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APAHM: 腊八蒜 || Series 1

Series 1 of 5.

Nathan Kwon and Lydia Sohn. 

Lydia.jpg

Lydia Sohn

Field: Music (Cello)

Time in field: 13 Years

Comfort food: 냉면 (Naengmyeon)

"I want the next generation of Asian Americans to feel represented in the media. I want them to have someone they can look up to and say “Wow, he/she did that! I want to do that too!”, and really feel like they can achieve that."

What was it like for you growing up as an Asian American?

Growing up as an Asian American was interesting. At home, my parents spoke to me in fluent English, so I actually never learned Korean, aside from a few phrases here and there. However, I was raised with a lot of the Korean traditions, values, and food (wahoo!). Zooming out, I grew up in a white majority. Yes, I had those “lunchbox moments” where you and your peers realize you aren’t the same based off the food you bring to school, the way you look, or even the simple things (…like are shoes on or off in the house??). But, I am thankful to say that I had a pretty great childhood where I wasn’t necessarily ostracized for being Asian. I learned to be comfortable being the only Asian in the room and being different. While the process of learning to adapt definitely took a while, it’s something I am forever grateful for and has shaped the person I am today.


What’s something you’ve learned about yourself that you love as a result of practicing your work?

I really like working as a group towards a goal! I realized that I am not super into the soloist aspect of music. Of course, I enjoy being able to work at and refine my performance of a concerto or sonata and be able to showcase the piece. However, what I enjoy more is being a part of and performing with an ensemble. There’s something so magical about playing music with a group of people. You’re vibing together – listening to the other components, contributing your part, and hearing it all come together. You feel like you’re on this whole other dimension where it’s just you and the music…it’s truly magical. I remember distinctly playing Swan Lake at the All-Virginia Orchestra in high school. It was the night of the performance, and I could feel the energy from my fellow musicians. We were in sync, fully engaged in the piece, and just having the time of our lives. I remember it all ended, and I felt sad it was over yet so proud of the group. (It also helped that the audience loved it and demanded an encore.) That’s one of the many experiences in music that gave me goosebumps, life, and joy; I come out of those sorts of performances or rehearsals re-energized. I can’t imagine not having those experiences! Music has shown me how much I love working with others to produce something so much bigger and more impactful than I could have produced alone.

 

What’s something you’ve learned about your Asian heritage as a result of practicing your work?

I’ve learned the Asian culture’s emphasis on community and family. I remember carpooling to orchestra auditions and rehearsals, getting to know the other members well. There was something special about seeing them every week at rehearsal, and then practicing together for chamber groups or seeing each other at auditions. When you’re seeing the same group of people at orchestra or music events, you get to know them really well. It is such a tight knit community, where everyone knows everyone. You look out for each other and push each other to do better. They are my music family and a group of people that I am really thankful to have the privilege to know. It’s awesome to keep up with them via social media or over breaks and see the great ways they’re impacting those around them through music!

 

What was/is your favorite failure?  

I have failed many times!! Each time, I’ve definitely learned valuable lessons that have helped me get to where I am today. I would say that my favorite failure was back in either late middle school or early high school. My cello professor had enrolled me in my first ever concerto competition, and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I practiced my piece, knowing it had to be memorized, but didn’t really know the logistics of the competition or how things would work. I remember just walking into the room, warming up, and hoping for the best. I got called up on the stage for my turn, sat down, tuned my cello, and began playing. In my head, I was playing off my mental image of the sheet music I had memorized; the first page went really well! But I got to the second page and my mind went blank. I had no idea what I was supposed to be playing next, and to say that my nerves skyrocketed would be an understatement. Thankfully, my pianist started playing my melody line to jog my memory, and I got back into the piece. I stepped off stage mortified that I forgot my piece. However, that failure changed the way I approached future performances and eventually other aspects of my life. I began to prepare more for performances, to avoid any sort of uncertainty. I drilled difficult passages until they became second nature. Eventually, that extended to how I approached my academic pursuits or other hobbies. I don’t like to leave things to chance. Instead, I try to prepare fully and give the performance, project, or exam my all. That way, when it is all said and done, I can say I truly did my best and be proud of the result, no matter what.

 

What was/is your favorite success?

