Welcome to Aisinganote where I write about my musical journey.
During the course of my journey, I have met some wonderful teachers and people. My passion for Carnatic music has also given me interesting experiences that have opened new vistas. I write about these people and experiences here.
Having been born and raised in Singapore and Malaysia where good music teachers were scarce when I was growing up, my beginnings in this field were choppy and unstable. My real introduction to Carnatic music was rather late, and ironically, in North America, in San Diego, California to be exact, where I met Dr. Rose Muralikrishnan, my first music teacher in the US.
Before I met her, I preferred semi-classical music or film music because I simply didn’t know enough about Carnatic music to like it very much. The awakening came when I went for my first class with Rose, and she sang the Pallavi of Brova Barama in Bahudari just to give me an idea of the composition. Her rendition sounded like a celestial tune. I honestly had not known prior to that that Carnatic music could sound so beautiful, and thus began my quest.
But even then, I continued to learn as a learner more out of interest than passion. The turning point came when I moved to San Jose, California and met Mrs. Lalitha Venkatraman. She literally twisted my arm and told me that if I didn’t make an arangetram a goal, I should just stop coming to class. Her argument was that if I just wanted to sing with no specific goals, I could just do it on my own.
Prior to my arangetram, I had performed on numerous occasions but it had always been light classical music or film music. To put it simply, this was a nerve-racking experience. I don’t think I had ever worked so hard before. I sang day and night out of sheer fear of humiliation. I did not tell any of my friends and prayed fervently that none of the guests invited by my teacher would turn up. Much to Lalitha Mami’s chagrin, I kept asking her if I could just sing because I was supposed to, but before anyone turned up. When I got on stage, I felt acutely cold despite the fact that it was late spring, and clung to the two shawls that I had wrapped around myself only to timidly set them aside when I felt my teacher’s piercing glare.
My loud sigh of relief when it was over brought some amused looks from my audience. My performance was not great by any measure, or in retrospect, given what I know now, even good, but it was a full performance, and it was such a revelation for me. A new realization dawned on me that I could actually finish a Carnatic performance without embarrassing myself. The experience had ignited a new desire; a desire to perfect this art as best as I possibly could.
Since then I have worked at my art with doggedness, and I think doggedness is the most apt word because I honestly don’t think I am particularly gifted. I have to work harder and longer than many. But I don’ t mind at all. I never tire of practicing a single phrase umpteen times just to perfect it. I look forward to my practice every day as my time with me and my love. I know that I am on an unending journey that will take me a lifetime to even come close to being good despite my commitment.
A friend of mine is fond of quoting a world renowned musician who is supposed to have said something like, “…spend a lifetime learning and another lifetime practicing, and hopefully, when you’re born again for the third time, you will get to perform while practicing some more”. I am fine with that.
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