Even before I was born, my (late)father wanted a daughter, and he wanted his daughter to be a musician.He got both.He was also of the opinion that a child’s surname needed to reflect both parents. And hence, ‘Majolly’ was born.
From the age of 2 and a half, he started teaching me pieces from a popular piano method book, by sitting at night and learning it himself on the piano my parents bought paying in instalments (they were both high school teachers), which I would learn the following day. I picked up very quickly, acquired perfect pitch along the way, and could play the next level of that method book from memory when I was 4. I couldn’t read yet.Side by side, he taught me the violin on a quarter size instrument. Singing lessons followed after a few years, and I learnt to play the Hammond organ on my own, accompanying our local church choir at the age of 9. My mother played the guitar (so I picked up some chords) as well as the piano(to which lessons I would tag along and interrupt my poor mother with all the wrong answers during ear-tests, and her piano teacher would smile patiently...)
Brunei (where I was born) was very kind to me despite the fact that I was neither a citizen nor a permanent resident, by showcasing my talent on both radio and television since I was 7 years of age.My producers, the late Haji Wahab and Royston Goh, were instrumental in this regard, and I will alwaysbe thankful to them for encouraging me, and being a great friend to us. Ms Baja was also instrumental in taking my piano playing to the next level, through her very detailed and dramatic teaching methods.
By the time I finished high school at 15 (I was the youngest in my class), my parents had to make the difficult decision to send me overseas to further my studies in music (there was never a doubt about that despite reservations from some relatives and family friends), and I landed up in Singapore. I looked forward to this adventure, being in a big and fast city. I quickly made some of the loveliest friends (with whom I am still in touch today), and was rigorously trained in piano, voice and principles of teaching. My violin studies also continued, and I began to pick up the cello as well, but a ligament tear put an end to both. I started teaching at 16. Parents of students were skeptical, as you can imagine, but since I was well versed with my craft, they began to trust me. Sometimes, it did take a bit of convincing though.
While pursuing the Associateship of the La Salle College of the Arts, I also appeared for several diplomas including the Licentiate of the Royal School of Music in Piano Performance, Licentiate of the Trinity College of Music in Principles of Teaching, and the Fellowship of the Trinity College of Music in Piano Performance. Most of the teachers there were brilliant in their field, like the late Peter Cooper, Josephine Koh, Vivien Ngo, Shelagh Molyneaux, Tracey Walker, Lina Ching, amongst others. We had a very passionate Head of Music, Georgina Emmanuel, who was relentless in the pursuit of excellence, and kept pushing us above and beyond.
It was the most natural thing in the world to pursue music even further, and I ended up being in Perth, at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. It was one of the most treasured phases of my life, where I met some wonderful people (both classmates and professors), and was encouraged to pursue my talent in both piano and voice. I especially thank Anthony Maydwell and Dr John Roberts for their expertise, encouragement and love. The conservatory were kind enough to allow me to finish a 4 year degree in 2, based on my previous Singapore studies, and on my audition(I got a little cash prize for best audition!). Though I always knew that I would become a professional musician, it was here that the realization dawned on me that there would never be anything else in my life that I wanted to do. It fused with my soul. I married it. And there was never ever getting away from it. Ever (Fun Fact: Hugh Jackman was my batchmate in the Music Theatre department....)
In the meantime, there were still relatives and some family friends who were still wondering what I was doing with my life, but I never let that bother me in the least.Armed with a Bachelor’s Degree in Classical Music (with the Stephanie Coleman Prize for Best Graduating Pianist), I came to New Delhi to start my professional life. I will be honest and say, that living there was quite a culture shock in so many ways, especially being a woman. There were so many things I took for granted in other countries, so I did find it difficult to adjust. I started teaching at the Delhi School of Music almost right away, including private lessons, but decided that I had had enough of my environment, and moved to Bangalore soon after. I have been here ever since (except for a 3 month stint in Malaysia on work).
Starting my performing career as a concert pianist, I realized that nothing would drop in my lap. I had to get people to know about me. In my early years here, I wrote to every conceivable music society around the country, sending them my CV and a recording, and got them to invite me to perform. The first tour was successful musically, but a loss financially. But that didn’t bother me, as it was important for them to get to know me. And things have improved since then!
I taught at the Bangalore School of Music briefly but also set up my private teaching studio shortly after, and word of mouth brought me students from all over. I never stopped studying, and took my Licentiate of the Trinity College of Music in Classical Singing (which earned me The Fewkes Trophy for Classical Singing in South India), and the Associate of the London College of Music in Music Theatre(which earned me an Outstanding Diploma Trophy as well).
I love to teach. I would be pretty accurate and say that 95 % of my babies (a term I call my students, young or older, and one can’t make EVERYONE like one) have a lot of fun in class (with relevant scoldings). My heart has held such pride to see some of my babies making the decision to pursue music further, or even if they don’t, to have music as such a big part of their lives. It’s certainly extremely satisfying for me in many, many respects. And I get LOADS of chocolates and gifts!
Western Classical Music here, still has a long way to go because of the lack of the right facilities and government support, but to the best of my ability, I have done what I could (and continue doing what I can) to encourage and promote it, with the help of some very well meaning people. First, it was through the Bangalore Society for Performing Arts which I founded in the year 2000, but had to close because of bankruptcy. I only finished paying my debts after 4 years of its closure.
In 2011, I founded The Majolly Music Trust which is active now that provides quality music education and that has a unique pension fund for aged and infirm musicians, besides other charity and outreach programmes. I try to perform as a concert pianist and singer as much as I can, but opportunities for those are not so readily available here. Through persistence, I have managed to play in Sweden, Nepal,South East Asia, Australia, and across India of course.As far as Western Classical music is concerned – the number of students learning has increased quite a bit, and hence the size of audience who come to listen. It is encouraging.
One thing wonderful about Bangalore, is that one has an audience (and for the most part, appreciative) of any genre of music. And I see that only growing. The more music people have in their lives, the more life changing it is for them. And that is important. I lose myself every single day when I rehearse, and I love it. It’s a completely spiritual world that I go to EVERY SINGLE DAY. I consider myself extremely blessed to be doing what I love.
In the meantime, the potential rock chick in me came to the surface, and 2017 saw the release of ‘Please’, my first alternative rock album as the award winning ‘The Majolly Project’. Besides this album, my chamber choir group released the first Western Classical album in India, ‘the renaissance begins’ in 2009, and a few years ago, I put out a Classical Piano album with Universal Music, which I believe is the first classical piano album by an Indian artist.
I have always listened (and still listen) to a wide range of music from Western Classical to heavy metal, and the musicians have all influenced me in some way, and inspired me, with their stories, and music.
Yes, there have been ups and downs, but being a highly self motivated person, I somehow pick myself up and carry on. And music has always been there for me, with open arms. Always.
Connecting with my audience through my interpretation of the classics, making people laugh and cry with my music theatre performances, and making people think with my alternative rock songs is also part of my motivation to keep doing what I do. I like doing music that says something, that stimulates wonder, emotions (sometimes extreme) and thoughts about the world and what happens in it, in general. As citizens of the earth, I firmly believe that we each have a moral duty to be aware of what is going on, and to fix things in whatever way we are capable of.
In my opinion, those in the creative arts are the most powerful to get this message across. And I am proud to be one of them.