Vidya Subramanian – Carnatic Vocalist and Entrepreneur
It has been a while since I posted the previous interview. Continuing our search for Role models for Indian Youth, today we have Vidya Subramanian – Carnatic Vocalist, who chose to pursue her dream. After being a top ranker in CA (India Rank 2) and having had a successful stint in her corporate career, Vidya chose to follow her heart. Vidya also brings her entrepreneurial spirits to the fore by successfully running an online carnatic music academy.
Me: Sundar Rajan G S
VS: Vidya Subramanian – Carnatic Vocalist and Entrepreneur
Me: Dear Vidya, welcome to Coffee With Sundar! Can you please talk about yourself, your educational background, family background etc
VS: Hi Sundar, nice to be featured on your blog. I am a Carnatic vocalist and teacher. I perform concerts, run an online Carnatic music learning academy and also conduct lec-dems on various topics of interest relating to Carnatic music. Coming to my academic background, I am a Chartered Accountant with an MBA from Boston College, USA. I have also been awarded the CFA Charter. I worked in the Finance industry for a number of years but decided to pursue my interest in Carnatic music fulltime. My parents are both Chartered Accountants and my family has always placed a lot of emphasis on academics. While everyone in my family loves music, I am the first one in my family to pursue music as a vocation! My parents have been a tremendous source of support and encouragement for my academic and musical pursuits.
Me: Can you talk about your music journey.. When did you start, who were your gurus.. How long did you learn.
VS: I started learning at the age of three. My first Guru was the late Smt Rukmini Rajagopalan. She was a very experienced teacher who had learned from stalwarts like Sri GNB. Smt. Rukmini Rajagopalan was my grandparents’ neighbor and I learned from her for nearly 10 years. She taught me several compositions and also initiated my exposure to manodharma sangeetham (creative aspects). At the age of 12, I was selected to attend a workshop by Padmabhushan Lalgudi Sri Jayaraman and it turned out to be a life changing experience. Lalgudi Sir’s mastery over various aspects of Carnatic music, his unmatched creativity, deep experience and his ability to articulate and share his knowledge in a concise and lucid manner truly inspired me. I am blessed that he accepted me as his student in 1993. I have been under his guidance for nearly 20 years now and I am forever indebted to Lalgudi Sir and also to his illustrious children, Lalgudi Sri Krishnan Sir and Lalgudi Smt Vijayalakshmi for all the training and guidance they have given me over the years. I also receive guidance from eminent vocalist, Dr. Vijayalakshmy Subramaniam who is a wonderful mentor, senior performer and researcher.
Me: Can you elaborate your disciple experience under the legendary Lalgudi Jayaraman sir?
VS: Lalgudi Sir is a living legend in the field of Carnatic music. He is one of the greatest musicians of the century. Learning from him has been an amazing journey. A genius who has mastered virtually every aspect of Carnatic music, Lalgudi Sir is a true nadopasaka. His classes reflect his creativity, spontaneity, technical virtuosity and unassuming nature. I had my intense training under him in the 1990s. Each class would be anywhere from two to four hours in duration and we would be a group of young and eager students. My Guru has a unique approach that inspires each student to bring out their best. Sometimes, we would be challenged to perform a Pallavi composed by him on spot; other times, he would meticulously notate and teach a masterpiece composition. He would often share precious anecdotes from his interactions with other stalwarts. His dedication to the art is truly awe inspiring. Till this day, he is always ready at the scheduled time and waiting for the students’ arrival. He shares his knowledge in a very down to earth and crystal clear manner. Good performance by a student instantly fills him with pride and he insists that every note and embellishment is sung with perfection! He possesses greatly intellectual curiosity and respects other art forms and artists. My Guru has not only shared his precious music with his students, but most importantly, also has helped us imbibe his values.
Me: You are CA – India Rank 2, MBA from Boston.. And you seem to have had a reasonably successful corporate career as well.. How did you manage your career & music together?
VS: Classical music, as research has shown, certainly helps one improve scholastic performance. Managing two disparate careers such as in Finance and music is very rewarding and requires a high amount of discipline and good time management. But it does take a toll on one’s personal wellbeing and leaves little time for family and relaxation. Initially, it was all very exciting. With marriage and children, there came a point in my life when I felt that I could only do justice to one of the two career paths. Luckily for me, my husband has always been very supportive of my musical interests and felt that I would excel as a teacher and performer. I also feel my MBA helps me communicate with a lot of clarity and focus when I interact with students and audiences. My academic background has enabled me to emerge as a successful entrepreneur with my online Carnatic music academy and has also helped me make award winning grant proposals.
Me: When finally took the call about coming back to India, what was going on in your mind.. Did have any second thoughts or contradictions at all?
VS: My husband and I have always wanted to return home after gaining some international experience… we have never had any second thoughts. But we have had to actively plan the return so that the move would be rewarding personally and professionally for both of us.
Me: What do you think are your biggest achievements till date?
