– The Carnatic Violinist
This week, we met with senior student Venkatayoga V. (’22), otherwise known as Aayush, who joined ISKL in 2013 after relocating from Dubai!
Aayush has been playing the Carnatic violin, the Indian classical music style of playing the violin, for the past 11 years and started performing in concerts last year!
His passion for music is deep-rooted within him and his family’s culture, which is how he was inspired to use his talents for the greater good in his Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) project, which is part of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP).
Besides music, Aayush played cricket for the Kuala Lumpur state team and was elected to play baseball for the Interscholastic Association of Southeast Asia Schools (IASAS) in Grade 10 and 11.
Here is his story.
A family tradition
“I come from a family that is very open and passionate about music. My parents have no musical background; however, I have an aunt who is a professional veena (Indian lute) artist. My grandfather has been studying different music composers, so in that sense, he is integrated into the music scene too. We usually go to India every summer and winter to listen to concerts and meet with families. We have many friends in India who are active musicians and gurus that we know who we visit to learn from.
‘Last year, during the lockdown, I thought it would be great to step out of my comfort zone and accompany my brother and ISKL alumni, who has already been doing concerts since 2018. At that time, I was moving into Grade 11 and figured I should push myself and explore beyond what I already knew.
‘In the past few months, I have given solo performances online and accompanied my brother in others. Of all the shows I have participated in, three were fundraisers. Two of these concerts were part of my CAS project where I wanted to make an impact and, at the same time, incorporate some of my interests and passions, such as music. I collaborated with the Sugam Culture and Heritage Foundation to help advertise, plan and perform in their Malaysia International Carnatic Music Festival (MYICMF) fundraiser event celebrating Indian music. I performed one solo violin performance and one accompaniment performance, raising RM 2,120 in donations! Overall, the festival secured over RM 8,000 in donations and amassed 150,000 views online, and proceeds will go towards the B40 communities within Malaysia.
‘The third fundraiser concert I performed in was the Sankara Nethralaya Ophthalmic Mission Trust based in the USA, which has arranged 200 concerts for Carnatic musicians from July 2020 to 2021 to support 1500+ eye surgeries for the poor in Chennai, India. The concert we did together raised approximately INR 25,000 to 30,000 in donations, around RM 1,400 to 1,700.
‘I believe I have learned a lot these last two years accompanying my brother, and my skills have greatly improved by playing alongside him, as he is much more advanced than I am.
‘As for performing, it’s tough to give a perfect show at an event like this, but I was privileged to have the opportunity to share what I’ve learned with different people and communities. I also believe that the event’s objective and cause were noble, raising funds to help those in need in Malaysia. Seeing so many families worldwide face challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic was an excellent opportunity for me to participate, and by performing, I can share my love of music.
‘Although my performances are recorded and did not have a live audience, it’s still nerve-wracking because of the intricacies of Indian music. Based on my experience in the ISKL orchestra, performing solo is more frightening than performing with an orchestra. However, it feels good when you are in the flow of things. The way I would describe performing in concerts is similar to going on a terrifying roller coaster ride. You start nervous, but once you get to the scarier parts, you begin to enjoy it and have fun rather than worry about what will happen next! It’s hard to plan for and get ready for a concert, but at the same time, it’s a great experience and something I relish when I get the opportunity to do so!
‘One of my most memorable moments was when I was in Grade 8, and I attended a Model United Nations (MUN) conference in Singapore. When I joined ISKL, I didn’t share much music with anyone, and I was shy about sharing my involvement in Carnatic music because it was so different from what people are used to.
‘At that conference, my mom sent me a video link of my cousin and brother performing, and some of my closest friends got to see a different side of me. It was nice to see how accepting and enthusiastic they were for something they hadn’t seen before. That made me more open and aware that I can share aspects about my culture and that people want to hear and know more about it.”
Understanding Carnatic Music
“I have been learning Carnatic music for 11 years now, but I only started playing the violin in Dubai when I was eight years old. In my previous school, I auditioned to learn the western violin and got selected. I also enrolled to learn the Carnatic violin since I was singing Carnatic music before that – this was how I made the transition.
‘Carnatic music can be played with various instruments. However, since I’m a violinist, I will speak from a violinist’s perspective. The way the strings are tuned is different from how a western violin would be tuned. For instance, Western violin strings are tuned G-D-A-E, whereas, for Carnatic violins, you recognize each string for a note. We precisely follow seven notes in Carnatic music, which tunes our violins to where the four strings express only two notes. Each pair will have the same note. All the fingerings will represent the other notes. Just like Western music, where there are notes like the flats and sharps, Carnatic music has similar concepts where various notes sound different. That’s just the generic framework of Carnatic music in the case of the violin.
‘When we moved to Malaysia, my parents would take me to concerts of Indian artists that came to perform here. At one of the concerts, I met my guru, Sri Lalgudi GJR Krishnan, performing at the Temple of Fine Arts. After the concert, my mom and I went to meet him, and we asked if he would be willing to teach me. He agreed, and the following summer, I flew out to India to meet him and play for him there – he has been teaching me ever since.
‘Since he is based in India, I would fly there every summer for 30 days, for the first 2-3 years, and take lessons, and sometimes he would come to Malaysia for performances and give me lessons. However, due to the lockdown, we’ve been continuing the classes virtually.”
Life beyond music
“Growing up, sports were a huge part of my life. I remember telling my parents that I wanted to be a professional cricketer, but there was no cricket team when I came to ISKL, so I played football instead. Then I thought about becoming a professional footballer, but my ambition changed again once I joined the cricket team in 2017. It was really at the start of High School that I started to think more realistically. Pursuing sports could become a reality, but thinking outside of sports and not limiting my options, seeing that I have the privilege of going to such a great school with an excellent educational system helped me find other things I was interested in, which led me to the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering.
‘My favorite subject is maths, because of its repetition. I wasn’t that great at it in Middle School and spent a lot of my High School years trying to pick myself up so that I could pursue Higher Level (HL) Maths. I enjoy solving issues because of the repetitive practice and constantly teaching myself the intuition and instincts of solving mathematical problems. The integrated science courses at ISKL don’t go into these concepts in-depth, so when I first had a go at physics, it was new and something I had never experienced before. As I got to do it more, the concepts that were taught were fascinating, and it gave me a greater foundational understanding of the world and how different things function.
‘However, my biggest hopes and dreams aspirationally still boil down to sports. I’m an active and competitive person, so I can be arrogant when it comes to certain things because I like the feeling of being the best at something. Similar with music and sports, I hope to be able to pursue it at a professional level. There’s no greater feeling than being able to entertain people with sports or music, so expanding my skills in those areas is something that I hope for in the future. Similarly, for education and engineering, I hope to make a mark in the world and be recognized for my contributions.”
What does “Be All You Are” mean to you?
“Just by the phrase, it means not being shy with who you are. I grew up with a lot of music and sports; both of those things have been important to me for as long as I can remember.
‘I also think that it fundamentally means to relish who you are as a person, all the experiences you’ve had, and all the things you’ve learned along the way. In my case, it is accepting myself that sports, music, and studies are part of my life and all those factors make me the person I am today.”
Do you know a student, faculty, staff, or alumni with a story to tell? Nominate them to be featured in our Panthers of ISKL stories by sending in your submissions here.