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In Conversation With Aishu Venkataraman

Ranjani Saigal

“I started my training in Carnatic violin from Maestro T.N.Krishnan when I was 4. By this time I already had two years of violin training in the Suzuki style. On my first class he started me straight away on Mohana Varnam”.

I literally fell of my chair when I heard the 15 year old Aishu (Aishwarya) describe her musical training thus. How do you even teach a 2 year old to hold a violin let alone teach her to play it?

“I always knew Aishu was gifted” says Aishu’s father Vinod Venkataraman, who is also a talented Mridangam player. “Music runs in our family. My mother is an excellent violinist and we could tell that Aishu had the talent so we decided to work with her”.

Despite growing up in California Aishu has had her training under the greatest  Indian violin Maestro T. N Krishnan. “I was very fortunate that T.N.Krishnan’s son lives very close to our home. Guruji spends nearly six months with him and hence I had the wonderful opportunity of learning from him from a very young age.  During my formative years, my grandma used to work with me to help me hold the violin and the bow which was not easy for a 4 year old. Guruji decided to start me straight away on Mohana Varnam and was pleased to see that I was able to pick it up right away” says Aishu.

Aishu's debut CD, "Divine Strings" was recorded at the tender age of 9.  She has most recently completed recording her newest album "Bliss" with percussion legend Vellore Ramabhadran.

What does it feel like to be a prodigy? “I do not consider myself super talented but rather as a person who works hard to improve her music.”

So what does the day of this teenager look like?  “Dad wakes me up at 4:45 am every morning. I am allowed 30 minutes to get ready and we begin rehearsing at 5:15 am sharp.  I practice until 6:45 and then it is a rush to get to school. Dad plays Mridangam and mom who is Doctor by profession makes breakfast and enjoys our music.  In the evening I practice again for about 3 hours and during free time dad and I analyze different performances. This has been a very important part of my training”
Was she ever a competitor at the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhanai? No. I have always gone to Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhanai as a performer, never as a competitor” says Aishu.
In middle school, Aishu’s interest turned to Jazz. “I was always part of school orchestra.   In sixth grade at my school the Jazz band was considered really cool ! I wanted to be part of it.  Initially when I approached them to join the band, the teacher felt that the violin did not quite belong to the Jazz genre for there was not much Jazz music written for the violin. My father took this up as a challenge and did a lot of research to find good Jazz music. I learned the pieces and presented it to my teacher and before long the violin became an integral part of the school Jazz band” says Aishu.
Jazz with its emphasis on improvisation fit right in with her musical persona. Aishu has most recently begun training at the famed Berklee College of Music with an emphasis on jazz performance, earning a full scholarship.  She carries the unique distinction of being the youngest student accepted into this four-year college at age 13.  
While music is a very important part of life, she like other Indian American children, cherishes the hope of growing up to be a doctor. “My mother is a doctor. While I love music, I know I need a career to take care of my financial needs.  I have seen my mother’s work and I am inspired to become a doctor. ” In order to pursue that career path she is doing all the necessary volunteer work at hospitals. She would like to be a pediatrician.  Supporting children who suffer from AIDS is a cause that touched her deeply and hence she has chosen to support Baylor school of Medicine International Pediatric Aids Initiative.
“I am deeply grateful to my parents for their hard work and dedication.  I owe all my success to them” says Aishu.
To children who are learning music, her advice is simple – work hard and do not give up!  
What shape would she like for her musical career to take? “I would like to emulate my teacher and continue his musical legacy. It would be great if I could one day play to a packed hall in music academy”.   
Lokvani wishes this youngster well and looks forward to watching her musical career flourish!

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