VS: Receiving the 2010 Artist Grant award from Saratoga Arts and NY State Council for the Arts was a significant milestone. The award enabled me to conduct free workshops and recitals in public libraries, town halls and community centers in various New York State locations. This helped me reach out to new audiences. My Raaga Rasika English language audio podcasts on Carnatic music (co-hosted with Devesh Satyavolu) have also received excellent feedback from a global listener base. I incorporate an educational element in most of my concerts and share background information on the pieces I perform and this has gone down very well with audiences in India and abroad.
Me: Now you are running an online school… Can you talk about that?
I started teaching online sometime around 2004-2005. My students would often tell me how my approach to teaching Carnatic music was very different from what most teachers followed. I realized that I could very effectively combine my academic background, international experience and technical expertise in music to start an online school that brought together qualified teachers with students of varying locations, learning levels and cultural backgrounds. I believe my school’s strength lies in our successful adaptation to traditional Carnatic pedagogical methods to the strengths and limitations offered by an online learning environment and also in our flexible, student oriented approach. We welcome and encourage students of all levels and periodically adjust our teaching strategies to suit the individual student’s goals and strengths/weaknesses. I also have pre-recorded audio and video lesson products that students can use to learn offline. We strive to communicate with students on an ongoing basis and work with them to ensure they learn Carnatic music in a focused and fun environment!
Me: Who are your target audience.. How are you finding your experience of teaching online.. Do you have international students.. or do you mainly cater to Indian students.. Can you talk about what a typical day for you is… If you have international students.. how do you explain to them the complicated names of raga and what it means
VS: I like to target to a broad audience, not necessarily people with prior exposure to Carnatic music. I have met several people who find Carnatic music melodious and intriguing, but don’t quite know how or where to begin their exploration. Some of my students are totally new to this art form and culture while others are regular concert performers. This is why I don’t believe in a “one size fits all” approach. I structure my classes differently to suit the students’ level, goals and exposure. My team and I spend a lot of time planning for classes – drawing up lesson plans and targets, notating, recording and so on. We believe in giving students a strong foundation so that they learn and perform confidently. With international students, we take extra efforts to explain terms and concepts in a lucid manner. We attempt to draw parallels from their cultures and experiences. It is also important to expose students to new concepts in a systematic manner without overwhelming or confusing them. We also elicit regular feedback from students and encourage them to ask questions. My typical day is divided between classes, planning for classes, responding to queries, interacting with students and teachers, practice, learning and concert prep. It is a learning experience each day!
Me: I am sure that the online school.. not only trains students across the world, but it provides a great opportunity for teachers.. Can you talk about it and who are there in your team of teachers..
VS: I work with a network of teachers who are globally dispersed. I get a steady stream of inquiries through my website (www.vidyasubramanian.com) from potential students of all levels and place students with the teacher in my group who I feel will be the ideal fit. All the teachers in my group are very committed, knowledgeable and meticulous in approach. Some of them are my own senior students while others are experienced musicians who reached out to me expressing interest in online teaching. I organize quarterly online teachers’ conferences wherein we discuss topics of common interest and share best practices. I have a good idea about each teacher’s style, preferences and approach, and strive to match every student to the teacher who would be the best fit to train that student. I derive great satisfaction that I have been able to provide good opportunities to many sincere and competent musicians. Many aspirants are hesitant to take the first step when it comes to learning Carnatic music, mostly because they don’t know how or where to begin or at what point to resume if they are restarting after a break. Online classes offer a remarkable opportunity to teachers and students by bridging the constraints of space, time and access.
Me: Amidst all this, can you speak about your family life.. How do you manage to spend time with your family, children, run your day to day life etc..
VS: I have a very loving and supportive family. My husband holds a PhD in Electrical Engineering and is CEO of a Chennai based manufacturing company. He has excellent vision and is a great source of guidance. We have a son aged 8 and daughter aged 4. With both of us having busy careers, time management is critical. I personally like to be actively involved in my kids’ school work and activities and have a pretty good sense of how much workload I can handle. An important aspect of being an entrepreneur and independent artist is that the line between work and personal life is rather blurred. The good thing is that I can teach a class when my kids are playing in the same room (thereby they get to hear lots of music) or take a break from work if a kid is sick, but the drawback is that I need to be disciplined about not overcommitting. I therefore try to space out my classes and concert commitments so that I have enough time and energy for some fun with family.
Me: Finally.. what is your advice for people who are trying to learn carnatic music?
VS: Firstly, don’t be intimidated by the technicality of the art form. Secondly, it is never too late to start learning or at least, start listening to good music. Make sure you approach a skilled Guru who can be a good motivator, communicator and mentor. Online classes offer flexibility and access to experienced Gurus and work well for students of all levels provided the student and teacher show commitment. Additionally, especially with kids, ensure a regular practice schedule is drawn up and adhered to.
Me: Thanks Vidya for your time and Wish you all the best for your initiatives. Readers, hope you enjoyed this edition of Coffee With Experts. Feel free to write to Vidya at email@example.com with any queries you may have and Vidya would be more than happy to help!
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“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; dream of it; think of it; live on that idea. Let the brain, the body, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, and this is the way great spiritual giants are produced.” – Swami Vivekanda