I would say that my favorite success was when I was selected to represent Virginia in the Distinguished Young Women’s National Finals in 2014. It’s my favorite success because of the way I matured as a person throughout the process. Growing up, I was pretty shy. I wasn’t necessarily the one to strike up conversation first or go out of my way to be the center of attention. However, Distinguished Young Woman was a program that I really grew in and learned to express who I am. Participants are high school seniors, evaluated in a variety of categories: scholastics, physical fitness, interview, on-stage question (self-expression), and talent. One of my favorite categories was talent, because it was a time to see everyone’s various skills shine on stage! It was also a time for me to use a different voice: music. I played an excerpt of a cello concerto for my talent piece, and every time, it was pure joy and thrill. It was something I could prepare for and count on to be enjoyable on stage, no matter what. At the state level, I remember promising myself to stay true to who I am and have fun. Somehow, I got selected amongst a group of highly qualified high school senior women, all full of ambition, accomplishments, and talents, to represent Virginia and advance to the national finals. That was seriously so surreal to hear my name called. I could never have imagined as a shy freshman in high school that I would be able to perform in front of a packed arena, answer questions on the spot, be interviewed by a panel of judges, and represent the state of Virginia. Yet I did. That experience gave me a huge confidence boost, a sisterhood of 49 other state representatives to learn from, an avenue to delve into who I am, and a chance to express myself. It also was cool to see how it engaged younger Asian Americans to aspire to a similar role in their future because they saw me do it!

 

How do either of those (success/failure) tie into your identity as an Asian American?

As a child, I grew up listening my parents’ stories: all the struggles and successes (and failures) they had growing up. That is contrasted with the life I live now. I had a very comfortable childhood with lots of positive and joyful memories, and now attend a private university with the ultimate goal of pursuing a medical profession. I think my parents’ experiences compounded with my experiences taught me to not take things for granted. You have to put in the work if you want to get somewhere in life, which is very much the story of immigrants. The fact that I can experience the results and the treasures of the work my parents and their families put in is a privilege. My own failures and successes are paving the way for my future children, and I hope that they will also hold dear the values of community, hard work, and family.

 

How do you take pride in your identity as an Asian American?  

I don’t know if I actively take pride in my identity as an Asian American, but I am proud to be an Asian American! I think my form of pride mostly comes in the form of food. I personally think Korean food (and Asian food in general) is amazing and is a great way to bring people together. Whether it’s introducing someone to new foods, explaining different cultural traditions that I celebrate, or laughing at the few Korean pun jokes I can understand, I take pride in my identity as an Asian American! I’ve learned (and still am learning) the beauty of the Korean culture and the ways it contributes to those around us!

 

At what point did you realize that your participation in your field as an Asian American would mean that it would be a different experience than that of someone that was Caucasian?

 Sometime in high school, I realized that my participation in music could potentially be different than that of someone who is Caucasian. I feel like music is generally a good equalizer, in the sense that hard work and talent doesn’t know any ethnic bounds. But, I can see how our experiences could be different. There is very much a stereotype of the geeky Asian orchestra kid who is a beast at the violin and always gets first chair. I didn’t realize how much I was used to this stereotype until I sat in an orchestra in high school and our concertmaster was Caucasian. I remember looking at him kind of perplexed at first. Then, I had to think why it was perplexing to me in the first place. I realized that I was so used to thinking that music was an Asian-dominated field. I had to make the what-should-have-been-obvious conclusion that music knows no ethnic boundaries. So, I’m not really sure how our experiences would be different, in the sense that making music together is always amazing. I guess I could see experiences being different for a Caucasian musician in that they’re fighting the stereotype that Asians are good at music and always sit in the concertmaster’s seat. I would be interested to talk to Caucasian musicians I know about this! Is it even a thing? If so, what’s it like? O.o

 

What do you want to see in the future for the next generation of Asian Americans?

I would LOVE to see more Asian Americans in Hollywood, or even just in popular media in general. Growing up, I didn’t really see someone who looked like me as major characters in movies or TV series. I only really saw Asians when they played the nerdy math kid or amazing martial artist. I want the next generation of Asian Americans to feel represented in the media. I want them to have someone they can look up to and say “Wow, he/she did that! I want to do that too!”, and really feel like they can achieve that. I want them to feel like they are heard and represented. I want them to realize they can be successful in a non-STEM field! In my opinion, the more role models, the better. Hopefully our generation can contribute positively to that!

