Isolation Drills: Melanie Hsu

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Hsu: COVID’s arrival onto the global stage has been such a challenging and complicated teacher to many. And just as some of us were beginning to regain our balance, this most recent wave of national uprisings reminded us that structural oppression and systemic inequity does not pause its violence to wait for a pandemic to blow over. 

Since March, I’ve been working to move ever-closer to my truths, my rage, my healing, my superpowers, my boundaries, my practice and my own racial reckonings as a light-skinned East Asian person who plays music built upon histories of Black resistance and Black brilliance. As a freelance musician, educator and arts administrator, I’ve been trying to hold myself accountable in not excusing my own musical practices from anti-racist decolonization work. I still have a lot of work to do in learning how to most strategically leverage/re-allocate my resources in order to prioritize the voices of Black, Brown, Indigenous, trans and gender-expansive musicians. 

We know that this work of uprooting racism, decentering whiteness and decolonizing music curriculum is long-game. Racism did not begin in June, and we know that it will not be eradicated by tomorrow. This past month has been a humbling and challenging reminder that in order to remain steadfast in this struggle against anti-Blackness, state violence, capitalism and heteropatriarchy, I must slow down, prioritize moments of rest and listen deeply to my own compass. 

As I continue to reckon with my place as a musician within a hyphenated America, I look to my political ancestors: the ones who never forgot the power of Art in imagining and building radical futures beyond what the rest of the world believed to be possible. 

Melanie Hsu is a sonic painter of impossible worlds. As a multi-instrumentalist, she ventures from her classical roots into collaborations with dancers, filmmakers, rappers, poets and visual artists. When she’s not self-quarantined, her restless spirit finds adventure along the East Coast and internationally as musical support for various ensembles and projects. She’s a co-director at Girls Rock Philly, where she works to amplify the voices of girls, trans and gender-expansive youth through the radical process of unapologetic sound-making.