh. “Maybe that day because you had a better understanding of life and of the world it comes out better [when you perform].”
A Spiritual Outlook on Life
Hsieh’s perspective is colored deeply by her upbringing and classical training, as well as her personal spiritual practice of Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong. She sees the connections with Falun Gong in Divine Performing Arts shows as a natural progression, since many of the performers also practice it.
“It’s natural for artists to talk about what they believe,” says Hsieh of the elements related to Falun Gong in the shows. “They want to share what they believe in. Just like Mozart, Braham, they all wrote requiems with Christian elements. When you go to a performance…you’ll just appreciate how they’re created.”
The contents of Divine Performing Arts shows are classical in nature, but also reflect what’s happening in China, which Hsieh sees as an artistic responsibility.
She adds that lyrics in the Divine Performing Arts songs include mention of Falun Gong’s principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. They also explain the government-sponsored persecution of the practice, which has been ongoing since 1999.
“Everything existing in the world, everything is within truthfulness, compassion, tolerance,” observes Hsieh. “As a pianist, when I practice I will find these principles. You find the balance—the balance and the respect.”
The demanding touring schedule of Divine Performing Arts runs from December through approximately May, although it is extended every year. But Hsieh says that no matter whether the performers suffer from jet lag or physical pain, or have conflicts, they always do their best to give it their all once on stage.
“It’s all beyond description,” she says, sighing and smiling. “If you’re touched by it, that will become part of you.”