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Five graduating students of the SOI Music Academy look back on their seven-year journey and how it has shaped them, inside the classroom, on the stage and out in the world.

MAIRA SINGH (13), Violin

My teacher and mentor Olga Lyapina took me under her fold when I was all of seven years old. She has played a crucial role in shaping me as a musician. I still remember the first time I played the violin, I found it extremely difficult. Gradually, with consistent practice and work, I started to play with much more ease and fluency. The quality of sound that emanated from my violin also evolved from a screechy pitch to a deeper, soulful note. Miss Olga’s violin lessons are interesting and fun. Although demanding and sometimes strict, she makes sure her students are thorough in their technique and backs them one hundred percent. She has taught me to listen to each note carefully. “Intonation” is her favourite word.

Thanks to the NCPA, I have performed as a soloist in numerous concerts and have enjoyed being a second violinist in the kids’ orchestra. These concerts at different venues in Mumbai, and even one in Abu Dhabi, have reinforced my belief in myself without which, I would not have been able to play on those stages. They also taught me the value of consistent practice as I enjoyed the appreciation of my teachers, my conductor and the audience. Every year, Miss Olga organises thematic concerts with her students which I look forward to. Two of my favourites include Around the World with the Violin and From 8 to 58. I hope you all can make it to the next concert.

The NCPA feels like a second home in which my teachers and friends are like family. I can’t believe seven years have passed so soon. My music training has taught me that while there are no shortcuts to hard work, its fruit is very sweet and enjoyable. I am grateful that music will always be an integral part of my life.

NAIMA RAMAKRISHNAN (14), Cello

As a child, I drifted from one extracurricular activity to another. When my older sister started playing the violin, I decided to give it a go too. However, the high-pitched sound of the violin didn’t appeal to me, and I was quite miserable while playing it. Then one day, when I had gone to pick up my sister from class, Miss Margarita Gapparova saw me and suggested that I try playing a few notes on the cello. From the very first note that I played, I fell in love with the instrument. The cello has a beautiful sound, and playing it always makes me happy and relaxed.

My cello teacher is Miss Yulia Gallyamova, and classes with her are a lot of fun. She often compares my playing to various farm animals (with a few jungle animals thrown in for variety) and frequently calls me Dory, after the forgetful fish in Finding Nemo.

Playing in an orchestra has taught me a lot about coordination and teamwork, as all instruments have to play perfectly in sync with one another. It is also a wonderful time to make friends and share a giggle, even if it means that the conductor is not too pleased.

Classical music is a great teacher. Playing an instrument requires persistence, and it has taught me how to work hard. Most importantly, it has taught me how to conquer my nerves, as concerts and exams have become a part of life.

I am often asked if I will take up a career in music. While I do not know what I will be when I grow up, I do know that music and the cello will always be a huge part of my life.

NISHA RAMAKRISHNAN (14), Piano

Before every performance, the backstage is an obstacle course of instrument cases and nervous students. As much as I try to, I can’t remember the second line of my piece. My hands feel so cold that I doubt I will be able to play. Claps warn me that the person before me has finished playing. It seems like only doom awaits me. But then, as I walk onstage, sit at the piano and see my teacher smile encouragingly at me, something magical happens. And playing doesn’t seem so terrifying anymore.

When I was three years old, I fell in love with the piano. I used to dance to my elder sister’s pieces, and I was determined that one day, I would play the piano, too. After begging my mother for months, I started lessons at the age of five, and have loved every second of it since.

Music-wise, the last seven years have been a whirlwind of sonatas, preludes and fun. The SOI Music Academy is unique because it is just like a family. My piano teacher, Miss Aida Bissengalieva, is more than a teacher to me. Our weekly discussions are just about everything under the sun. She is also able to pick the perfect pieces for each of her students, and so each waltz, minuet and nocturne has been an extra special adventure. Miss Aida showed me how music can be a colourful painting, a sorrowful tale or an exhilarating journey, and never just a series of notes.

Music exams are incredibly stressful, and the wait to play is unbearable, but the second we finish our final chords, the fun begins. I remember the post-exam games of tag and cheerful (and sometimes tearful) conversations, just as I remember the exams themselves.

Music has opened up an enchanting, magical world for me, where anything is possible. It has made me the person I am today.

SAMIA JETHA (17), Piano

My elder sister started playing the piano before I did, and I was exposed to lots of different music as a young child. So when I was old enough, I asked for piano lessons. It took a while for it to grow on me, but as I learnt more about the music style, I also learnt to appreciate the nuances and details of each piece I played. Over the course of the last seven years, I was exposed to classes like solfeggio, choir, history of music and chamber music, which have allowed me to broaden my horizons and take in all the different types, perspectives and purposes of music. This has put me on the path of being a well-rounded person, and my knowledge goes beyond just my speciality (piano). For that I am grateful to every single teacher at the SOI Music Academy.

My piano teacher, Miss Aida has played an instrumental role in pushing me out of my comfort zone and exploring music alongside me while at the same time, always being there to mentor me, nurture me and support me throughout my entire journey no matter what. We have developed a wonderful relationship through the years, and she is irreplaceable.

Being able to develop the skill of speaking or performing in front of an audience from a young age goes a long way. The SOI Music Academy provides the perfect facilities and opportunities to its students to perform and learn to cope under the pressure of audiences or judges and better themselves each time. After I graduate, while I would like to continue my formal classical music training, I would also like to be introduced to other aspects of music involving technology, composition and other genres.

SHLOKA RAGHAVAN (15), Cello

I was introduced to classical music when I was seven with the Suzuki Violin method, but I dived into its depths when I auditioned for the SOI Music Academy. Music Director Marat Bisengaliev thought the cello is best suited for me and now I cannot imagine my life without it. When I was younger, I enjoyed the liveliest pieces, but of late, I get drawn to the more emotional ones. Because of the time I have spent at the academy, I can attribute the life lessons I have learnt – like resilience, being a team player and being able to work towards and reach specific goals – to the influence of my teachers, friends and experiences.

My teachers have shaped us as musicians and individuals. They share with us not just knowledge but also their passion and love for music, playing and the pursuit of perfection. Miss Margarita Gapparova, my teacher, once told me that whichever piece I play, I must create a story to feel and express the emotion of the piece and the audience will respond by connecting to that energy. This has had a lasting impact on me and we spend time on this with every new piece, sometimes even making stories up and bringing it to the music.

Opportunities to perform as a soloist and with the student orchestra is always an exciting prospect. While concerts mean longer hours and more rehearsals, it gives us students time to bond and as “Team Orchestra” we deliver better. Performing from a young age has made me confident and I have learnt the value of discipline and hard work through the ups and downs in my journey.

What I know for certain today is that I cannot imagine my life without music. Something I would like to do immediately is start teaching underprivileged kids to play a classical instrument. I think everyone should learn some form of music as it builds character. Classical music shines new light on what your idea of music really is. Being able to play a wide range transports you to the period your piece is from. The bonds you make with friends over music are not easily broken. With the hours of practice and hard work you give to music, it gives you as much and more back.


This piece was originally published by the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, in the March 2020 issue of ON Stage – their monthly arts magazine.