Opinion: At the Indian Fine Arts Academy, I teach classical vocal music with two goals in mind

Subramanian is a senior technology executive and professor of classical music. She lives in Carmel Valley.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of listening to and learning about classical South Indian music known as Carnatic music. I grew up in Chennai, a city in southern India, surrounded by her on radio and television and in local temples. Classical music was easy to learn because every student was constantly bombarded with this art form.

Fast forward a few decades and here I am, in San Diego, trying to teach classical vocal music to children in a very traditional way. The challenges are quite significant: learning by memorization is a requirement in Indian classical music but not very popular here in any type of learning; the musical form is unknown even to children of Indian origin; and there is simply no time to do justice to this complex art form given the many activities of children, even though serious musicians spend their lives learning and perfecting it.

I started teaching classical vocal music in this country in the early 1990s, shortly after moving here. Very early on, I decided that my goals in teaching were twofold. My first goal was to create a genuine appreciation for this unique art form in students and convert them into lifelong admirers, even if they don’t necessarily become full-time musicians. My second goal was to develop the students’ voice through full-throated singing so that they would be able to sing very well in other forms of music as well.

With my own full-time job as a technology executive involving long hours and extensive world travel for over 25 years now, teaching classical music alongside has not been an easy undertaking in terms of time or effort. Looking back, I’m so glad I decided to do this because of how many young minds I was able to open up to music. It has also greatly improved my musical journey over the years, because every teacher must also continue to learn.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to continue learning this art form from Neyveli Santhanagopalan, who received the Sangita Kalanidhi award for the year 2020 and is one of the best singers of this art form. I have hundreds of students across North America touched by the magic of music – and I’m so happy to have launched these young minds on this musical journey.

India has a tradition spanning hundreds of years of the same melody being passed down from generation to generation – not noting the composition as the nuances of the art form go far beyond any form of notation. Continuing this tradition required more than teaching music once or twice a week. It required an entire ecosystem that supports significant music listening, appreciation, interactions with well-known musicians, and opportunities to perform.

A group of like-minded performing arts enthusiasts in San Diego came together in 2007 and established the Indian Fine Arts Academy of San Diego, which not only supported the student population here, but also hundreds of performing artists from around the world. The Indian Festival of Performing Arts organized every spring by the Indian Academy of Fine Arts is the second largest festival of its kind in the world outside India.

San Diego is a vibrant city for the performing arts thanks in large part to the Indian Academy of Fine Arts, and I have the unique privilege of serving as a trustee of this esteemed organization. The cultural memories created by learning and listening to the performances are truly priceless and have positively influenced hundreds of students in the area.

The great Greek philosopher Plato said, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the spirit, flight to the imagination, charm to sadness and life to everything. Those who are immersed in any form of music would totally appreciate this. I feel so lucky to have this opportunity to immerse myself in music.

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