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Tag: music

The 27 Club

“Life teaches you how to live it, if you live long enough.” Tony Bennett

It was a regular agency day in Ogilvy a few years ago. We worked on a digital campaign for Lenovo, gossiped during the breaks and pretended to do research while on social media. I was on Facebook and saw a close friend and then colleague, post a link to a news article. It was about the death of Amy Winehouse. There were 2 things that caught my attention – the friend rarely posted an update and that it was about a musician that I knew very little about.

All I remembered from that news article was a picture of an anorexic Amy from a few days ago and that she was a drug abuser. I played a few of her songs that day, mostly to connect with my friend’s grief and admiration of the artiste. It was later when Adele and Lady Gaga paid her tributes that I put her in the list of singers who were potentially great musicians too. I must have also read the wiki page on the club of people who died when they were 27. Beyond these bursts of information, at that time, I had very little to do with her life or music.

Last year, after I discovered Caro Emerald, I began to explore pop-jazz music a lot more. I admire how the genre of music is empowered by a great voice. There are many female singers with beautiful vocal chords. However, what resonates with me the most is a soulful, deep sound that doesn’t need or take the support of other electronic enhancements. In this league, I love Caro Emerald, Lady Gaga, Edith Piaf, Norah Jones, Adele among others. However, due to the lack of any reinforcement I was still not into Amy Winehouse; until 3 days ago.

Through yet another news article, I discovered that there is a documentary film that’s reportedly a great cover of her life story. That day, before I booked my tickets, I read a lot more about her, her life and listened to her album ‘Back to Black’. There was a mash-up of thoughts, emotions and self awareness that prompted me to buy the tickets; even though I was/am not in the best state of mind to experience sadness. I had booked 2 tickets but both my sister and my partner couldn’t make it due to their engagements.

Yesterday, I did what I consider the saddest thing to do i.e., ‘watch a movie in a theater alone’.

The documentary brings nothing new to the table about the events in her life. However, it is an amazing work of film-editing. There is not a single video montage that was not already taken, available or created as part of previous media works. The way the filmmaker has weaved a perspective just with the use of existing documentation and interviews (as voice overs) is commendable. But what makes the biopic extraordinary is that it leaves your heart loaded even if you knew everything about Amy Winehouse.

Take my case. I had already justified to myself why I wanted to watch the documentary. I think, as an aspiring artiste, I understand the turmoil that I have to go through to deal with my overwhelming stock of emotions. I also understand that almost all those who have the ability to process emotions through art, are always on the edge and vulnerable to disaster. And above all, there is an addiction to emotions, because it fuels art. And hence, artists go out of their way to experience an emotion thoroughly to write, paint, sing or play their heart. If that experience looks accessible through substances, especially when you are young and aggressive, isn’t it hard to resist? Sadly enough, there are few who get the chance to navigate themselves out of that easy inlet.

I gave up alcohol recently. I found myself using a glass of wine to flush out an hour of writing every day. If you are an artist, you would know that a drink makes it easy to slice out some tunnel thinking in a chaos of daily commitments. Without it, it’s absolutely necessary to identify that disruption-free part of the day when your creativity oozes out. It also has to be preceded and succeeded by stress-free time. A rough calculation of this means :

1 hour of creative writing = 30 minutes of warm-up + 1 hour of writing + 30 minutes of cool down

I was at a point where I didn’t have the luxury of that extra hour. Last year, I fell into a pattern and this year, I decided to fix it. Ironically, I gave my drink-a-day up just when I needed to chill with a glass of wine the most!

It has been over a month of no-alcohol and although I am proud of the fact that I can keep up with it; I know how sad life seems these days unless I swim, walk or write in a flow.

