This week, we met up with Advaith Veturi from the Class of 2017. Born and raised in Bangalore, India, until he was three, Advaith moved to and lived in Dubai before arriving in Malaysia and joining ISKL in Grade 8. A bright and talented musician, Advaith has flourished into a capable young adult pursuing a Masters in Machine Learning and AI and using his Carnatic musicality in concert fundraisers to help the underprivileged.
Here is his story.
My first impression of ISKL
When I was in Dubai, it was purely an Indian school that followed an Indian curriculum though now it has changed. I was studying in an Indian education system known to be a little more intense, where the focus was on work and studies only. It was a bit much for me, but I thought it was a great experience as it trained me to be more academic. When I came to ISKL, it wasn’t all about academics. It was also about the clubs you were involved in and your activities. It isn’t just about being a nerd but being a holistic individual. ISKL is exceptional in that they have a variety of extracurricular activities where we can participate in photography, animation, design, and more, so coming to ISKL in Grade 8 was one of the best parts of my life.
The first few days at ISKL were cool. I was most excited about getting my MacBook. The tech department said I could loan a laptop, and I was thrilled as I had a comparatively worse computer then. It was also cool to see the diversity of students and have many international friends. When I joined, ISKL also had a homeroom, which was new to me. In the homeroom, the first thing we do is interact with friends and just tell each other about our day. It was an informal and pleasant setting that made me feel comfortable and relaxed when I first joined.
Life as a Carnatic musician
I started learning music when I was 5. It’s a kind of family-related tradition. Most of my relatives and family members are very involved in Carnatic music. My grandma told my parents I should start learning music and go to music classes. The first few years were learning the basics and building the foundation, but when I was 13 or 14, I saw young people perform. Within the Carnatic music field, there aren’t traditionally a lot of young musicians, but at the time, I saw the shift where more young artists performed. I watched a concert by a young artist, which inspired me to want to be a performer myself.
Performance is very different from just learning the music. Knowing how to be an entertainer and perform requires an entirely different skill set. You have to put in more practice hours to maintain your stamina on stage, and some concerts last 2-3 hours, so you’ve got to be on top of your game. When I was 15 or 16 years old, I found a music teacher in India and got to set up a call with him and asked if he wanted to teach me. I started online classes with my teacher to enhance my advanced training and then went for yearly workshops. Every summer, I would go to India to take lessons. The workshop would last a month or so, and every day it would be 3-4 hours of learning music. It got more intense over time, where I practiced for 7-8 hours a day. This period gave me the intensity and stamina to perform on stage.
After that, I started meeting organizers to see if I could get the opportunity to perform to build my concert repertoire. Since 2015, I have started giving more concerts, about 7-8 a year. Back in 2020, the pandemic was very challenging for musicians in India. Because of the pandemic, they could not go out on stage to perform, so many lost their livelihood. What I was aiming to do with the fundraisers was to give good music and raise funds for these musicians who hadn’t had the opportunity to perform. In almost all the concerts I performed, we had requested everyone to donate. In 2020, my brother Aayush and I did 10-15 shows.
We performed a concert in Malaysia for the Sugam Culture and Heritage Foundation. We raised around RM2000 for the B40 communities in Malaysia. Another show we gave in India was for the Sankara Nethralaya Foundation. They provide free eye surgeries for the poor and needy in India. We raised about 30000 rupees. At every concert, there are side donations that people like to make to support the musicians.
When I traveled to India, my parents connected me to the music teacher Neyveli Santhanagopalan, and he invited us to see if I could pass the entrance test. I did and joined a group of 15-20 students, where we all exchanged ideas together in terms of music. That was how I spent my vacations, going to group workshops in India and making new music. He is one of the best teachers in India for Carnatic music and a great performer. He knows what the audience wants, the tricks, and how to create magic on stage as a musician.
I do Carnatic singing while my brother plays the violin. His job is tough because he has to reproduce the sound of what I’m singing while I’m singing it. We will always prepare in advance and discuss everything ahead of time, but what happens on stage is entirely different, so he has to be on his feet all the time.
As a vocalist, I’m the boss of the concert because I decide what direction it goes. Making sure everyone is on the same page and managing rhythmic accompanists in a very interactive and team-based setting. I think that’s what makes Indian music, in general, very interesting. Indian music is divided into north Indian and south Indian (Carnatic) music. What makes these music categories similar is the idea of creating music on the spot. There are planning and arrangements to some extent, but most of it is that you do it on the spot.
One thing that makes Carnatic music different from other styles is connected to Hinduism and religion. I sing songs in various South Indian languages like Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada. Most pieces depict stories in Hinduism of different gods. It is singing and sharing music, but it is also sacred because you are singing a prayer to God. In that situation, we have to sing the lyrics properly to not lose the song’s meaning. As musicians, I think our responsibility is to do justice to the music and composers of the songs and try to keep true to the song’s meaning.
I wasn’t very active in performing Carnatic music in ISKL, but I was involved in joining music competitions. When I was still at ISKL, I would make frequent trips to India to participate in music competitions. It was to gain recognition as a musician because you can network and meet musicians. That was where I built my skills. I started to get into general performance after graduating from ISKL. Over time, I did fewer competitions and more performances.
Competitions are more technical and judgmental, whereas concerts see whether you can perform, so I got more into performing shows. The last major competition I joined was called the All India Radio competition. It is a national competition where you go to a studio in India and record a song or two. People come and record from different states in India, then the demo gets sent to a panel of judges who will choose who is the best singer. I had given my audition for that 2-3 years ago and won second place. With that, I got a professional grade.
