Music

These Carnatic musicians juggle careers, spreadsheets and varnams

Late-night work calls and early-morning vocal practices — this Margazhi, we speak to musicians who pursue two full-fledged careers. How do they manage to make the cut?

About seven years ago, to inhabit the culture, consciousness and chaos of Carnatic music at its epicentre — Chennai — G Ravikiran, a Carnatic musician from Bengaluru, and currently a senior manager at Cisco, moved lock, stock and barrel, with his family — wife and two young children — to Chennai. Although the move came, at a certain opportunity cost, “career-wise”, Ravikiran recognises that one must draw the line somewhere and do what makes one feel more fulfilled as a whole.

His days that run into late-night calls (welcome to the world of IT) are packed and hectic. Music kick-starts his morning. “I make it a point to sing for a couple of hours a day before I head to work because my mind is clean and fresh at that time,” he says. Aside from being a performer and teacher, he also runs a trust called the Guruguhaamrta that provides a platform for the Carnatic music composer, considered one of the Trinity, Muthuswami Dikshitar’s compositions. “I would be lying if I said I don’t feel the pressure — and constantly — on both fronts,” he says, “But I must admit that I like feeding off that nervous energy.”

Ravikiran is not solo in his pursuit as a juggler of several identities, and attempting to ace both. Over the last few years, many young musicians have chosen to singularly pursue the art form, but simultaneously, for several years now, a host of musicians — juggle two full-fledged professional careers.

Best of both worlds

As techies and musicians, who require different energies in both these spaces, in careers that are equally demanding, competitive and political, how do these musicians in the peak of their prime — at work and in terms of music — manage to make the cut?

“It is very hard,” admits Ashwath Narayanan, a Carnatic musician, who also works as a program manager at software services organisation, Psiog Digital Limited, and is responsible for delivering projects, end-to-end for one of the company’s service offerings. “Especially when we scale up the corporate ladder; our roles and responsibilities are not only about us but also about the team we lead. I like to call it the trough and crest model. If I have a concert on a particular day, then the time at work is lesser automatically, and this is applicable vice-versa too. But I have been doing it for seven years now and I think I’ve got the hang of it.”

These Carnatic musicians juggle careers, spreadsheets and varnams

There is no denying that full-time musicians perhaps have the luxury of time to nurture their craft more, perhaps leisurely, but those who do both seem to have personalities that are not threatened by this and also the packed schedules and the madness it brings. “I am quite easy-going that way,” Ashwath says, “I don’t stress about it much and do the best I can in both spaces.”

Prasanna Venkatraman, a senior manager at Qualcomm, who has been pursuing a career in engineering for 12 years now, admits he is equally passionate about tech as he is about music. He believes in the “intelligent use of available time, making the best of flexible work schedules and drawing on family support,” to stay on top of the game as far as music is concerned. “I feel that as one walks further along the musical path, spending quality time with music becomes more important than the mere number of hours one spends practising music,” says this vocalist.

Considering the gravitas of both these spaces, what is perhaps the hardest, as Prasanna says, is that the pursuit of two careers is “all-consuming, leaving you very little for anything else”. Fortunately, during the Margazhi season, work in IT, especially for those who work in the American markets, slows down considerably. “I take off during this time and focus exclusively on performing and listening to my peers and seniors,” he says.

For the last eight years, ever since he started performing full-time, 25-year-old violinist Sandeep Ramachandran, an engineer and a management graduate who currently works as management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group in Chennai, says juggling two careers has in a sense become “second nature. I started learning music from a young age and learnt — early on — to be able to juggle music lessons with traditional academic education,” he explains. “They make for busy days no doubt, but the constantly changing routine doesn’t bother me any more.”

His new job — he used to work for ZOHO Corporation before — also involves travel across India. “When I get back over the weekend, I spend quality time learning from my guru, RK Shriramkumar, who is so understanding of my work schedule and so generous with his time. I have also learnt — over time — that travel offers an amazing opportunity to consult recordings. The best way to spend time on a long flight is to listen to an evocative Shankarabharanam alapana or a brisk ‘Sriranjani Neraval’. I ensure I load my phone with many such recordings.” Cheers to multi-tasking!

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 10:21:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/how-indias-classical-musicians-juggle-corporate-jobs-and-carnatic-music/article30443223.ece

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