At only 8 years old, Baldwin Park resident Jocelyn Hsu knew she was born to perform.
In her childhood home, Hsu spent hours sitting at her family piano, which was situated in front of a window in the practice room. Before she practiced, Hsu would open the blinds and prop the window open.
“I wanted to share the music,” she says. “For some reason, I wanted people to see me practicing. Our neighbors would come by and tell our parents they enjoyed the piano music, and I remember feeling so happy because of that. I always felt like whatever I was playing, whether it was piano or now violin, I always really wanted to share that.”
Although she’s faced an immense amount of obstacles in her music career, the now 27-year-old is continuing to pursue her dream, regularly performing at venues such as House of Blues and Universal Studios, as well as private corporate events and weddings.
Hsu was born in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, but was raised in Orlando.
She comes from a large music family — two of her father’s three sisters are professional musicians. Hsu started playing piano at 5 years old.
“I remember there just always being a piano around, and I think my parents knew to start introducing us (Hsu and her two sisters) to music when they felt we were ready,” she says. “I started taking lessons when I was really young. I think my mom always had the intention of eventually introducing us to a second instrument. We were allowed to pick which one we wanted.”
Hsu is the middle of three sisters, and although she originally selected cello, she switched to violin to follow in her older sister’s footsteps. However, her older sister then switched to cello; she didn’t want to be copied.
Unlike piano, Hsu’s talent showed early on with violin.
“I really struggled practicing piano growing up,” she says. “I didn’t find it particularly fulfilling or interesting. I wasn’t the best at it, and I’m a very achievement-oriented person. … I’m kind of an all-or-nothing person. … But with violin, I never felt this way. I always enjoyed playing the instrument itself, and I felt very motivated to be better.”
At 9 years old, Hsu started violin lessons with a well known local teacher Dr. Lev Gurevich. Gurevich, who died in 2020, was the only teacher she ever had in Orlando, and she stayed with him until she was 18.
Hsu’s first gig was when she was still in elementary school.
Two members of her youth orchestra, also Asian American, combined with her and her sister to form a string quartet. The group performed for local organizations, at a holiday concert in a local Publix and even at one of Hsu’s teacher’s weddings.
Hsu won her first competition with her youth orchestra where she competed with students all the way up to the high school level.
“For some reason, I was selected as one of the winners,” she said. “That’s when I decided that I wanted to be a performer.”
Hsu went on to study music at Florida State University, a portion in her musical journey she describes as her biggest accomplishment.
“You grow up being constantly critiqued, that’s the only way you improve, so when I was done with undergrad, I had plans to go to grad school for music,” she says. “At the time, I was making a lot of progress. … Something was finally clicking where I was really starting to master my craft and be able to communicate with my violin professor at school on a higher level with musicality. … But in classical music, there’s not really much wiggle room. In my experience, it’s not really about how much you improve, it’s about the end product. Even though I made a lot of progress, my end product was still not where it was expected to be in terms of the school I wanted to go to.”
After being selected through a pre-screening process, Hsu was invited to audition at a conservatory. She had to prepare a large a repertoire of music for a 10-minute interview.
“I played for probably about four minutes before I was stopped, and everyone got up to go to the bathroom,” she says. “At the time, I was just in shock, but looking back, it was very disrespectful. We have to fund everything to be there. … At that point in my life I really began to question what I had done all of this for. I graduated from music school really hating my instrument.”
One of her original dreams was to pursue the academia route for violin. After that experience, that dream felt like “it was crumbling in my hands,” Hsu says.
However, the experiences led Hsu to what she describes as one of her proudest moments.
After graduating, Hsu moved to Baldwin Park and fell in love with the area, the people and its close proximity to a plethora of Asian restaurants
She taught music to young students and worked on connecting to the community.
In 2019, Hsu was scouted for an audition and went on tour with Jon Anderson, singer of the progressive rock band Yes. She played electric violin, ukulele and sang.
The six-week tour began in the spring on the East Coast in Boston and ended near California. The performers took a break for the summer and then toured again from July to September.
Hsu lived on a tour bus with about 11 other people doing two to three shows a week in notable places such as the American stage in Disney’s Epcot, a festival in Texas, Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and even a residency at Levon Helm studios in New York.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Although the tour did not continue, Hsu found a new home in October 2020 at Lockheed Martin as a library assistant for the research library.
“I feel really blessed that now I have the freedom and flexibility to still do music in a capacity that I find fulfilling,” she says. “During COVID, I really grappled with the question of, ‘If I’m not a musician, then who am I?’ These last few years, I’ve learned to dissociate my sense of self from my vocation. I’m really grateful every day … Even being able to live here in a home in Baldwin Park. That’s all because of all of the obstacles that led me to where I am today.”
MAKING MUSICAL MOVES
Today, Hsu is continuing to pursue her musical passions through a relatively normal year in local gigs.
In terms of her future at Lockheed, she will be starting graduate school at FSU’s online program in January and plans to eventually transition into becoming one of the librarians at the company.
“I have a desire to kind of take a step back from being a gigging musician and work on recording more in the studio and building more of my music and my brand,” she says. “I’m still booking — but a little more sparingly — so I can connect with other musicians, form collaborations and fuel my creative fire that’s been growing.”
This past year, the musician has been working on a record with some of her friends on tour, which she is planning on finishing up and releasing next year.
In addition, she already has been planning her next project, which she said she has a lot of material already written for, but would love to focus on a goal of releasing original material more frequently.
“As a string player, especially a classical musician, we grow up very used to playing other people’s works,” Hsu says. “I am very comfortable doing that, and I’m trying to step out of my comfort zone and do things I never believed I was capable of doing.”