The significance of a professional grade is like it’s a stamp that you are a great musician. You have letter grades A and B only. B, B+, A, A+. The grade you achieve describes how good you are as a musician. I have a B+ grade, and A+ graders are the best and highest paid in India. I’m not at the top, but I am fairly good. It usually is a ticket for musicians to perform at prestigious venues.
Activities at ISKL
In Grade 9, I was in Junior Varsity Badminton. I had a great supportive coach. All my friends were into badminton which got me to participate in badminton. I don’t play much now, but I enjoyed it. In Grade 12, I worked with the Special Children’s Society of Ampang (SCSOA). Students with down syndrome would visit ISKL, and we would conduct activities and play with them. During my final year of high school, I thought learning empathy and being involved with the community was great. The people were great too.
Memorable moments at ISKL
The Global Action Program (GAP) trips at ISKL were my most fun experiences. In Grade 10, 11, and 12, I visited Laos, Bhutan, and Vietnam. The Laos and Bhutan trips were my favorite. In Laos, we traveled between two villages and participated in eco-friendly house-building activities. We tried to build a house using mud bricks for the villagers.
In Bhutan, we did a lot of camping and trekking. The GAP trip was fun, but the people I was with made it fun. I didn’t know the others well before the trip, but I got to know them better over the GAP trip. It’s one of the happiest countries in the world. I experienced that because everyone was so lovely.
In Vietnam, we went to a deaf children’s school and learned sign language and sewing. It’s fantastic that ISKL gave us the global perspective and the experience of meeting people with different backgrounds. We are privileged to be in an international school but interacting with these people, we built our social awareness and humility, which is excellent.
Studying an International Baccalaureate (IB) programme gives you a holistic world perspective. I want to say that IB is amazing because all the subjects eventually come together, like math mixing with biology and chemistry combining with physics. All my science teachers at ISKL, Mr. Sim Huang, Mr. Shane Graham, and Mr. ToddBrown. They were amazing at teaching and bringing those subjects together to show me that all the sciences come together to help us understand how the world works.
I want to give a shoutout to Mr. Brown. He was my physics teacher, and he inspired me to be interested in research. I am very interested in academic research, and that interest came from ISKL when I was with Mr. Brown. He likes to go in-depth and explain things in detail, and with me, he was very kind and took my hand when I was struggling. I was not the best at physics and math, but he gave me confidence. That got me interested in research because research is about looking under the hood and expanding your knowledge of things, so the foundation came from him.
Mr. Shane Graham and Mr. Sim Huang have shaped me to be research-oriented and interested in research. All my science teachers helped me learn how to combine the different sciences into my study. If you want to be a good researcher, you have to be able to connect and communicate between various fields. It is the idea of globalization where different areas come together to serve a common purpose.
My current Master’s thesis combines medicine and computer science. I’m now taking medical data and using computer science to analyze data, having software solutions that can help improve doctors’ diagnoses and understanding of diseases.
Life after ISKL
I’m currently doing my Master’s in Machine Learning in AI. I’m doing it remotely at University College London (UCL). Before this, I did my undergraduate in medical science at UCL. That mainly was about biology, but mid-way through my degree, I thought I could combine computer science and biology. So my current Master’s degree is giving me the computer science skills working on new-age technology. Just like how Netflix can recommend you shows or how self-driving cars work, my interest lies in how algorithms can make health care better for patients.
It’s difficult with the pandemic, but my goal is to get involved in research. After my Bachelor’s, I jumped straight into my Master’s degree. I didn’t want to wait any further as I knew what I wanted to specialize in. What I’m thinking about next is doing my Doctorate. I’m still planning and meeting people to figure out how everything works. The nice thing about my field is that gaining the skills, whether in Ph.D. or working, the experience you gain is equally significant. I am now considering going into the industry and getting a Doctorate.
I am close with my psychology friend Deeban Fernandez Kandiban. We occasionally chat about what he’s doing in psychology, and I find it interesting because he psychoanalyzes me when I get stressed. Another friend is Ramon Viegas. When I came back from university, these two guys were my closest friends in Malaysia. Ramon does economics and finance in the U.S. It’s cool that everyone is in different disciplines. It’s been hard to get in touch since everyone’s busy. Another person I keep in touch with is my Spanish teacher Mr. Leandro Vernier. He’s another teacher that helped me open up and enjoy interacting with friends. Now, after graduating, he is like a friend. Ramon, Mr. Vernier, and I caught up for lunch last year.
What does ‘Be All You Are’ mean to you?
The most basic definition is reaching my full potential as a person. The challenging thing is figuring out how to reach my potential. It is easy to explain but hard to do. I think the first step is to know yourself, your dreams, and your passion. Then the question comes through how do you know your passions? The only way we can know that is by reflecting on our values. Personal values are things you like to do that bring you true happiness. I enjoy doing something where I engage with different types of people who are not from the same background as me. I like fast-paced work environments. For instance, it was a slow process when I was doing medical research. It takes 15 years to make a drug that can be put on the market. The difference between medicine and computer science is that computer science is fast. You could create an app in a couple of months and release it onto the App Store. I like making things and focusing on a solution that can be deployed and passed on in the short term. By doing computer science and medicine together, I’m trying to create medical solutions that can reach patients faster.