“What a beautiful life these people must lead! Always immersed in music”, I would think to myself growing up, when I watched with envy as a pianist would play a piece of beautiful Western classical music or when a band would come together at some public platforms to gleefully sing popular songs to cheering audiences. I would long to be on the other side, on the stage in place of any of those musicians.
Fast forward to a gig last night where I was singing with a saxophonist and a man who played the guitar, a keyboardist. I sang some western classics and a few retro Bollywood songs. I started reminiscing and feeling grateful for finally having crossed over from longing to be on stage to actually being the one on the stage and performing with these two wonderfully talented musicians. And the night ended with some disrespect from the audience making unnecessary demands and the organiser not caring about how we were to go back to our cars parked a km away from the venue with all the instruments. I heard stories from these two people about how it is so common for musicians to be treated this way. So here’s my attempt to talk about my journey, so may be people can see the real passion that goes behind being an artist and learn to respect them.
My passion for music probably started when I was a kid. After much needed encouragement from my mom, I got the opportunity to learn from a wonderful classical singer, my vocal coach [Suchita Parte ma’am]. I would go along with my sister every weekend to spend few hours learning different raagas, understanding gayaki and practising difficult nuances in classical singing like harkats several times till we got it right. And that changed the way I heard and understood any form of music.
But like any set of concerned parents, mine too got worried that I was getting closer to the 10th grade and I had to now focus on studies alone. And since then I got cut off from singing or listening to music in general, except for on Sunday mornings when I would wake up to beautiful music songs on the television for an hour. During Engineering, my passion for music was renewed when I met so many wonderful musicians and artists in general and tried to compete in competitions against them. I started regretting not taking my music practice seriously but restrictions at home continued and music practice was restricted to an occasional sneaking away to a friend’s house for practice and skipping lunch to save money and pay for the music classes I took for a few months without the knowledge of my parents.
I came to Bangalore through my job in Future group and started learning light music and Bollywood singing from Tanushree Saha Ma’am. I also started going to karaoke events so I would get an opportunity to sing on stage and meet other music lovers. Here I met some professional singers and musicians who helped me to enter into the world of professional singing and performance. One thing led to another and I got more and more involved in singing and performances and got less and less interested in my job. The nail in the coffin of my corporate life was when my boss started expecting me to work on weekends and late evenings and I found myself having to choose between my job and music. This time I had the freedom to make a choice so I couldn’t blame circumstances. I decided once and for all that this time I’ll put my foot down and make music my priority, do what it takes to pursue my passion in the best way possible. So on 10th April 2017, I quit my job to give music my 100% attention.
That should have been a beautiful beginning to my story of a new journey in music - That day I tried to tell my mother that I was considering pursuing music full time. She said they had not educated me and made me an Engineer and MBA graduate so I could "beg for money by singing". She said the women in our family don’t sing in front of people to make money. Her derogatory response was my reality check. I realised how the world really viewed full time musicians who had not become famous and how the world viewed women in the music scene. I was so lost in my love and passion for music that I had not stopped to wonder what musicians go through when they pursue music professionally. No one was going to applaud me for taking this decision. I got a lot of reprimanding and discouragement from other musicians who had been around in the music scene for many years. As I started doing more live gigs at parties and weddings so as to increase my revenue, I started getting a taste of what it’s really like. I was called to events as a female vocalist and was met with surprise when I refused to dance to few dance numbers they were singing. At another event I was called because I was a young singer and I would know the latest dance music and bring energy to the event. One event manager asked me to dress up, dance and groove on stage while the male vocalist dominated and sang most of the songs. Because this was the “plus point” of having a female vocalist in the band. I felt so humiliated that i never again approached that particular event manager for gigs. At one point I even tried to learn to sing a few cringeworthy popular numbers like chittiyaan kalaiyyan and sheila ki jawani.
I started wondering what I was doing and why I had gotten myself into this. For a while I stopped doing gigs, so I could pause and remember why I had decided to pursue music. Because of my passion for “good” music and my passion for singing. I started focusing on classical music practice and took up a group class with Smt. Debjani Dutta ma’am, who has been my Guru in classical music ever since. But I couldn’t afford a one-on-one class and I felt the need for better feedback on where I was going off pitch even when I was doing scales. I would record my riyaz sessions against keyboard and listen to see where I could be going off pitch. That was when a friend suggested to me that I use an app called “Riyaz”. I downloaded the app and found it extremely useful in ensuring that I was doing my scales practice correctly. My enthusiasm caught the attention of the “Riyaz” team and they got in touch with me to test few new features they had introduced in the app.
After meeting with the founder and understanding his vision to make music education easily available to everybody and seeing the passion with which the team was working on the app, I decided to start working with them part time. I started recording some wonderful classical singers to produce content for the app. It gave me the financial aid i needed to start one on one music classes with Debjani ma’am and also start getting voice training from Divya RT ma’am. The new situation helped me to get choosy about the kind of gigs I took up. I could now focus on the music that I was really passionate about without caring about whether or not I could sing that song in a gig. For this I will forever be grateful to the “Riyaz” team. It helped me to refocus my attention to what really matters.
And that is where I stand today. Working with Riyaz part time and spending the remaining time on my own Riyaz. My ambition is to spend as much time as possible on exploring music as an art form and sustain myself and live well through music alone so that I can give this passion my 100%. Like anyone else, I do wish for fame and recognition and a chance to hear from parents that they are proud of my work in music. But all that is secondary and i have a long way to go in terms of improvement in my singing and understanding of music before I can think of achieving these things. What is most important to me is that I am finally on the journey and my days are filled with music or music related work. I can only see myself growing from here and there is definitely no looking back.
Edited by Vidya Ram