Growing up as the daughter of two accomplished musicians in Beijing, China, Ning received piano lessons from her father, Professor Tian Liantao, and cello lessons from her mother, Professor Song Tao, at the Central Conservatory. She became one of the youngest cellists with the National Opera Company in 1977 and won top ranking at the Central Conservatory's national audition in 1979. Later, she transferred to the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, on a full scholarship to study with Paul Katz and the Cleveland String Quartet. She holds Bachelor and Master degrees in cello performance as well as the Performer’s Certificate from the Eastman School of Music, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in cello performance from Louisiana State University. Her awards include the Julia Klumpky Award, Camellia Symphony Orchestra Young Artists Competition, Beijing Young Artists Competition, as well as the Concerto Competitions at California State University, Sacramento, and Louisiana State University.
Dr. Tien was a member of the faculty at Hastings College, NE; Columbus State University, GA; and Kean University, NJ . She was co-principal cellist with the Hastings Symphony Orchestra, and served five years as the director of the Greater Columbus Youth String Orchestra. She founded and directed CELLOS OLE and the University Cello Choir in Columbus, GA, and was on the faculty of the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, MI, for three summers. She served three times as adjudicator for the New Jersey MTNA National Solo Competition. In 2002, she was nominated and included in Who's Who Among America's Teachers.
Dr. Tien’s students have won top prizes at regional, state, and national competitions, including ASTA National Solo Competition, National Invitational Band and Orchestra Festival at Carnegie Hall, Music Worcester Young Artist Competition, All-State Honors Orchestras in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Georgia. The Columbus State University Cello Choir, directed by Dr. Tien was chosen as one of the six chamber ensembles to perform at the 2002 GMEA in Service Conference, Georgia.
An active performer and promoter of contemporary music, Dr. Tien premiered and recorded works written for her: Cello Concerto by Dinos Constandinides (Recording, Vestige Label), Capriccio Himalaya by Tian Liantao and Song Tao with its world premiere at the World Cello Congress III, 2000; Twelve Animal Zodiacs, Theme and Variations of Mongolian Folk Songs by Siren Nadamide, and Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano by John Sichel. She is the founding member of the New England Piano Trio, Omaggio Duo, and Forte Duo. In 2015, Omaggio Duo was invited by the Central Conservatory of China to give master classes and three concerts at the Conservatory, Remin University and Minzu University. The Omaggio Duo's two CDs "Music From Three Continents" and "Himalaya Rhapsody" are released in 2015. In 2017, Ning formed The Forte Duo with pianist Roy Imperio and recorded a double compact CDs "Music From Four Continents".
Currently Dr. Tien teaches cello at Fitchburg State University, Thayer Performing Arts Center, Joy of Music Program, and coaches strings with Worcester Youth Symphony Orchestra. She married Professor Leonard van der Kuijp of Harvard University in 2003, together they share two sons and one daughter: Katrien, Jan and Andrew.