1. What is your name and your profession(s)? My name is Janet Noh and I am a songwriter/producer, singer, and classical pianist.
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? I was born in Seattle, Washington. My dad’s from South Korea, my mom’s from North Korea—so that makes me full Korean American!
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? My dad is a…passionate shower singer :)
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. 1. I feel lucky that the hometown I grew up in was really diverse. It had a large Korean population so I grew up going to Korean school and Korean churches on the weekends. On the other hand, I had to be in ESL until 3rd grade because my parents couldn’t really speak English and we only spoke Korean at home. I remember being embarrassed about this and used to feel so envious of my classmates who could have dinner conversations at home in English, which seemed to make it easier for them to speak up in classrooms and freely vocalize their feelings. Looking back now though, I’m grateful that I was “forced” to speak Korean, especially since I really feel like it adds something special to my relationship with my parents.
It wasn’t easy though growing up. I remember pulling all-nighters in order to help translate and type up documents for my dad’s businesses while also studying for an exam the next morning. I dreaded parent-teacher conferences because I knew I’d have to translate the whole exchange for both sides. The hardest thing to watch though—there were times my parents couldn’t speak up for themselves after experiencing some pretty grotesque injustices at work—either because they didn’t have the language skills to defend themselves or because they didn’t want to create a ruckus that jeopardized their place in their new society. Over the years, I learned to really value and use my voice.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? I’m who I am today because of it. From an early age I was motivated to work hard to repay my parents and people in my community who worked tirelessly to forge better pathways for the younger generation.
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)? When I turned 3, I was given a toy keyboard for my birthday. I learned to play all the songs from Sound of Music by ear and couldn’t stop playing them. I guess since then I always loved improvising songs on the piano. I studied classically and eventually got into the Juilliard-Columbia dual degree program for piano performance but instead went to Yale University to pursue a liberal arts education. I studied with School of Music faculty while I was in undergrad and double majored in Economics and History. During college, I did internships in investment banking and trading because the idea of making a lot of money at a young age was so appealing to me, and that’s how I ended up on Wall Street as an investment analyst when I graduated.
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 felt my soul wanting to be free and made a pretty radical jump from Wall Street when I applied for and got a scholarship to go to NYU Tisch School of the Arts for their MFA program in musical theatre writing. I wanted to write songs and tell stories in a theatrical way, and this felt like a “safe” way to transition from the corporate world into music. When I told my parents I was ditching a stable career for the arts, they were outwardly supportive but I know they were dying inside lol. I think it was only more palatable for them because I was at least going to grad school and in their mind, it felt more “legitimate.”
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? 1. In terms of Broadway/musical theater stuff: I’m proud of every musical I’ve written, some of which have had productions in NYC. I was commissioned to write a musical for Chicken Soup for the Soul which was pretty cool since I grew up reading a lot of their books. When I was first starting out as a songwriter, Tony-winning composer Jeanine Tesori invited me to showcase my original music in a workshop at New York City Center that featured two emerging writers. I wrote a song called “Can Only A White Man Save The World?” which is about the whiteness of American media, and being able to perform this boldly in front of a predominantly white audience was a pretty defining moment for me in my artistry.
In terms of performing, I made my debut as a principal actor in a Broadway show called Mack and Mabel (New York City Encores!), and it made me realize that I actually love performing/singing as much as I love writing. This happened last year right before the pandemic shut down Broadway. So throughout the pandemic I’ve been exploring my voice as an artist and been writing new songs, learning music production, and figuring out how I want to tell the stories I want to tell using my voice as a singer, songwriter/producer, and pianist.
Being a songwriting guest artist and teaching artist has also been really rewarding (Lincoln Center Theater, Columbia University, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Marymount Manhattan College) – especially being able to work with students from disadvantaged communities via outreach programs.
Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse. I wrote songs and music cues for a feature film called Anastasia: Once Upon A Time(Paramount Pictures, Amazon, Disney+) which is not to be confused with the Dreamworks animation; it was my first time working on a movie so that was fun. I made my singing debut in a Broadway show called Rocktopia. I music directed an off-Broadway show about Korean comfort women with a cast of 45+ actors and am proud to have helped shed light on a really important (painful) truth about our history.
8. Describe to me your dream project. Collaborating with dope artists on a vulnerable and empowering classical piano x hip hop x r&b vocal album. Currently, I’m especially inspired by themes around self-love, which is something I’ve been working on re-learning esp in light of a few recent pivotal realizations: 1. As I am learning to take space and be more self-assured in my worth not just in speech but also in practice, I want to embolden others to do the same, 2. I’m unpacking some painful experiences and the work has helped me develop my sense of self as a human and artist; I want to use my music to help people who are going through something similar.
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? [unanswered]
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? Awkwafina, Lea Salonga, Far East Movement, Jhene Aiko, Bruno Mars, Yo-Yo Ma, just to name a few. Genre-bending artists inspire me. Bobby Lopez (songwriter of Frozen, Book of Mormon, Avenue Q) was an early influencer in my career and personally gave me a lot of encouragement when I was starting out in the theater world.
10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? For us to feel comfortable taking space. For more solidarity and for us to show more support for one another. For us not to feel like we are token minorities with quota quotients to fill.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? Listen to your heart more than your head, and trust in what she has to say.
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? Will get back to you on this!
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. I’m kind of a fitness nut and adrenaline junkie (cliff diving, scuba diving, etc.).
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