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Lokvani Talks To Shuchita Rao

Nirmala Garimella

Well known in the New England community for her musical talent and her  dedication to community efforts, Shuchita Rao  teaches Hindustani Music through her own school of music - RASA (Raaga Aesthetics, Sharing and Appreciation) Institute and through Learnquest Academy of Music in Waltham. A classical hindustani music performing artist she also writes articles on music for various publications.

•Give us some background of your early days of music, while growing up? How was it like?

I was born in a family of music and art lovers in Hyderabad, India and grew up in an atmosphere steeped in the appreciation of arts.  My father was trained in singing Dhrupad in his childhood and taught himself to play the harmonium. My mother is a Sangeet Visharad (bachelors degree in music) from Gandharva  Mahavidyalaya and my older sister had in-depth training in vocal music as well. Our family enjoyed listening to classical music on the radio and television and we regularly attended classical music concerts in Hyderabad.  My father reviewed concerts and art-exhibitions for local newspapers on a regular basis .

•When and where was your first public performance? What did you sing at that time?
I started learning music formally at the age of 8 years from Dr. N.K. Karhade. He arranged public recitals by students of music to encourage them.  My first public performance was at Maharashtra Mandal, Hyderabad. I sang Raag Bhoopali at my recital and remember a member of the audience walking on stage after my performance to announce an impromptu twenty-five rupee prize to me for the happiness he felt after listening to my recital. This kind gesture boosted my confidence and has stayed etched in my memory to this day.

•Are you a Hindustani vocal performer and teacher by profession?
My educational background includes a Master’s in Computer Science and a Post Master’s in Instructional technology.  I have worked for consulting firms such as Tata Consultancy services and PriceWaterhouse Coopers as a software engineer. Currently, I work at  Stonehill College in Easton, MA as a technology trainer.

•Who has been your inspiration in the world of music?
First and foremost, my father, my mother and older sister instilled a genuine love for music in me. I also had the privilege of learning under several great Gurus who were eminent performers and dedicated teachers.
My formal lessons in music began with Dr. N.K.Karhade in Hyderabad. The renowned Gwalior Gharana representative Smt. Malini Rajurkar of Hyderabad groomed me in Khyaal singing during my teen years.  She is intellectually gifted, has the most generous heart and is a perfectionist when it comes to craftsmanship. She never accepted a penny for music lessons she gave me and was always devoted to a higher purpose in life. Her influence on my life and music has been profound.
I took vocal lessons from Pandit Ajay Pohankar in Khyaal and Thumri singing in Mumbai. While I was enrolled in a Master’s program in music at S.N.D.T.  University in Mumbai, I had the privilege of studying under Padma Bhushan Dr. Prabha Atre who was the head of the music department at the time. Dr. Atre  encouraged me in my pursuit of music and specifically in the area of writing articles on music for newspapers such as Times of India and Indian Express.

When did you move to Boston ?
 I moved to Boston, a thriving hub of art and culture, in 1994. My husband Bhaskar who is a music lover has been an enormous source of support to me. He has encouraged me to give musical performances, teach music to aspiring students at LearnQuest and also to start my own music school, RASA.  
I have taken vocal lessons from Gwalior/Kirana Gharana exponent Pandit Vinayak Torvi whenever he visited the Boston area and  am currently learning singing Dhrupad from Shri Ramakant Gundecha.
Finally, my gifted, creative and intelligent colleagues in music in the Boston area have inspired me with their hard work, dedication and passion for music. The opportunity to collaboratively study and discuss topics such as “what constitutes rich aesthetics and compelling content in Classical music of our great masters”  has made a huge difference in my musical journey as a performing artist and teacher.

•Do you think there is patronage of local Hindustani artists here in the US?
It takes a long time to learn and perfect any form of classical art. It also takes time to develop an appreciation for it. A concert by Bollywood movie stars and musicians can command an audience of thousands but attendance for classical music is limited to a few hundreds.  Learnquest Academy, MITHAS, KHMC (Carnatic Hindustani Music Circle), Chinmaya Mission and the Sri Lakshmi temple are some of the local organizations that have supported Classical musicians and have nurtured interest among the general public for Classical Arts. We could certainly do with more patronage for Classical Arts from music lovers who see value in preserving the rich tradition of Classical Music and in passing it on to the next generation.

•Any favorite Ragas?
While I love many ragas, the ones that had their origins in Carnatic Music such as Charukesi , Abhogi, Saraswati, Shivranjani and Kirwani are my favorite. I also love ragas that have komal (flat) notes from Kaafi, Marwa, Poorvi and Bhairavi families. The poet Shelley said “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts.”  When sung or played properly, these ragas can create an atmosphere of great sadness and longing and bring tears to your eyes.
•How do you find teaching here in the US? Do students respond well to learning?
I enjoy teaching music very much and have a special fondness for teaching very young children. My approach is different from the old, traditional style of teaching music. In my class for young children, I like to show them connections between their world and Hindustani classical music such as the presence of universal musical notes in nursery rhymes they learn in school. I am fortunate to share a wonderful equation with my 5-7 year olds. I love it when a young child walks upto me and shares a song he/she likes with a twinkle in their eyes.
With older adults, I like to lead them into learning serious classical music through the songs they like and enjoy listening to, even if the songs are light classical such as a bhajan, a ghazal or a film song.  I like my students to come with an open heart and an open ear to embrace music for what it offers. I enjoy discussions around music that allow for musical dialogue and sharing of ideas.
I have enjoyed collaborating with women musicians – I taught Hindi and Gujrati songs to members of a popular international global music women’s ensemble called Libana. The communal process of women singing together has always created a healing and peace-building experience within me.
Listening to music, enjoying it, singing and practicing what we learn should not appear to become chores that need to be put on a to-do-list. The content of music lessons should be such that one is naturally drawn to them.

•You have also made a CD of nursery rhymes with translation in Hindustani notes. What gave you the idea?
At the time of making the CD, my two children Rohit and Radha attended Montessori school and sang plenty of English nursery rhymes and camp-songs. I enjoyed their music and taught them a way to enjoy the music I love by showing them simple connections between the two systems. Very soon, they became very comfortable with translating any English song into Hindustani musical notes.  I have received several requests to release more such CDs from parents of young children.

•Tell us about your upcoming events.  
My students and I will be opening Spring festival 2011 for MITHAS on Sunday, March 6 at Wong Auditorium at 4p.m. I have the privilege of performing with two brilliant accompanists -  Dr. George Ruckert on the harmonium and Amit Kavthekar on the tabla. My student Anusha and my daughter and student Radha will open the concert with Classical Music. They will be accompanied by Pranav Ghatraju on the tabla and my son Rohit on the harmonium.  Tickets are available at http://www.mithas.org
Later this month, I will be performing in Los Angeles, CA.

•What are the other community activities you are involved in?
I volunteer at Hessco Elder Services in the distribution of meals to senior citizens at their homes. I feel deep empathy for the older generation and like helping them in whatever way I can. I also have a great interest in creating an awareness and appreciation for Classical Music among our youth. I have conducted music workshops at educational institutions such as public schools, libraries as well as at higher education institutions such as Boston University and Wellesley College in Boston.

For more info, visit http://www.shuchitarao.com

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