Please share your background with us.
I grew up in Melbourne, Australia and was introduced to the piano at the age of 5. I continued to play all the way through school, and then into university where I studied at the Victorian College of the Arts, while simultaneously undertaking a Commerce degree from the University of Melbourne. I learnt classical piano and was primarily exposed to works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin and Haydn.
Having said that, my parents were and still are extremely passionate (Indian) music followers, and regularly played music at home that consisted of Ghazals, Bhajans, Qawwalis and various Bollywood hits. What this did for me was provide this cultural exposure to the music of the East and West. East at home. West outside of home. Whilst at university, I commenced playing the piano in public, as a soloist performing classical music and more centred towards Bollywood hits with bands.
A few years after I moved to Singapore with work in 2005 (as a corporate executive) and found myself playing more piano, more to assist my children (son and daughter) who were also learning at the time. I found myself playing a variety of music, both Indian as well as Western (both classical and contemporary). It then came to me the idea of fusing the two together. Partly because it appealed to my East and West interests, but also because I could see a broader opening of mindset and exposure from Indians, in particular the NRI’s, towards both Bollywood/Indian music as well as Western (English) music. This then led to ‘Bollywood Redefined,’ my fusion piano show concept combining various instruments centred around the piano, which was first performed at the prestigious, ‘Esplanade Theatre,’ in Singapore.
I have continued to perform the show regularly in Singapore, and in Australia, and in September, have the opportunity to extend it to other parts of Asia, namely South Korea.
What was it like growing up in Australia and learning Western classical music?
I was extremely fortunate growing up in Australia. People think of Australia as being wonderful for sport, but equally provides great opportunity in Music, Drama and the overall Arts Education, whether at school, outside of school, as well as tertiary / university studies. Hence, I was very lucky to be in an environment which encouraged and promoted music learning and performing.
With respect to Western classical music, again, I was very fortunate through a combination of school as well as at university to have the opportunity to learn in a very structured and organised manner, including through well informed and trained teachers, as well as music institutions and academies (Victoria College Of The Arts) which were well funded institutions enabling access to high quality teachers, resources and students.
From a personal point of view, I have found the technical grounding and platform created through years and years of classical music training to provide a very strong foundation on which to learn and perform more contemporary music, whether Bollywood or Western, whether ballad, rock or pop. Hence, I am truly benefiting today from the strong foundation (technical, theory and performance) which occurred through my formative years of learning.
Why did you take a decision to diversify your portfolio towards Bollywood music?
I grew up in a very traditional Indian household – a joint family with my parents and grandparents. Hence I was truly exposed to living in simultaneously diverse cultures (Western at school; Indian at home). This existence of cultures resulted in exposure to cross-cultures, including food, clothing, religion, and most of all, music.
Today is really symbolic of that broad diversity I had growing up. A diversity which has so nicely transferred to Singapore recognising its extremely ethnically diverse population, again, including Indian and Western. In creating a show, I first started with what appeals and gives me pleasure to perform. The answer is a diversity of Indian and Western, reflecting my cultural composition and exposure. Hence, the show in itself for me represents a kind of ‘journey of life’ to date.
Tell us about your music education initiatives. How are they evolving with the technological advancements?
One of the things I noticed about my children when they were learning a few years back was the same frustration I faced when I was at a similar age. Namely going through a routine of playing songs my teacher put in front of me (not necessarily my choice), but had to learn because it was required for grade examinations.
Also, I found them putting a lot of hard effort towards learning pieces which after the exams, were no longer useful. It made me realise how much better a system would be if the time you spent could be maximised further by performing to friends and family on a more regular basis, if for no other reason than just to be more motivated and engaged.
It showed me to think that despite technology developing and advancements, the system for learning and teaching music had not changed, whilst education, whether at school, university, corporates, were using technology as a way of redefining and addressing how learning can occur to make it more convenient, relevant, and in many ways modularised so that people felt empowered to take some ownership over their learning interests. Simply, I thought, why cannot music learning evolve in the same way.
With that, we created Samana – Music Redefined, an online system enabling learning to happen in a more motivating and engage way by simply making it more ‘social,’ or in other words, create ‘social learning.’ This is achieved by providing students an opportunity to showcase their performance to an online platform (‘stage’) containing a community of interested music followers and students from around the world to provide a feeling of ‘becoming a star,’ but with the added advantage of enabling feedback and commentary from fellow musicians, as well as professional musicians that are part of the community we have assembled. This way, not only does one have an opportunity to showcase their talent (a major limitation with traditional learning), but also receive critical and constructive feedback towards their improvement. You are also not restricted to wherever you are located and who you may have access to.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians across the globe?
My advice for musicians is to initially make sure of two things. Firstly, be open minded. Learn to develop an appreciation for all kinds of music. There will always be a particular genre of music which naturally appeals to you more, however, do not eliminate the opportunity to learn a little more, and even attempt at performing different genres of music.
Secondly, music does not have to be a choice. Why can’t you be a musician and maintain a successful career in whatever field! I am proof of that. For so long, culturally, Indian children (whether in India or abroad) have been told that music is a hobby which is ok to learn initially, but eventually, it is best to concentrate on your studies. Why can’t you have multiple interests which you wish to pursue, and why can’t music be one of them! Also, I think more and more people around the world are starting to realise the need to pursue things in life which have a greater level of passion than before. Of course, one still needs to provide for their future, but do not believe this is denied or halted by having multiple interests.
Sure, it will require you to prioritise your time to enable those ventures to be well pursued, but I remember something my mother always said to me and my brother growing up. ‘The busier you are, the more organised you are.”