Written by Arathi Murthy on 13 January 2020
Classes at Shankar Mahadevan Academy are so special and remain in memory ever, for music connects people irrespective of distance, age, nationality.
Among many other students, it has been a great pleasure teaching a senior student, Mitra Vasishta. An extremely talented lady, musically-trained while young, Mitra took a break due to her challenging profession – an Indian Foreign Service Officer who served with a United Nations mission. Though she retired a few months ago, she continues to work as a Consultant with the United Nations.
Mitra joined the Academy two years ago as a Voice Gym student. In my very first class, I felt like it was not just a class but a journey together. I immediately took to this senior person who like a child would look forward to her class every week. She would forget all her work stress and health issues, and sing away to glory.
I still remember her burst into happiness when she was able to sing some semi-classical, raag-based songs – Sreeman Narayana and Kuhu Kuhu – in the original pitch of these songs. Usually, Mitra sings Carnatic compositions in the pitch of F# or G. But after taking Voice gym she is able to sing in the pitches of G#, A and even A# depending on the song.
Her voice range expanded after she learned concepts of using the voice – head voice, transition, vibrato and beat – in the Voice Gym modules 1, 2 and 3. She uses her head voice to reach the higher octave notes. And she is able to transition smoothly between vocal registers to navigate her voice through low, mid and high octave notes.
I recall one class in which Mitra got very emotional singing a song reminiscing about her past. It was an English song for which she used the vibrato technique. Later, she shared with me that it was her late husband's favourite song. But she told me that singing that song works like therapy for her. I felt glad that learning music is so relevant to her life. Her singing seemed to have a purpose.
I learned a lot from Mitra. One thing I learned was about the connection that grows between teacher and student. Every student has her or his own learning style. I feel if our teaching style suits the learning style of our students, they feel we are the best teachers ever.
One episode comes to my mind. Mitra has a strong connect to devotional songs. She would ask me to sing a devotional song, and she would absorb the song after listening to it just once or twice. She would then sing that song with great involvement. Such moments feel like being on the same wave with someone, and being able to listen and resonate according to their interests and stage in life. When we achieve that level of connection we could become that person's parent or daughter or friend in class – of course, without overdoing it :).
When I see a senior person like Mitra Vasishta smiling, all ready, and eagerly waiting for her class every time, I get so very inspired. I learn about dedication, discipline, how to smile more and be positive about life from her. Her readiness and openness to grasp is proof that learning has no age bar.
Having loved the Voice Gym modules 1, 2 and 3, she persuaded me to develop a module 4. We are doing that now. Such positive energy and belief are always encouraging to a teacher – and a learning experience as well.
About the Teacher
Arathi Murthy, Voice Gym Trainer
Life is musical and divine