Shaw Pong Liu has a commitment to engaging a citywide conversation on gun violence, racism and policing. But, as a violinist and composer, she uses music and stories to inspire communication.
Liu’s work isn’t served by a single label. One might get close if one united the titles of musician, improviser, activist, optimist, citizen, teacher and dreamer. Her art revolves around community engagement and her social conscience inspires her creations. Liu collaborates with multi-discipline artists, neighborhood organizations, schools and members of the public. She grew up in a home that appreciated music, with a mother who “was always singing.” Liu’s political perspectives on the world were influenced by her labor-organizing siblings.
Liu graduated from U.C. Berkeley, followed by a Masters in Violin Performance from New England Conservatory of Music. Liu says “I attended NEC for the opportunity to work with NEC’s incredible community outreach program run by Tanya Maggi. In addition, as a classical violin masters student, I was also able to explore creative music and contemporary improvisation. It is through improvising that I become a composer.” Liu has received commissions from groups including The Gardner Museum’s Chamber Orchestra-In-Residence A Far Cry, and Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road.
Liu presents three performances this December, titled Code Listen. On December 8 at 3 p.m., Code Listen takes place as part of the Celebrity Series at the Kroc Center, and then two repeat performances happen December 15 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at the Gardner Museum.
Code Listen is part of a multi-dimensional sequence begun in 2016, including workshops, discussions, music making and performances. Liu uses music to catalyze dialogue and healing around urgent issues of our times. She seeks to reach beyond the traditional classical audience to a wider cross-section of the public. With Code Listen, Liu hopes to “create dialogue with homicide survivors and the wider community of people who have not (or think they have not) been directly impacted by homicide.” Her events see professionals joining with police officers, teens, school children and members of the public. Liu’s work challenges people towards reflection, innovation and change.
Code Listen also birthed the Musical Memorials Project, with musicians performing alongside memorial posters that honor community members lost to homicide, as part of The Mother’s Day Walk for Peace. Seventy-four of these portraits will be included in the upcoming Code Listen events.
At Code Listen we are asking people to listen to one another — from homicide survivors, to police, to teens, to professional musicians, to the wider public. We hope that sharing the experiences of homicide survivors, young people, and police through performance can help inform — and activate — a more nuanced and connected conversation on topics of violence, racism and policing. – Shaw Pong Liu
Liu says, “At Code Listen we are asking people to listen to one another — from homicide survivors, to police, to teens, to professional musicians, to the wider public. We hope that sharing the experiences of homicide survivors, young people and police through performance can help inform — and activate — a more nuanced and connected conversation on topics of violence, racism and policing.”
Ashleigh Gordon, violist and collaborator of Shaw Pong’s says, “She has a genuinely deep investment in community building and social activism. Nothing with her is superficial. She truly wants to delve down into the heart of any issue, be it how we operate together as humans, how we can build better communities, or how we can offer healing and conversation around gun violence.” Gordon finds Shaw Pong’s method informal, with no prescribed rules, making everyone in the room — performers and audience — collaborators.
Detective Jeremiah Benton, a veteran of the Homicide Division, now Investigative Training Coordinator, got involved with Code Listen based on a memo sent out by the Police Department, noting an opportunity to reach out to Liu in order to contribute to Code Listen. Benton, and other police officers who volunteer their time, found Liu’s process, which avoids a hierarchical structure, leads to deep reflection for everyone involved.
Shaw Pong has created a forum that is truly unique. Her desire to bridge traditional divides is extremely important. She’s created a safe place for people to share their thoughts, helping to change expectations and views. – Jeremiah Benton
Benton says, “Shaw Pong has created a forum that is truly unique. Her desire to bridge traditional divides is extremely important. She’s created a safe place for people to share their thoughts, helping to change expectations and views.” He feels Code Listen has taught him how crucial listening really is.
Says Liu, “Music can transform space and open a different arena for dialogue by allowing us to connect with our whole selves and bodies, not just our habitual words and cerebral thought.”
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Calderwood Hall,
Dec. 15, 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Free, RSVP required for each performance. To reserve seats, click on preferred performance time: 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
25 Evans Way, Boston
Travel and parking instructions, Ruggles T stop or Museum of Fine Arts T stop