When music tells a good story

Taiwanese Canadian harpist Vivian Chen joins in Chor Leoni’s annual Christmas choral celebration at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church from Dec. 16–19. The celebrated harpist has performed with the Vancouver Opera and on the international stage and is excited to bring forth a joyous seasonal reprieve that is equal parts serene and light-hearted.

“Sometimes for Christmas music you either have a serious Christmas concert with hymns, or sometimes you have a goofy funny Christmas concert, which are both very fun and interesting. But for Chor Leoni, I like how they pick pieces from both [sides of the] spectrum,” she says.

From sing-along sections to a Christmassy that’s at times both playful and breathtaking, Chen shares her excitement at being able to bring the Christmas magic for what’s almost always a welcoming, cheery audience.

“I really like them because you can feel, everyone is happy,” says Chen. “Sometimes with new music… it’s like ‘we’re going to touch you on the soul level, deep communication’. But with Christmas concerts, everyone comes in like ‘Oh, we’re happy!’”

Harpist Vivian Chen says the nature of the instrument goes very well with the feeling of Christmas magic. | Photo courtesy of Vivien Chen

A fateful encounter

It seemed like fate that Vivian Chen would end up playing the harp. She was enamoured with the instrument from a young age and had a lot of chance encounters with the instrument early in life.

As a young girl, she and her family took a trip to Vancouver before moving there from Taiwan. During that excursion, she was struck by a beautiful, memorable seaside harp performance.

“I was very little, so I don’t really remember the sound of the harp, or what dong she was playing, but I remember just how pretty it was,” Chen recalls.

Returning to Taiwan, Chen found that a harp centre had opened between her house and her mother’s office. Spotting the lovely instrument in the window during walks nearly every day, it was only a matter of time before Chen would convince her mother to get her one.

“I was like ‘oh this is perfect!’ And I just begged my mom like ‘please can I learn this instrument?’ So that’s sort of how I started,” she says. But she didn’t decide to become a professional musician until later in high school.

Since then, Chen has made a name for herself as a renowned performer, graduating first in her class from UBC’s School of Music, performing with a variety of orchestral and chamber groups throughout Vancouver, and gaining a love for harp compositions by Canadian composers.

She recently brought some of that music back to Taiwan, performing Caroline Lizotte’s Suite Galactique for Solo Harp at the Taiwan National Theater. It was a great chance to perform for some of her extended family, who had only heard her play in videos on YouTube, and to showcase great Canadian works abroad.

“I think a lot of them are mesmerising and people really need to know more about them,” adds Chen.

Christmas with Chor Leoni

Chen loves performing around Christmas for a variety of reasons. In addition to Christmas being one of her favourite seasons of the year, she notes that the harp is quite the popular instrument in a lot of popular holiday repertoire.

“The nature of the instrument goes very well with the feeling of Christmas magic,” she explains. “I also enjoy playing a lot of the Christmas piece because there’s this happy vibe throughout that gets you through the dreadful weather.”

Having recently finished some local performances of The Nutcracker, Chen is excited for what’s in store for the performances with Chor Leoni . Being a musician, she says, is all about being a good storyteller, working both to capture both the essence of a particular composition, and to engage the audience throughout.

“When I’m performing, I should always be telling a story… even if it’s the same piece in the same venue, sometimes you can just feel the connection,” says Chen.

For more information about the concerts, visit: www.chorleoni.org

For more on Vivian Chen, visit: www.vivianchenharpist.com