It’s a very enjoyable and engaging (sometimes tough) process of discovering my identity as an Asian American, and then talking to others about their stories! If you’re interested, feel free to ask me about it! I’m constantly trying to understand the way Asian heritage and American experiences intersect and impact others.

 

Follow her on Instagram at @lydsohn.jpeg


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Nathan Kwon

Field: Music / Photography

Time in field: Music (15 Years) / Photography (3 Years)

Comfort food: 김치찌개 (Kimchi jjigae)

"I am here and I have abilities and a story to offer. My story is my own and I’m open about it. Naturally, being a person that resides both in American and Korean culture, my story is influenced by those two things. I think simply by existing and being willing to share my life is my pride in my Asian-ness."

What was it like for you growing up as an Asian American?

I didn’t really think too much about it: it always seemed natural for me. I felt wholly American and fit in with the white kids at school, but I really connected with my Korean roots at home and church, especially with language, mannerisms, and food. Learning what it means to be Korean is something I’m still navigating.

 

What’s something you’ve learned about yourself that you love as a result of practicing your work?

I’ve learned that I can be honest with myself when I write music – a lot of the things I like to hide away and not look at bubble up, and it’s often then that I deal with it. In terms of photo, I find that I, although I have misanthropic tendencies and pessimistic views of the world, really do take interest in the world and in humans. Photos have the power to capture a glimpse, a window into people’s stories or tell a story through a single moment.

 

What’s something you’ve learned about your Asian heritage as a result of practicing your work?

Honestly, there’s not much I’ve learned about my heritage – I write based on philosophy, religion, and death and my photos tend more toward street photography that’s more neutral.

 

What was/is your favorite failure?

I would say my favorite failures are the albums I wrote and the pictures I took that I dislike now: at the time of writing/creating they were the best I could do and I was proud of doing them. Seeing them now as failures or weak efforts speaks about how far I’ve come along.

 

What was/is your favorite success?

I think my favorite successes have been The Silent God for Crawl Across the Sky, my post-metal project, and L’appel du Vide for Ashen Swan, my ambient/drone project. Writing the Silent God was a hard journey – writing 21 songs was no easy feat and especially in a period of time that was incredibly hard for me emotionally and mentally. But I got through it! And the feedback I’m getting still now is amazing – I’m proud to have written a work that influences people and that people are able to relate to. L’appel du Vide is also something I’m incredibly proud of due to how well it captures how I feel as someone who struggles with mental illness.

 

How do either of those (success/failure) tie into your identity as an Asian American?

Although I don’t consciously think of my Asian-ness as I write music or take photos, it’s profound to think that I represent the Asian-American community just by writing a body of work in an area largely dominated by white people – post-metal and drone. There’s a band called Godspeed You! Black Emperor that sums it up nicely when they say, “All music is political, right? You either make music that pleases the king and his court, or you make music for the serfs outside the walls. It's what music (and culture) is for, right? To distract or confront, or both at the same time?” You either write things that go along with the status quo or oppose it. I’d like to think my music goes against the king and court – in being largely very dark and melancholy and honest (I hope), as well as the white norm of music. Playing for the serfs, as you might say.

 

How do you take pride in your identity as an Asian American?

I exist! I am here and I have abilities and a story to offer. My story is my own and I’m open about it. Naturally, being a person that resides both in American and Korean culture, my story is influenced by those two things. I think simply by existing and being willing to share my life is my pride in my Asian-ness.

 

At what point did you realize that your participation in your field as an Asian American would mean that it would be a different experience than that of someone that was Caucasian?

Especially in the metal community, people generally are surprised to see an Asian do music that’s not classical. A lot of metal has deep roots in Europe and is predominantly written and performed by white people. People often don’t expect to hear screamed vocals out of me or expect such dark, heavy music simply because I’m tiny and Korean. I remember a comment from a person on a piece of music commenting how he was surprised that a minority can scream. People expect less of me simply due to my almond shape eyes and black hair and yellow skin. I want to show that’s not the case – I can write just as well as any white man.

 

What do you want to see in the future for the next generation of Asian Americans?

I want Asian-Americans to be confident in the unique identity of being Asian-American and confident in their abilities. The color of your skin does NOT dictate your ability or limit you to a certain profession. I see very few Asian-Americans in the American fine arts and in music – this should change. We have a voice too.

 

Follow his music and photography at: 

Nathan_Crawl
Crawl Across the Sky
Ashen Swan

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