If someone told me a few years back, that I would be singing on stage to a few thousand people, I would have thought they were off their rockers. But life has a funny way of making these things come true.
I, am Vani S, a Bangalore based vocalist, psychologist and self declared funny person. My journey with music was more a journey with myself than anything else. As a young girl, I was asked what I wanted to be growing up. To my parents’ disappointment, it wasn’t a chartered account or doctor (mind you, they haven’t stopped trying). I knew right back then I wanted to be in the arts: music and acting particularly.My earliest memories of music included several early morning Carnatic music lessons, where I was asleep in my head and going through the motions. I whined, groaned, played truant and refused to believe this was the way music was meant to feel for me. This progressed into being part of an organization, where I sang spiritual songs for well over a decade. My belief system aside, this really opened up avenues in terms of exploring music and learning. I had the opportunity to sing with a World Youth Choir, early 2000’s and do musical theatre and even music therapy as part of this group.And it was that early exposure to doing basic music therapy with children with autism and Down’s Syndrome, that started giving me more clarity of what I wanted to do. But there was a slight problem.I grew consuming popular media, that screamed out only one message: it isn’t enough to just be a good singer/ actor. You had to be a performer. And as a woman in performance, it mattered what you wore and what you looked like. You were booked as an artist many times, just because the venue or organizers wanted ‘a woman’. Which clashed with one single, fundamental concept I had chosen to make my truth early enough: that I would never be good enough.
Nothing anyone said, nor training and rigorous practice was able to get me out of this idea, that I needed to be ‘good enough’ for the listener. In retrospect, I recognize how much I had made this about me and not the art. I auditioned for two TV reality shows that I tanked severely because I was focussing on myself and not the piece at hand. I had written off public performances for myself. Somewhere in 2013, I had the opportunity to visit Berklee College of Music, Boston and I took the tour and was considering taking a chance on myself and applying to do their Music therapy program. I walked past a quaint little bookstore, where I picked up a copy of a book that changed the way I looked at music. That book was ‘Stage Performance’ by Livingston Taylor.Two significant things happened that contributed to where I am today musically. The book, byTaylor, taught me how to go beyond myself. How to be less possessive of ‘my music’, ‘my tastes’ and do art for art’s sake. And that was a turning point. The stage (small or big) feels more welcoming and I take my job as an entertainer seriously. It also helped significantly with my confidence and self esteem issues. Try and pick up a copy for yourself, if you get a chance.
The other thing that changed and also paved the way for my eventual career choice, was my experience with depression. Several significant years of my life went in battling depression and doing the rounds with therapists and other support systems. Music’s role at that point went from listening pleasure to ‘healing’. I am not sure I particularly have the right words to describe the process, but it definitely became a central force in my life, in capacities I couldn’t have imagined.
And that also changed the course of my journey in music. I needed a space where therapy could be therapy and music could be music. Today, I am a mental health professional and a commercial cover artist. And I have had a set of incredible musicians and technicians, who were kind of to share the stage with me, support and encourage me. My family has gone beyond making their peace with me singing at pubs at night, to celebrating my music and becoming my primary cheerleaders. And I hope that for every aspiring artist.
The small part of me that still struggles with confidence, wonders why my story as a baby musician in the field is a story worth telling in the first place. But, if I have taken away anything from it all; it’s this: every story is worth telling. And this was mine.