Her personal story of growing up in the midwest playing piano and singing was typically American except that she was obviously full of natural ability and an amazing work ethic. There are videos of her as piano soloist with the local adult symphony when she's only 12 years old. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDBsxtFXEsA
Through her study at Stanford (in Opera) she met some key people (including Francis Wong) who encouraged her to explore her heritage more deeply and that spark helped her to basically create her own genre of music blending eastern and western cultures and style elements. Her zeal for learning was contagious. Especially impressive was her ability to list 10 languages she can speak fluently.
She told stories and sang several selections for her current show Nine Doors. The class enjoyed getting to ask questions and one special song was performed with the lights off which added an extra mystical element to an already beautiful sound.
Toward the end of our session together (about 90 minutes) she led a workshop on how to begin to compose using intervals and your own birthday. This type of workshop can be experienced at her website for purchasable lessons. https://www.mymusicmasterclass.com/premiumvideos/jen-shyu-improvisation-lesson-intervallic-improvisation-for-all/
We did some work association poetry writing and then some volunteers sang and gestured as an ensemble. While it was far from our comfort zone, students were charmed by Jen's fearlessness and got into the activity with her as coach and leader.
After her session with the Concert Band some students lingered to get to speak with her. Then she did a very short session with our Jazz Advisory Class which was also excellent and well received.
It was a rich experience to have some students want to share their cultural heritage with her after the sessions and be a witness to their "light bulb" moments of inspiration. I love any artist who can so fully celebrate themselves and not worry about sounding like anyone else ... my takeaway was that every musician should be their best selves. Be you!
After our session we enjoyed a visit to Walnut Coffee and got to talk about life as a traveling artist. I shared with her my new favorite artist work book by Austin Kleon called Show Your Work. She shared with me many interesting sites and stories which she's relied on to help other artists when they first arrive in New York including https://www.nyfa.org/
I hope she'll write a book before long too.
Special thanks to Andrea Mano for introducing us and to the Doris Duke Foundation for sponsoring her visit to Edmonds-Woodway.