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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Senior Mag 2023: Fusing the music of my heritage with classical piano — how a relationship with two instruments has shaped my present and future

I don’t want this to be a story where I discuss my “emotional connection” to the piano, or how I’ve used the instruments I love playing as a “means to escape from reality.” That verbiage is omnipresent across music applicants’ college essays. Instead, I want to detail what I plan on doing in the future and how seemingly opposing parts of my background have shaped these plans. 

Last summer, I decided to go down the inevitably windy road that prospective piano major applicants must navigate. I had just come off an ego-bruising piano camp in Bloomington, Indiana, at the Jacobs School of Music, where I played  along with a dozen of the best pianists ages 14 to 19 in the country.

Despite me being one of the older students, I was probably in the bottom five in terms of both my quality and quantity of repertoire. The pieces I had in my arsenal were not at the caliber of my younger peers, and I also simply had not learned enough music. Some of the kids there were learning multiple works per month. I probably was learning around three per year at the time. 

After a couple of gut-wrenching weeks of embarrassment at performances, isolation at meals and general annoyance with both myself and my attitude (my perception of myself as an artist was far higher than where I really was at the time), I returned home from Bloomington more motivated than ever to improve.  With an ordinary academic profile, I figured I needed to work on something that would differentiate me from other applicants.

I was determined to put myself in a position where I could stand out in musical circles, even among some of the elite. My pursuit of a piano performance major emerged. And with it, arduous hours of learning new sonatas and ballades only weeks before pre-screening deadlines in a panicked rush just to put myself out there — just to put my name in a bucket alongside millions of other applicants. 

The panicked hard work and hours spent practicing in the middle of the night from July to February, along with a couple of hasty trips around the nation to get a gauge of potential teachers at universities, paid off. I found myself with a spot in UCLA’s Class of 2027 set to study piano performance and data science.

However, while in this process, I also discovered how much I needed my mridangam, the Indian classical drum of my heritage, both to preserve my sanity and to innovate musically. When I wasn’t going through Bach’s Prelude and Fugue, I was at my mridangam. That was my music for enjoyment, while piano was my music for mental application. 

I can sight-read Brahms and riff out Chopin. However, where my interest truly lies now is merging my present with my past. While I do enjoy performing classical piano music by itself, merging it with Indian Carnatic in a fusion performance? Wow. 

It might sound like I’m forcing the pair into some sort of bond, but they jive together naturally. In fact, the quaint melding of these two art forms reflects my own traits, in some respects — perhaps a bit unnatural, not entirely organized and a bit hastily put together. 

Indian carnatic music is all about improvisation and coming up with content on the spot, whether it be call-and-responses, quick reductions or even accompaniment. Classical music, in my opinion, is all about accurately interpreting the score given to you while adding positive embellishments of your own. 

The two forms of music are almost entirely different. But they form a perfect harmony. I’m entering college as a classically trained pianist and experienced mridangam player. High school was my place to test whether the two could go hand-in-hand, and college will be my stomping grounds for collaboration, performance and exploring both the drums of my heritage and the piano, a symbol of my present. I hope to mix the two art forms as artfully as possible, going from a novice in fusion to an expert by the time I’m done with univers

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