As I watched the film, I was grateful to the universe that I didn’t discover utopia-inducing substances when I was too young and naive to understand the effects. Even when I added ‘a drink everyday’ to my lifestyle, I was conscious of its benefits and the joy it brought to my otherwise sensitive personality. Then there was my partner who enlightened me with the idea of moderation as a way to enjoy everything in life. So, my extreme ideas and attitude towards things I care about, are fueled by moderate amounts of coffee, food and wine. As a writer, I have to oil my machine somehow. So, I still work with coffee, food and chocolate; but for now, no more drinks for me.

The lack of that opportunity for Amy cut through me with her life-story. She was too gifted to not have discovered it someday. She was experiential enough to associate her life-course with the dis-associative help that she relied upon. If only it hadn’t been so messed up, she would have developed a discipline to inspire and guide thousands of artists who drown in alcohol and drugs everyday.

If only she had lived, Amy would have come back from black.


Squared planning

To write after days feels good; to write after months? Is to recover from grief.

I gave my first piano recital on March 8; became a San Francisco City Guide on May 9; and 2 days ago, I launched an event called Aeolian Day for the world to experience the sound of the wind. This all must read like 6-months of reward driven work, but it turned my painfully nourished artist-soul away.

April was the greatest dip. I took a 10-day trip to India in mid-April. On my onward journey, I had to take 4 flights spread over 30 hours to get to my parents’ winter home in Coimbatore. The 4 days that I spent there, however, more than made up for the travel fatigue. There was a moment when I felt like a writer again and completed one of my short stories. I sat in the balcony that looked out at the horticultural farm and in great peace, the words just flowed out. That was the end of it.

The following days were filled with a wedding ceremony and more cities to hop. In the last leg of my trip, I was in Trivandrum and spent a lot of time with my extremely pregnant sister-in-law and my mother-in-law. I realized they were in great need of someone who could just make the world seem worry-free. I did my best and played a few games of scrabble and performed a few songs in the evenings. I know they felt joy, at least for sometime. But then, before I knew, it was time to leave. Why didn’t I stay for the delivery? – you may ask. Well, I had a training session that I had planned my trip around. In fact, my trip was exactly between 2 training sessions. A day before I had to leave, my mother-in-law said “It feels good to have your support, both physically and mentally.” I think, at that moment, my heart shrank. I considered cancelling my ticket too; but my partner comforted me and gave me enough confidence to leave.

On my flight back, thoughts of helplessness trapped me. The year 2014 offered my life a gap that unleashed an artist inside of me. I wrote, I painted, I played music and I sang; outside of these pursuits, I continued to create at random occasions – a glass harp, a spacecraft suit, 3 camera obscuras etc.. It was the most beautiful year and the one I hadn’t even expected. I taught myself to swim and trained myself to enjoy routine that in effect, fueled my creativity. However, on that flight I realized that to have just your ‘own’ pursuits is not only hard but weighs you with decisions that you don’t want to partake in. If I had an employer, I would have applied for a vacation and just to put my foot down and say “I have to be with my family.”, would have made me feel like a winner. I would have not kept my training sessions at such high priority and just worked around them. To have the world think that you have all the time to spare feels weird. You feel vulnerable and insecure about being taken for granted.

I felt bad that in my efforts to grow without an employer, I had become a slave to myself.

I returned home(alone) in San Francisco; somewhat broken but sick otherwise. A nasty flu (that I picked from someone on the flight) became an uninvited guest. It stayed with me for 6 days during which I had to recover from a jet-lag and an emotional low; and I had to prepare my first Mock Tour. I barely had 3 days for the tour preparation and despite a decent research and a rough story-line, I was too sick during the tour to make it fun. That felt like hell!

I withdrew into a deep state of despair along with a sense of failure. There was no one to listen to my rants, nobody to comfort me with a hug and for the first time I realized I didn’t have a friend around to call up! Yes, there are friends that I have made and yes, I would still call up just for a chitchat; but I found no answers in my head to my cries for help.

It took me about 6 days to recover from the flu but that depression hasn’t left me yet.

