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Jen Shyu's Nine Doors

  • Firehouse 12 45 Crown Street New Haven, CT, 06510 United States (map)

Jen Shyu: Composition, vocals, Taiwanese moon lute, Korean gayageum and soribuk drum, Japanese biwa, piano, dance, sound design, choreography, Timorese gong and Korean gong (ggwaenggwari)


Jen Shyu’s Nine Doors is a powerful and ecstatic piece that evokes at spiritual levels both personal and global. The New York Times has written: “Ms. Shyu set about culling folkloric tales from traditions across East and Southeast Asia, and created her own syncretic saga for the present day… The work is more than conceptual inquiry or personal discovery. At the Jazz Gallery, Ms. Shyu turned the stage into a space of imaginative ritual; she framed storytelling and mythmaking as contemporary phenomena — even necessities....That magic remained throughout the set: A simple jazz club stage became a territory of belief, narrative and wonder.” Nine Doors was inspired by the loss of Shyu’s friend Sri Joko Raharjo “Cilik,” who died with his wife and infant son in an automobile accident at the age of 30. Raharjo was a master of the Javanese art of shadow puppetry called wayang kulit. His 6-year-old daughter, who survived the crash, is the central character in Shyu’s piece. Time stops as she encounters powerful female legends—from the Wehali Kingdom of Timor to the Korean folkloric myth of Baridegi, the mother of all shamans—who become her guides. Chen Da, the legendary half-blind nomadic folk singer of Taiwan, also guides her. A mysterious phone booth in a gardener's yard in Otsuchi, Japan, which has become a comfort to the families who lost loved ones in the 2011 Tsunami, also enters into the story, with the gardener having given Shyu permission to compose a piece with his poetry titled “Phone of the Wind” (“Kaze no Denwa”).

Jen sings, dances, and plays Taiwanese moon lute, Korean gayageum, piano, and Japanese biwa, in order to express this multi-layered and transformative story. Time stops as Jen (as Lavan Pitinu) encounters a series of mythical guides based on epic legends from different parts of the world that help her through the grief of losing her family, where she is able to seek help from a universal family. Starting and ending in English, Jen’s native language, while also sung in Indonesian, Javanese, Taiwanese, Mandarin, Tetum, and Korean, the work reflects not only the diversity of America, but also the parallels that exist between life and death, different cultures, and the importance of empathy over destructive assumptions that divide humanity.

Nine Doors incorporates Shyu’s 15 years of study of traditional music from five countries: epic storytelling (Pansori), East Coast shaman music (DongHaeAhnByeolShinGut), and Binari, usually performed as a blessing for an audience, all from Korea; music from sub-districts Aileu and Ataúro from East Timor; Hengchun Folk Song with moon lute from Taiwan; Ledhekan, which combines Javanese dance with improvisational singing (Sindhenan) from Indonesia; and the "speaking-the-song" or "katari" with Japanese biwa, the rare 4-stringed instrument originally used by monks and priests.

Earlier Event: May 4
Josh Lawrence and Color Theory
Later Event: May 18
Mario Pavone Dialect Trio