Hwong’s childhood, where guests like Cary Grant, Marlon Brando and Jimmy Stewart visited, was a creative laboratory. She cites as some of her fondest memories visits with her mother, actress Lisa Lu, to Pickfair to hear Mary Pickford, clad in a pink bed jacket, dispense advice about men and love.
Lu, a feisty war widow in The Mountain Road with Stewart in 1960 and An-Mei Hsu in The Joy Luck Club in 1993, came from a family of performers in Beijing.
Hwong also developed a taste for acting, but it was ballet and music that ignited her passion as a child living in Los Angeles, California. At the Inner City Cultural Center in downtown L.A, she explored composing and performing music with the encouragement of the center’s creator, C. Bernard Jackson, and actor Sab Shimono.
Later, in graduate school at Columbia University in New York City, Hwong met playwright Hwang through an introduction by Shimono. For Hwang’s first play, F.O.B., Hwang asked Hwong to write some music.
During the performances, she played the pipa (a Chinese lute) behind a screen. Their collaboration grew as her emotional, layered music served as the perfect complement to Hwang’s explorations of Chinese American identity.
“I wanted to reflect the coming together and the tension of two cultures,” says Hwang. He instinctively knew that what Hwong was doing musically, he was doing theatrically.
Her music in Hwang’s play Sound and Beauty caught the attention of minimalist composer Philip Glass, who encouraged her to record albums. These early recordings were done in the basement studio of the Chelsea Hotel. Glass’ producer, Kurt Munkacsi, later made a record deal for Hwong with the Private Music label.
“You give each other seeds of inspiration,” she says of these talented influences. Her music has added punch to many films, TV projects, dances, records and plays. Her Goddess Trilogy CD series of enthralling, atmospheric rhythms is as fresh and vibrant now as when it was first recorded.
As she explains it, her creativity flows from a simple question: “How can I create music that adds energy and reveals character where words fail?”