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Lokvani Talks To Geeta Murali

Ranjani Saigal

Geetha Murali is an award winning Carnatic Vocalist. She received her diploma in music from The Bharatiya Music and Arts Society, Mumbai. She has received training in music from stalwarts such as Shri A.S.Panchapakesha Iyer , Smt. T.R.Balamani (Mumbai) and Smt. Kamala Krishnamurthy (Mumbai). Endowed with a rich, firm voice resembling a divine temple bell, Geetha has been delighting audiences all over the world with her music.  She is a graded All India Radio Artist and the winner of many awards including the prestigious Tambur award.

She has a special interest in singing for dance productions and has traveled the world accompanying great dancers. She teaches music in Norwood and Bedford, Ma and many of her students have won awards at the prestigious Cleveland Festival.

She is providing music for Savithri a short Dance Drama that will performed on Nov 4 at the Lexington Heritage Museum. For further information please check out http://www.lexingtonsymphony.org/concert20061104.html.

How did you develop an interest in Carnatic music?

I owe my interest in music to my mother.  As a child, she never had the opportunity to learn music and she decided that she would do everything in her power to teach music to her children. She enrolled me in music class and put great effort in ensuring that I attended every class.  If I was sick she would tell me to skip school so that I would be able to attend music class.  In my younger days getting me to practice was not always easy.

Since I do not come from a family of musicians my mother did not quite know how to judge my singing ability. As I grew older, I started winning prizes in music competitions. At this time my mother started to see my potential and encouraged it.  My own passion for music started during my teens.  By this time it was very clear that music had a very central role to play in my life.  I was not aware that music was a career option  and thought I needed something else to support myself and hence after I graduated from college I got a job in a bank.

Even while working in the bank I continued with my music and started learning from Smt. Balamani .She pushed me to achieve a lot. Under her tutelage I won several competitions and she groomed me to be a concert musician. I also got invited to sing for dance which brought a lot of wonderful opportunities my way. 

I also came in contact with a talented musician by the name of Smt. Kamala Krishnamurthy. I learnt some very rare compositions from her. I was pleased that I was able to release a production named Omkar Rupini, with her compositions on it.

Many of the incidents in my life just seem to happen without much pre-mediation and hence I know that it really is the Divine hand that is instrumental in making music central to my life.

Since I was the first in my family it was more challenging for me than for my brother who is now a professional musician.

Could you tell us a little about your brother?

My brother is Shriram Iyer, has made a career for himself in Bollywood. Recently he did playback singing for the movie Iqbal.  He has done a lot of work for Indian TV and the also produced several CDs for the Times Group of Music and has won prestigious award nominations for his work.  My mother’s desire to make music central to the lives of her children has born fruit.

Could you expand on what you mean by music being central to your life?

Simply put it is my connection to God.  For me music and devotion are completely intertwined.  As a child my mother used to make me sing at every temple and even now the most important song is that which I sing in front of God. My musical style is to lay emphasis on Bhavam and Bhakti. Even with my students I lay great emphasis on these two aspects.

Do you have any favorite among composers?

I think all the composers are wonderful.  For me since I know Tamil well I do enjoy Tamil compositions for I can sing them with greater feeling.

What moments in your musical career do you consider special?

I can think of three. The first two were when I won the Tambur award and when I was chosen as an All India Radio artist. It had been my mother’s dream that I should accomplish these two goals and she had worked so hard for that. It is not often that a child can fulfill their mother’s dream and I will never forget the look on my mother’s face on those occasions.

The third big moment was an unusual one.  I had my concert at the mini-auditorium of Shanmukhananda scheduled overlapping with a leading vocalist from Chennai. People decided they will attend mine for some time and then leave to attend the other.  I was nervous and rather worried.  To my utter surprise those who came did not leave for the other concert and said that they enjoyed me singing so much that they just could not leave. I will cherish that concert for ever.

You are a very sought after vocalist to accompany dancers. How does singing for dance differ from a regular vocal concert?

Singing from dance requires a great sensitivity to the emotional aspect of singing. Since my focus is on Bhavam and Bhakti, I really enjoy singing for dance. I think singing for dance also helped bring more Bhavam to my music.

You had a thriving career in music in India. Was it a difficult decision to leave that and come to the US?

It was the most difficult decision but in retrospect it has been a very enriching experience.  I had no idea that culture and respect for music is so alive in the US particularly in the Boston area.  I was able to start my music classes twenty days within arriving to the US .I thank the parents of the first set of students who sent their children to me without knowing much about me.  During my recent bout with cancer, I cannot tell you how much support I received from the parents of my students. Perhaps this is why God sent me to the US.

Another wonderful reason to be in the Boston area is I get to interact with some of the finest Carnatic musicians who are also wonderful human beings.  Thanks to being in Boston, my daughter found a great Violin teacher in Smt Tara Anand who is one of the major reasons that I will not want to leave the Boston area.

You mentioned your bout with cancer. Could you describe that experience?

It was a most difficult and yet a most learning experience. I have been blessed with a wonderful family, not only on my mother’s side but in-laws as well. After my marriage my  mother-in-law gave me great support.  I am also blessed with a wonderful child. When I was diagnosed with cancer, my first thought was for my daughter – God had given me a wonderful child but it seemed like I may not be there to see her grow up.

During my treatment I did a lot of introspection as is natural at such times and I realized that I was being very egotistical in thinking that I was raising my child. I know now that I am but an instrument. This understanding has reduced stress in my life tremendously.  It is at such times that one understands the value of each moment and I have learnt to treasure it.  I now feel a sense of urgency to help people in anyway that I can.

Earlier I used be very concerned about each concert for myself and my students. Now I have learnt that if the concert turns out well it is not I who is the doer in anyway.  There have been times recently when I have felt so tired that I could not even walk and yet have had the energy to do a concert.  My husband's support  and encouragement during my illness was critical in keeping music alive during a difficult time. He constantly encouraged me to keep singing and teach and I think this was a great therapy for me.

I have  learnt the futility of trying to change things that are not in my control. So while the illness brought a lot of turbulence in my life, it also has in another sense brought a lot of peace and helped me to learn to let go.  I am extremely grateful for the experience. 

What advice do you have for parents who may be thinking of teaching Carnatic music to their children?

Even if people do not take music as a career, I think of music as a conduit to the Divine. I recommend that parents understand this and give it the importance it deserves. They should provide time management for their children and be role models in matters of time management.  They should help their children practice. In addition to the blessing of God, behind every successful student is a caring and hard-working parent.  I do not encourage unhealthy competition.  Support your child in a positive way.  Most importantly do not enroll them in too many activities.

I also strongly encourage parents to take children to live concerts. Even if they listen for a few minutes and are playing outside most of them, it is a most learning experience. Do not think you are wasting money. Consider it a good investment.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you.




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