The event planning partially helped but towards the last few days, I burnt out. The joys of writing are best experienced alone but the success of a job is meaningless in solitude. And there is no reality to all this. It’s in my system and it continues to grow and I have spent a week blowing it off. There are still a few dark sparks but I hope that the rest of 2015 has enough lessons for me to plan my life better. I want to enjoy every day that I have, every minute that I live and every breath that I take. And I am quite uptight about that.

Art, an experience

My music teacher called me this morning. He is working on a mobile app that helps train people in Carnatic Music. Among the many features is one where users can identify a Raga by listening to the pitches/notes. The goal of the app is to build the knowledge of pitches and ragas.

I was asked if I had any thoughts or ideas that could make it better. From a random place in my memory, I mentioned that I would love it if people could identify Ragas based on their association of mood. Every Raga in Carnatic Classical Music invokes a certain kind of feeling between joy, temptation, sadness, anger, disgust etc.. However, not everybody feels the same way about the same Raga. So, while it’s hard to tie one mood to a Raga; I think for every person, their unique association remains largely the same.

So, I imagined an app which would build a profile of my understanding of music, based on how I felt about a certain sequence of notes. The app, with the knowledge of my perception of music, can replay certain sounds/pieces in a genre of moods. By recalling an experience, I might be able to identify Ragas.

This is when I realized that all my life I have been better at recalling experiences instead of events. And I think this ability of my system to capture the overall mood of an event makes me a lover of all arts. Because, what is art, if not an experience?

Zither ka Zikar

Many, many years ago, when I was a child I had a dream; (Who doesn’t?)

To collect, amass, own, possess; (So what?)

To play, to make, to do, to share; (ok, what’s your point?)

And put it all on display; (Aren’t you a show-off?)

Just for me to see, me to think, me to smile and me to get carried away.

__________Yes, that alter-ego that never had a childhood, finally gave up._____________

I wished to create a room full of instruments of music. And now, I have a violin, a piano, a keyboard, a tuning fork (ha!) and because of my new music teacher – an autoharp. Furthermore, I hadn’t expected this Zither to become my favorite play thing. It sounds wonderful and doesn’t demand much talent. I can just strum through it while I sing my songs.

Welcome you beautiful!

Children’s Zither (Autoharp)

For those who are lost because of the title, it translates to ‘About a Zither’.

Happy Human’s Day

I am not sure about how to define a woman. However, I think what makes us human beings is our ability to redefine whoever and whatever we would like to be.

I basked in the glory of that realization on March 8, 2015 when for the first time, in front of an audience, I was introduced as a Pianist.

I am inspired to practice everything that gives me joy.

Cultural Baggage

Three short compositions a week and a phrase of ‘Numb – piano version’ – This is the usual format of my piano lessons. After the initial confusion, I managed to make this work for me. And last week, I realized that I show steady progress in western music lessons. I did however, nod in positive when someone said if the shape in this famous picture is of a Clef. It’s of a note and I didn’t correct myself on time.

Besides these minor, embarrassing setbacks which remind me that I am not a musician if I call myself one; I am happy with the way things are. The lessons add to my confidence and inspire me to devote enough practice-time every week.

I also learn Carnatic Music from a great musician. His wisdom is incredible and his innovative teaching methods have helped me look at Indian classical music in a new way. However, when I look at the kind of progress I make in the western lessons, I find the Carnatic Music lessons direction-less. It upsets me, stresses me out and I am tempted to go back to all those years of childhood when I got trained to be a singer.

