Shalini Menon can’t use sheet music, so she listens to music and learns to play it
Shalini Menon has been playing the piano since she was three years old, the recorder since she was five, and taking formal vocal training since she was 13. She enjoys composing music, and wrote her first song at 13. “Oh, and I play the guitar too,” she says.
She’s focussed, grounded, extremely talented, and for an 18-year-old, quite accomplished.
Lot on her plate
Ms. Menon completed her seventh grade Trinity College London examination for the recorder and eighth grade London College of Music examination for pop vocals, and is currently preparing for the eighth grade London College of Music piano examination.
She has also performed at post-examination ‘High Achievers’ concerts since she was seven, and recently performed at the Majolly Music Trust’s Young Performer concert series, an experience she describes rather modestly as “exciting”.
Learning music, for Ms. Menon, is a slightly different process than it is for others who take formal music lessons; she’s visually impaired, and in order to learn a new piece, she has to listen to a recording of it or have it played to her before she can familiarise herself with it.
At times, this can be frustrating, especially as the level of music that she’s studying means having to stop and rewind a recording frequently to listen to it until she can play it right.
Braille sheet music isn’t available in India, and although Ms. Menon says learning music without it isn’t a huge obstacle, she does agree that being able to read music would have made a difference.
“I don’t like depending on anyone for anything,” she says to The Hindu during a phone conversation. Having access to Braille sheet music would have made her less reliant on others, and the process of learning music easier, she says. “But [visually impaired] people don’t learn any differently than others do. While some read and learn, I listen and learn.”
Her teachers, Ms. Menon says, have been fantastic in that respect: “They’ve actually taken the time to understand how I learn. Many have lower expectations of [visually impaired] people, but my teachers have treated me like any other student.”
She’s currently on a gap year, studying for the SAT and preparing for her piano exam. In college, she plans to major in “economics, maths, literature and music, if I can do it”, she laughs.
For now, she’s thinking of being a teacher once she graduates.
But music clearly means a lot to her and will always be a huge part of her life. “I like music because there are so many different feelings and moods conveyed by music. There’s a whole series of images that transcend from a particular mood (sic) that it creates, and different people might see a different image,” she says.
“When I have a bad day, writing a song or singing in the shower is extremely therapeutic.”