Honing a new sound

Opera Scenes 2013 performance by the students of KM Conservatory.  

The building was nondescript, buried deep inside the by-lanes of Kodambakkam. Only the purple gates seemed to be calling attention to themselves, hinting at genius that hid behind them. The first floor of that fairly ordinary building was home to art, skill and passion. Housing KM Music Conservatory, it sheltered aspiring musicians, talented performers and faculty from around the globe. Amongst these students were Chennai’s very own opera performers.

Gaining acceptance

‘Opera Scenes 2013’ was performed by the best of the chosen few, introducing city audiences to locally bred musical talent. Opening the stage up to Western Operatic music, the students offered up a fare that Chennai is rarely host to. The performance itself spanned various emotions, situations and reactions, testing the musicians’ abilities to emote, project and connect with their audiences.

Being the beacons of this style to Chennai is quite a responsibility for these youngsters. “Chennai is aware of Western Classical music, but not a complete opera performance. This is probably because of the stage set-up and detailed production requirements that this involves and the funding it entails,” feels Akshay Sharma, one of the performers. The problem, they all agree, is compounded by the deep-rooted loyalty to Indian Classical music. “We are all trained in Indian classical as well. The basics of both styles are the same. The audiences just find it difficult to accept because it sounds different,” they claim.

With their time at KM Conservatory, these students have found a way past that problem by means of Indianising their performances and meeting their audiences halfway. “Thanks to globalisation, audiences are more aware and this helps as well,” adds Arpita Gandhi, who played the lead role in Lobby, one of the three performances staged. “With this year’s performance, we showed audiences that they can enjoy opera as well. Rahman, the concert hall staff, our students and their parents are all exceptionally happy,” beams Adam Greig, Academic Director at the school.

When asked about the experience of learning to perform an opera, all the students uniformly groaned about the difficulty in projection. “We needed to project our voices effortlessly, without strain and without compromising on stage presence,” says Sandeep Gurrapadi. Staging the performance for Chennai audiences was thus serving multiple aims.

Not only did it showcase the work of the students through the academic year but it also proved that KM Conservatory’s doors are open to those who want to learn while simultaneously breaking down the elitist stereotype attached to western music.


KM Conservatory, with its soft lighting, peaceful silence, draperies and wooden furniture, is the setting for much learning and growth. In the words of Sharanya Natrajan, lead performer in Carmen (another of the pieces), “KM has a beautiful balance of both Indian Classical/Hindustani and Western Opera unlike any other music conservatory in Asia. In my 10 months here, I have already played the role of Carmen and learnt to sing beautiful Opera Arias.”

Yet, the journey is nowhere near complete. Having been students of various colleges before their KM experience, they all agree that music in general (and specifically opera) is no different from engineering or medicine or any other chosen field of student. Proving this is their personal uphill battle, one they are all willing to face.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 8:57:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/nxg/honing-a-new-sound/article4784609.ece

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