“I was in a long-distance relationship with music for many years,” jokes songwriter Vienna Teng. “Now we’re finally moving back in together.”
Long-distance, perhaps, but long-running. In 2002, Vienna released her debut album Waking Hour, landing her on NPR’s Weekend Edition, The Late Show with David Letterman, and the top of Amazon’s music charts. Four more albums followed, most recently Aims in 2013, which became the first album to win four Independent Music Awards. She also composed the music for The Fourth Messenger by playwright Tanya Shaffer, which premiered in 2013 and was a featured production in the 2017 New York Musical Theater Festival. Together with Vienna’s captivating live performances and thoughtful online presence, her work has built a devoted following across generations and continents.
Still, other pursuits have always beckoned. A computer science major before she was a recording artist, Vienna is a nerd at heart, as comfortable in spreadsheets as the spotlight. She returned to academia in 2010 to study environmental sustainability, which led to a new career working on climate change, energy and waste issues. She also became a bonus parent to her partner’s two kids, and in early 2020 welcomed a newborn addition to the family - just in time for pandemic lockdown.
“I learned a lot about what it means to hold two truths in your head at the same time, as the saying goes,” Vienna says of that period. “The situation can be dire and full of possibility. Both kindness and fierceness are so very necessary.”
She wondered: what if two songs, with seemingly contradictory perspectives, were written so they would “mash up” into a duet? The result is her song-pair “We’ve Got You”: one about serving as a beacon for one’s community, the other about leaning on that community in one’s darkest hour. It’s some of the most intricate and impassioned songwriting she’s ever done. When she performs it on stage - solo, live-looping her voice, keyboards and percussion to layer the two songs together - the audience response is electric. “And there are so many ways for songs to be in dialogue with each other,” she notes. “I’d love to keep exploring that idea…hopefully in dialogue with other creators, too.”
Fittingly for a piece about reinvigoration and connection, “We’ve Got You” marks the start of a new chapter for Vienna, where her environmental and musical vocations converge. In 2022, she launched a “music x climate action” community on Patreon, combining monthly livestream shows and recording studio updates with Zoom climate action sessions, as well as working one-on-one with patrons on their own climate projects. On the road, she’s started hosting workshops between concerts, bringing members of her audience together to share knowledge and take real steps for climate - events that participants have described as “life-changing,” “rocket fuel,” and “the perfect antidote to despair.”
The long-distance phase is over. Now it’s time for communion - and moving forward.