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February 26, 2014 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2014-02-26

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6B - 0 - -. -..ebruary26, 201

Wednesday, February 26, 201411 The Statement E3 'I

he glare of the incandescent lights
seemed brighter than ever, and
the room seemed to have tripled
in size in the few minutes I had been in
it. Inhale, exhale, inhale, repeat. I took a
few deep breaths, cleared my throat, and
searched for a familiar face in the crowd.
Focusing on one person always helps me get
through challenges, as if the silent support of
a pair of eyes could infuse me with a steady
strength. The eyes seemed to blend together
in an expansive sea of faces, and I could feel
my heartbeat gradually quickening. I won-
dered if the audience could sense my anxiety.
"Just feel the power of the words," my aunt's
voice echoed in my mind, "and you'll be fine."
I lowered my glance, and my eyes landed
on a maroon-colored rectangular carpet,
splashed with images of fuchsia roses and
powdered lilies, the picture the song lyrics
conjured up. I mustered the courage to pro-
duce a single note, but after a few seconds,
the tone shook, and I couldn't sustain it any
4 longer. I couldn't continue with the perfor-
mance, I had disappointed everyone. It was
It's been six years since this scene. I was
in India, around the time of my cousin's wed-
ding. I haven't had the courage or desire to
sing since that failure. The magic in sing-
ing seemed less clear to me after such an
embarrassing experience. It was as if fear
had quelled the passion that had originally
driven me to perform for others, blurring
my understanding of why music still needed
to remain a part of my life. Despite this, I've
grown up in a musical household. Singing
and dancing were always part of my life,
expected in a sort of way. Music has histori-
cally been a part of Indian culture. A number
of dance and musical styles have originated
in the country, and the sheer melodic vari-
ety reflects the nation's richness. What this
means for the average Indian child, however,
is that by the age of 10, she will have taken
classes for dance, Indian percussion, sing-
ing or any other traditional Indian art form.
Most often, families try to retain a style or
form of art that has trickled through the
family tree. For instance, if one's mother
and grandmother danced, it is likely that the
third generation of children will be enrolled
in dance classes, despite their own inclina-
tions. In my case, since my mother had been
a Bharat Natayam dancer, and my father had
played the synthesizer, I grew up dabbling in
both dancing and singing.
Since my father came from a deeply cul-
tured, artsy Indian family, I too, began learn-

ing about Indian music early. My informal each year.
music education began when I was three, Things were different in India. My aunt
and would parrot my grandmother's voice, has been teaching music for as long as I
learning simple Indian nursery rhymes in can remember. Her voice has an incredibly
my mother tongue, Marathi.I had been an mighty tone. As a child visiting my family, I
enthusiastic and musically inclined young- would always look forward to a singing ses-
ster, picking up melodies almost naturally, sion with her. We'd sit on a pair of embroi-
I am often told. My easily moldable mind, dered cushions on the cool stone floor of the
like any other young brain, soaked up any small apartment, facing one another. Almost
and every Indian song that it could. I enthu- instinctively, her left hand would rise, her
siastically fingers
accompa- . curled,
nied my as if her
grand-henIsang I hands
parents were
on rather nar-
complex rating
songs, Aicf a story
taking ini- through
tiative to song.
various the stakes weV e voice
tradition- would
al tunes rise
before I above
had even al w__Uys low I like a
learned lark on
the Eng- the cool-
lish alphabet. The first time I sang in public est day of spring leading with great pride,
was in a large 50-seater auditorium at my vigor and passion. Being present to witness
local temple in the U.S. I distinctly remem- such magic was inspiring beyond words, and
ber stepping out onto the warm wooden I grew up wanting more than anything to
temple stage, showered under the bright, replicate her voice, to create sounds so sweet.
hot glow; I was nervous, but excited, clutch- But the "family concerts" terrified me. Being
ing the silver microphone between my, then center-room with my aunts, uncles, cousins
small, palms. Just as the varying shades of and other distant relatives, judging my voice,
the fallen crisp autumn leaves painted and labeling me as the "American girl who sings"
enlivened the earth outdoors, so too, the was intimidating. When I sang in America,
melodies fortified my world with vibrant col- I felt the stakes were always lower. I sang a
ors. My five-year-old mind raced to remem- song, people clapped, and that was it - it was
ber the lyrics, composed of fewer than 100 simple, painless and I didn't have to explain
words. My father accompanied me, easing or prove myself to anyone in particular. Per-
my fears to an extent, feeding me the lines haps the pressure of singing for my family
during the show, and drowning out any of in India stemmed from the fact that I knew
my mistakes with a quick, improvisational that a single performance was always the
piece on the synthesizer. Each year the ritual lasting image my extended family had of
would repeat, evolve from innocent to more me. Each trip to India, my entire extended
mature or complex tunes. I began to perform family held a family reunion the weekend
independently. Though I would be trem- before we departed for the states. The event
bling back stage, rehearsing the lines franti- always promised to be fun-filled, marked
cally in my mind and aloud, while on stage, I by contagious laughter - the inviting kind,
would gaze out into the blinding white light which cultivates authentic smiles - a savory
and somehow, mysteriously, feel comforted, home-cooked meal and music.However, it
complete and fulfilled. Then, after five min- was the last time we'd meet for a few years.
utes of musical bliss, I would escape into the So, I feared that if I missed a note, wavered
audience again. These cultural performanc- on a tone, or had any less-than-satisfactory
es became an annual tradition, and I relished presentation, this would be their last opinion
the opportunity to learn and perform Indian of me. I would leave India with an impres-
tunes for that one September holiday night sion of failure, powerless to change it until

the next time I visited.
I hadn't sungforthreeyearswhen I visited
my mother country again this past summer.
I had nearly forgotten how to hold a note for
longer than a minute, a feat which, five years
earlier, seemed much easier. So, naturally,
when my aunt, who learns music regularly,
asked me if I wanted to join her to observe
her music class, I was hesitant. How would
I be able to understand the tempos? What if
they asked me to join in? I wasn't prepared
to sing, but my aunt said coolly, "Come. It'll
be good for you to hear some good Indian
music." I couldn't resist or rather, didn't have
the motivation to, so I agreed to accompany
her, rather unwillingly.
The singing guru's home was a short
five-minute motorcycle ride away, and as
we entered the tiny two-roomed home, a
gruff-looking bearded man ushered us in.
An oblong wooden instrument resembling
a ukulele with a long fingerboard lay in the
corner, ready to be picked up and played by
its owner. For the first five minutes, my aunt
and her guru began with warm-ups - arpeg-
gios, or raagas, ranging from the simplest
two-note patterns, to more intricate combi-
nations of notes. Hearing the various tones
and the brilliant combinations reminded
me of trekking through a mountain with
twisted turns carved into it. The tones com-
bined in just the right places, but there was
an element of mystery in that it was impos-
sible to predict the following combination
of notes. Gradually, their voices gained
momentum, blending together in just the
right way, yet retaining their unique traits;
the sound assumed a more definitive pattern
of tones as the song progressed. I realized
that it was fused with particular sentiments,
and that the unique ways the tones merged
and diverged tugged at specific emotions. I
became engrossed in the song's melody, felt
the need to catch every fleeting note and
process its perfect timbre, rhythm and tone,
just before it transformed into a new one.
Listening to them sing together - their per-
fect blend of voices - touched me, and I was
reminded of my childhood sessions learning
music from my aunt. Then, too, I had been
enamored of the magnitude of music. I had
realized how music can stir and connect
souls, even those oceans apart. By the time
of the class' close, I was emotionally charged
from the beautiful performance, and I decid-
ed that I needed to start singing again.

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