1. What is your name and your profession(s)? Isabella Egawa (曾鈺庭). I’m currently a college student studying violin at Carnegie Mellon, and I produce beats and make covers on the side!
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? My parents are both Taiwanese, and I was born and raised in the States.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? Both of my parents are classical musicians! My mom is a vocalist and pianist, and went to music school in New York. My dad is an amateur violinist and pianist. He’s recently also gotten more involved within the music industry by working with and providing livestream technology to artists during the COVID pandemic.
4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies. I'm from a predominantly white neighborhood near Philadelphia and attended schools with very few fellow AAPI students. I feel as though by trying to blend in with the other students and people in that area, I would kind of “hide” things that made me Asian. I would avoid speaking in Mandarin Chinese in front of others, never correct others for mislabeling my ethnicity, stop bringing ethnic foods and snacks to school -- in fact, my mother sometimes brings up a story about how she would pack me meals with rousong (dried pork floss), seaweed, and rice, until one day I returned home asking her to stop because I was being fun of at lunch. Somewhere towards the end of high school, however, I found a group of friends I was comfortable and could embrace my culture with.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? While growing up in a neighborhood that doesn’t have many fellow AAPIs, I do still feel very connected to my Taiwanese heritage. I was lucky enough to travel to Taiwan every summer in middle school with my parents, visiting family, and seeing the country. I can speak Mandarin Chinese and understand a tiny bit of Taiwanese (Hakka) dialect, and have many friends there. Although I may not go back as often, I still feel that Taiwan is my second home.
6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)? I got into music by starting to learn the violin when I was 5! I had overheard my dad telling my mom how he wished he could hear me play the violin one day following a performance. That night I went up to both my parents and said I wanted to start learning the violin, and that’s how I got to where I am now. I’m currently majoring in violin performance and minoring in environmental science at Carnegie Mellon University.
6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now? I decided my senior year of high school that I wanted to pursue music as a career. As my parents are both musicians, I feel like they were much more supportive than most - they didn’t even question the moment I said I wanted to go into music, and I’m extremely thankful to them for consistently supporting me and my aspirations.
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse.
- Violin is really my main musical priority right now, with production and covers as hobbies for now, but there are recent projects and events in each area that I’m pretty proud of! I recently won the Pittsburgh Concert Society’s Major Artist Competition and recorded a winner’s recital for them, which will soon be broadcasted across Pittsburgh on WQED FM. https://pittsburghconcertsociety.org/ - A few months ago, I produced a runway track for Lunar Gala, a fashion show that happens at CMU each year. I worked with two designers on their line (called “Mirror”) to create a track that really matched the designs of their clothes. https://youtu.be/dEj6rc5ifhg?t=1218 - I’m a huge fan of the band Polyphia, and one of their guitarists, Tim Henson tweeted that he was planning on making a reaction video to Polyphia fan covers. When I saw the tweet, I immediately decided to learn one of their songs (G.O.A.T.) on violin, and I recorded it the next day! I remember replying to his tweet with the video link, not sure if he would even see it, and it was such an exciting moment when I saw he actually included it in his reaction video! Cover video: https://youtu.be/UxfRhs_98mQ
8. Describe to me your dream project. As someone who’s grown up surrounded by classical music, but a lover of non-classical genres (hip hop, R&B, math rock, indie pop), I’ve typically found a disconnect between classical fans and non-classical fans. I know people who love Mozart and Beethoven, but won’t even try listening to rap, and vice versa. While there are definitely crossovers of genres at times (e.g. hip hop artists sampling classical pieces or performing live with an orchestra), I’d really love to work on a project where die-hard fans of different music communities can come to appreciate an “opposing” genre - I’m not sure what exactly it would be, but it’s definitely something I want to attempt in the future.
9. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry? I’ve encountered a few unpleasant experiences as an AAPI in classical music, but nothing considered terribly out of the ordinary. It’s not often talked about nor a comfortable subject for many, but many teachers and professionals in classical music can be traditionalist, and thus discriminatory towards women and POC (not just to AAPI). But I’ve witnessed racist remarks and hand gestures made towards the general AAPI community in rehearsals, and I’ve personally experienced racial stereotyping by fellow non-AAPI musicians and teachers before. A lot of us are used to it and view this as normal behavior, either ignoring it or pushing aside our discomfort to stay in everyone’s good graces. It is truly unfortunate that treatment like this has become normalized within educational institutions in classical music.
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? 10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? My favorite AAPI musicians at the moment are Keshi, Jhene Aiko, and Satica! They’re all amazing songwriters, and I feel so happy and hopeful seeing fellow AAPIs rise to popularity in the music industry. I remember listening to Satica back when she released music under the name “April,” and being so surprised and pleased to learn I had been listening to an Asian singer the whole time. Even now, I feel like we’re a bit underrepresented in pop culture. Seeing artists like them flourish gives me hope that musicians in the AAPI community will be given more and more opportunities to shine.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? If I could give advice to my younger self, I’d probably tell them to be more confident and speak up more about their opinions. I found myself back always quiet and doubting my own abilities, whether it was in academics, sports, or music. I wish I could have been more proud of who I was and my accomplishments, instead of second guessing myself all the time.
12. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you are excited and about which you are allowed to share? Is there anything non-music-related on the horizon about which you would like to share? I’m currently finishing up mixing on a single, which will be released on streaming platforms later this year! It’ll be my first time getting my stuff out on streaming platforms, which is super exciting, yet scary for me.
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate.
Besides music, I study environmental science at CMU, and I have a strong interest in geology! I also like to go to a local trail and longboard occasionally back at home.
Photos provided by Isabella Egawa