I grew up in a typical Tamil Brahmin set up, although my parents are/were relatively liberal and open minded. Music was always an important part of our culture. So, I took training from 3 different teachers and after deducting breaks, my total learning period was 5 years. I performed several times, and won a few competitions as well. My voice was the greatest reason I stood out, whenever I did. But I had a hard time relating to the form of music. Here are some of the reasons for that:

  • I lived in a city in North India and this classical form is a part of the South Indian lifestyle
  • There was a cultural gap between school, college and the music classes
  • Most of the songs were in a language that I don’t understand
  • There is/was very little text on Carnatic Music
  • It evolved in a Gurukul system and hence, the lessons were passed on from teachers without a common structure

The last two reasons continue to affect and pose a problem in my growth as a musician. Compared to the different kind of associations that I can make with western music, there is almost no passive interaction with Carnatic Music. The only conversations I have are with my teacher; there are no constant social media updates on the subject; there is no hobby group where I can immerse myself in the dialogue and questions about the music.

I enjoy Carnatic Violin immensely, and since I remember I have had a violin as my signature sketch. But as I understand, it’s not enough. I need to find a way to make my development flow.

Fur Elise

The heart knows what it wants

the mind remembers what it needs to

The fingers know where to go

when I wake up, walk out

sit on the bench, close my eyes

stretch out my arms, and play Fur Elise.


I can’t believe I didn’t hear these guys before. The Croation boys are nothing short of adrenaline rich music-cocktails.

This particular cover of AC/DC’s original sounds mostly inspired and very mildly copied. Because I hear a range of instruments and it transports me to some Carnatic Classical concerts with the sound of Ghatam at 3:19 and gamakka-loaded violin bowing throughout. Of course, the rock-effect is unmissable. I have replayed this uncountable times and I have noticed more than I should have.

Like at 2:34, I saw the little girl in the audience loosening up with the head swaying with the beats and hands raised in the air. In fact, I now associate my growing-up with the change in expressions, emotions that the girl portrays. The Indian classical training that i went through and the concerts that i attended came alive as I noticed the cultured, proper and withheld hearts watching 2Cellos play. I was being trained to be a part of that tradition. It was after 20 years of believing tradition is culture and I had to preserve it , that I realised I was wrong.

Life liberated me when I found it in myself. And culture defined me when I discovered it in freedom.

Notes of regret

I am listening to Schubert, reading about Mozart & Beethoven and staring at MS Subbalakshmi’s portraits alongside writing this post. At this moment I am reminded of all those times when I thought that music would always be my parallel indulgence as I did something else for a living.

My Guru (music teacher) asked me. “Why don’t you take up BA or something similarly light? It will help you focus on your music more.”

“I can manage engineering and music together.” I replied.

This was 1999. I wish I had listened to somebody then. I wish I had met someone who had beautiful thoughts of freedom, pride of an imaginative mind and the pleasure of enjoying what they had. I wish success wasn’t my only source of inspiration. I wish I didn’t judge people by their ability to solve mathematical problems; I wish I didn’t judge the lives of those travelling with their violins, guitars and their voice. I wish I had the vision to look into the fulfilment that my own talent could give me and I wish I didn’t have the overconfidence of letting all my talents flourish in all circumstances. I wish I could see the wonderful world in my heart.

Today I have the knowledge, the skills and the ability to jump and learn anything I truly want. However, I am struggling between multiple tabs of political articles, Coursera videos and registration websites. I have so many great things to learn and so much time at hand that I am worried that I actually have nothing.

Music – I wish I had kept your notes.

Mus.e.c & Javed Bashir

Is music a super complicated science? Do musicians themselves find music tough and difficult to crack? My adulation for music and musicians makes me wonder if i haven’t known it enough. Because if i were to understand it, i would not fall prey to mesmerizing tunes without attaching reason to it or, will i?

I do flirt and fantasise about music intermittently. However, Javed Bashir has captured my ears a little stronger than mere attraction. The clear and coarse voice resonates melodious notes to leave me spellbound.

From Aaj Natha Laeo to Chal Diye (with zeb and haniya), he rules the moments when his music is around.

And when i listen to his voice before i embrace sleep in the evening, i am provoked to hunt him down and have those sound waves all for myself. I bow to the magic of your vocal chords.

Thank you Coke Studio.