"Music is love in search of a word," once intoned 19th century American musician and poet Sidney Clopton Lanier. Since her birth in China's Sichuan Province in 1983, Chinese-born composer, pianist, and teacher Tan Hainu has tirelessly been driven by a similar idea: music bonds the world in ways that other forms of language cannot. From Chinese cadenced and colorful languages, Indian, Arabian and African dynamic and orchestic polyrhythms, America's magnificent majesty and freedom spirit, German and Austrian precise expression and multidimensional features, and French and Italian romantic and artistic imageries, her music exists at the interstices of Chinese and Western society, and recognizes the need to positively contribute to the global conversation.
Indeed, Tan Hainu's music is a cornucopia of hybridity and inclusivity and has been described as "descriptive and highly innovative" by the Portland Press Herald. Her work is categorized into two periods: tea period (1994–2008) and wind period (2006–present). The compositions in Tan Hainu's tea period reflect her Eastern characteristics and use the natural dramatics of various Asian languages. The form of her Four-Voice Fugue for Clarinet, Marimba, Vibraphone, Xylophone, Glockenspiel, Piano and Violin, incorporates an Eastern theme where Western Fugue form brings counterpoint to Eastern tradition. The second movement of her Echoing Colorful Clouds and Mystic Footprints of India for orchestra brings in the traditional barbaric dance rhythm of India thickening the Indian beat through the orchestration technique. Tan Hainu's Two-Bird Fugue for Solo Piano is based on Bach’s philosophy, and also incorporates Chinese "just intonation" and Arabian 24 equal temperament. Two-Bird Fugue introduces the vertical minor second chord into the horizontal 12 equal temperament, and in doing so, it weakens the 12 equal temperament. Tan Hainu’s Flowing Water for Solo Cello reflects Eastern aesthetic philosophy of art which demands purity and free-flowing thought for never-ending inspiration.
The compositions in Tan Hainu's wind period reflect the United States and European influences. Here she combines disparate aesthetic styles, including: Abstractionism, Aestheticism, Expressionism, and Impressionism. Some examples of her pieces are: The Dream of Berlin for String Trio, Sound of Wind for Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano, and Dance of Differing Languages for Woodwind Quartet, all influenced by the Second Vienna School and the European musical tradition she was exposed to during her residency in Germany. These three pieces reflect her musical aesthetics through the wide contrast of bright and melancholy harmonies. The Dream of Berlin contains aggressive passages and is full of vitality as is reflected in the astonishing and looming art and architecture that surrounded her in Berlin. She used the Expressionist gesture and technique in her Sound of Wind to present aesthetic feelings of purity and beauty along with the mystical sights and sounds that flow in nature. On the surface, each small movement is about the natural scenery of flowing wind. However, philosophically she created music as a metaphor to depict human life consisting of various emotions. Through Sound of Wind, she held the mirror up to nature and inspire audiences around the world. Dance of Differing Languages demonstrates her gorgeous sense of pitch and harmonic color; the piece describes people who are speaking different languages at the same time, while singing and dancing together. This exemplifies the integration of cultures and nations under the banner of peace.
While Tan Hainu's journey includes a Bachelor of Arts degree from China's only national music academy – the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, a Master of Music degree from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, summer semesters studying at the Freie Universität Berlin under Juilliard Professor Samuel Adler, as well as university teaching assistant positions and countless awards, it began at the tender age of three when her family moved from China's Sichuan Province to China's Guangdong Province. While most children were playing games or watching television, Tan Hainu felt a deep affinity for music and began playing piano at age 4. At age 6, she received a violin training and only a short time later began on-stage performances. Tan Hainu was exhilarated by the connection that the audience experienced with her music, a connection that empirically solidified her intuitive understanding of music's unifying importance.
Tan Hainu is described as kind-hearted, creative, humble, diligent, and encouraging. She believes genuine artists dedicate their being to art from deep in their essential core. She believes that authentic musical innovation is the product of composers who create their own musical language and strive toward new musical technique. It is in the striving that God's glory and inspiration takes form. At the age of 8, Tan Hainu began such striving when she succeeded in creating her first piano work – a piano capriccio. After she started professionally learning the Chinese traditional instrument erhu at age 11 at the Xinghai Conservatory of Music's middle school, she followed her intuition and began a period of autodidacticism: She started teaching herself many other Chinese traditional instruments including pipa, guzheng, and xiao. However, she was not satisfied with merely playing other composers’ works, so at the age of 12 she shifted her focus to composition. Living in a dormitory room where electricity has been shut off at 11:00 PM, she composed music in the hallways until sunrise. These efforts proved to be a good foundation for her later middle and high school music composition studies at the Xinghai Conservatory of Music in Guangzhou. It was ultimately through this childhood and adolescent dedication to music that Tan Hainu developed her foundational aesthetic belief that harmony, counterpoint, musical form, and orchestration are crucial to composition.
After graduating from the Xinghai Conservatory of Music, Tan Hainu continued her academic training by entering the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. It was here that her adolescent strivings blossomed into a full borne passion. At this institution Tan Hainu was introduced to and became profoundly inspired by global music culture. Today, her greatest influences include: Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Béla Bartók, Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Alban Berg, Walter Piston, and Aaron Copland. In 2003, Tan Hainu earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in music composition at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, the only institution in Academies of Fine Arts in China and the only key institution of higher learning supervised directly under the Ministry of Education of the State Council among all academies of arts in China.
Attaining a deep appreciation for Western composition, as well as attaining a substantial academic foundation, empowered and inspired Tan Hainu to venture outside her homeland. Since she moved to the United States in 2004, she has received an astounding thirty-three awards and scholarships, presented compositions at eighteen music festivals and conferences, and produced twelve music-paper presentations.
Tan Hainu's work gives equal credence to the color of the harmony and pitch, polyphony and clarity of the counterpoint and rhythm; the varied timbre combination of the orchestration; and the mellifluence and coherence of form. She focuses on the overall framework of the entire piece as well as the careful depiction of the detailed phrases. Eastern philosophy believes everything has qi which is an active principle forming part of any living thing, both animate and inanimate objects. Qi is frequently translated as "life energy", "life force", or "energy flow". This reflects her philosophy of art which, like music, demands purity, free-flowing thought, for never-ending inspiration. Tan Hainu sees beauty in flowing water, not only with her eyes, but in her heart and mind, and in her music. Beauty is the result of the spirit. Composition theories serve the content and soul of music, further helping her develop her precise and refined, bold and flowing, elegant and flaming style.
Since graduating from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, Tan Hainu has studied under famous German-born American composer and conductor Samuel Adler of The Juilliard School of Music; at the International Summer University of Freie Universität Berlin (2013, 2009, 2008), one of the most distinguished universities in Europe and one of nine German top-universities to win in the German Universities Excellence Initiative; and at the great American Bowdoin International Music Festival (2012, 2010, 2006), a festival that showcases the world's best classical music in one of the world's most beautiful settings. Professor Adler complimented her insight into music, the spirit of her innovation, her indomitable work ethnic, and even conducted the premiere of her chamber works. Tan Hainu earned her Master of Music degree in music composition at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston in 2011, one of the top ten music schools and the oldest conservatory in the United States. Here she received the NEC Music Merit Award for her musical excellence.
Tan Hainu's life also includes significant teaching experience. She taught music composition, music theory, ear training, and world music at California State University, Los Angeles (2007－2009) and the University of Missouri-Kansas City (2004－2006), with expertise in music composition, harmony and counterpoint, music theory and analysis, instrumentation and orchestration, musical style analysis, music history and literature, world and folk music. She is also active as a professional pianist and piano teacher with over 25 years of performance experience and 18 years of teaching experience.
Tan Hainu is currently affiliated with the Society of Composers Incorporated, the American Composers Forum, the National Association of Composers USA, the Broadcast Music Incorporated, and the Boston New Music Initiative Incorporated. Her catalogue includes operas, symphonies, string quartets, concertos, orchestral music, chamber music, solo piano, choral music, and songs. Her compositions have been premiered in many excellent international music festivals and conferences, including Freie Universität Berlin International Summer Institution (2013, 2009, 2008), Bowdoin International Music Festival in Maine (2012, 2010, 2007, 2006), New England Conservatory Composers Lab Ensemble workshop in Boston (2011), Cortona Sessions for New Music in Italy (2010), Accent10 New Music Festival at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (2010), National Association of Composers USA National Conference in Oregon (2010), International Joint Conference on Latin American Music and on Modern Music in Texas (2010), Nevada Encounters of New Music in Las Vegas (2009), Symposium on Music in the 21st Century at the San Francisco International Center for the Arts (2009), Society of Composers National Conference in Indiana (2008), California Summer Music Festival (2005), Music Festival of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing (2002), and at other venues in North America, Europe, Asia, and South Africa.
Tan Hainu has also received awards and honors from many organizations. She was the only Asian-born composer that has been honored in composer semi-finalists of the 2013 The American Prize in Composition—Chamber, Professional Division, the sole winner and the first Chinese-born composer that has been awarded the 2012 Bowdoin International Music Festival Composition Competition Prize, and the youngest winner of the 2009 inaugural San Francisco International Center for the Arts Illuminations and Reflections: Classical Music in the 21st Century International Composition Competition. Other awards include those from the 2010 American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Commission Competition, the 2009 Earplay Donald Aird Memorial International Composers Competition, the 2009 California State University Statewide Research Competition, and the 2009 California State University Los Angeles Scholarly Presentation Competition.
Tan Hainu has been interviewed and her biography, accomplishments, and photos have been noted in both English and Chinese media outlets such as the Portland Press Herald, Bowdoin International Music Festival Press Releases, California State University Los Angeles News Release and Spotlight, The Monthly E-Newsletter of The College of Arts and Letters at California State University Los Angeles, Pith Music Online Magazine for Adorno Ensemble, the best world journal Chinese Daily News in Los Angeles, Los Angeles English and Chinese American commercial radio station KWRM 1370 AM, International Talent Magazine in China, Chinese Music Education Commerce Cooperation Alliance, China Musicology Network, and many other magazines, newspapers, and websites throughout the United States and China.
As one of a small number of Chinese-born composers who live in the United States and are currently active in international composition competitions, music festivals, and conferences, Tan Hainu recognizes the importance of her role as a
Chinese American. Her dream is to explore God's unique purpose and specific calling for her life, for God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men (& women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." - Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, as revised by Congress, 4 July 1776. Tan Hainu was born into and raised for music and music infiltrates her heart, soul, mind, and strength. There is no fear in love, but God's perfect love casts out fear. "My greatest desire is the peaceful coexistence of people all over the world. I hope in the future human society will gradually be integrated into one family: everyone keeps a pure heart to care for one another by pursuing kindness, justice, righteousness, forgiveness, holiness, hope, love, joy, peace, patience, and self-control," she said in reflecting on her life's work. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. She hopes her music transmits faith, blessings, and healing to weak, poor, and blind people around the world. Ultimately, Tan Hainu's use of the natural tone and expression of Eastern language, couples with Western classical music and instrumentation, contributes to such a responsible globalization of civilizations through the universal love and language of music.