The term ‘Child Prodigy’ is used very loosely in today’s times. Even a minuscule talent spotted in a child turns him into a ‘prodigy’. This is not the case with Varijashree Venugopal. This talent youngster could identify about 50 ragas at the tender age of one and a half years and about 200 ragas when she was four. She gave her first full-fledged Carnatic vocal performance at the tender age of 7, at the prestigious platform of Bangalore Gayana Samaj.
Surely for a 7-year-old performing live would be unnerving.
“Since I was young, I did not know what stage fear was, but my parents were surely tensed about how the evening would go! And it all turned out well. I specially remember running backstage after the performance to get an ice-cream that was promised to me by a maternal uncle!,” said Varija, as she is fondly called.
Being the daughter of a renowned music teacher, her mother Smt Rama, and Flute Vidwan Sri H S Venugopal, music was something that Varija was exposed to at a very age. Varija began undergoing formal training in Carnatic music under Vidhushi H. Geetha at the age of 4. She has also learnt a few rare compositions from Vidhushi Vasantha Srinivasan and Vidwan D.S. Srivatsa and later, took higher music lessons under Gaanakalanidhi Vidwan Salem P. Sundaresan, under whom she trained for 14 years. She has been undergoing flute training under her father Vid. H. S. Venugopal. Varija now plays the flute along with singing.
Her father is her guru, friend and guide. Varija’s training under her father goes beyond the traditional ‘Guru-Shishy’ relationship. Learning under him for never a strict ritual for her.
“He used to make learning into fun sessions, and learning a Raga or a composition would seem easier than it was supposed to be. He was never a task master. He would make sure that I would willingly put in hours of practice without feeling pressurised about it,” said Varija.
As a toddler, she would sit through her father’s flute lessons. This helped her grasp some of the ragas and the nuances. Her training started even before she knew what she is training for.
“This exposure to music helped me branch out into being a performer by when I was 4, and all the credit goes to my father as he believed in me. It was immensely helpful that I had started performing before I knew anything about stage fear, expectations and responsibilities of a performer on stage. As far as my learning is concerned, it is only getting more intense by the day as I get to meet people from around the world. There is so much wonderful music out there to look out for, and so much to learn and get inspired from,” Varija added.
Having liberal parents and Gurus is a boon for any artiste, especially in Carnatic classical music which is one of the most meticulously designed music disciplines in the world. Training in Carnatic music, Varija does consider herself fortunate that she was initiated in this genre. Classical music has been continuously evolving and it has only gotten intense as the years have been passing. Creativity is at it is peak. Are we in a golden period?
“I feel today’s younger generation is very much into the classical forms and there will be no dearth for Indian classical musicians in the decades to come. This is not just with Indian classical performances alone, but also with respect to the presence of Indian classical music and musicians in a global music platform,” opines Varija.
(Pic : Varijashree Venugopal)
Indian classical music is revered and respected everywhere in the world. It’s intricate theories and training methods are something that musicians from across the world are in awe of. The Indian music culture has always been rich, exotic and full of life. This is why it fits amidst any scenario and stands out as a special entity. Modernisation has been a boon to the world of classical music.
Modernisation of an Indian classical music piece/ a piece of music that’s based on Indian classical musical motifs only makes it more reachable to people who might not be from an Indian classical musical background. It’s about making the music more accessible and friendly.
“It’s the same dish but served in a new fashion. If you make a masala dosa and throw in some olives, sun dried tomatoes and cheese, an Italian-pizza-lover might just get interested in knowing what a dosa is. Call it an experiment, but it sure is a beautiful way of collaboration and cultural exchange,” said Varija.
Technology and social media have been so favourable to artists of this era. Teaching and learning has never been so accessible and convenient than it is now. The reach of Indian classical music has already tremendously increased with the help of technology and it’s only going to get better.
“The Gurukul system of learning is known to be the most effective method according to our fore-fathers. But with the technological developments in today’s world, people are able to learn through something like an e-Gurukula. So, I feel that technology is playing a huge role in helping our Indian music reach the rest of the world,” expressed Varija.
Being labeled as a prodigy or carrying forward the legacy of your parents, can be strenuous for any individual. Varija is not burdened by this but takes it as a responsibility.
“The audience and people around will tend to have a little extra expectation. But that has only turned out to be positive as it helped me push myself a little harder,” said Varija.
Apart from performing at the United Nations, Geneva along with the Ricky Kej ensemble in 2018, the only other memory etched in her mind, is the mantra her father taught her.
In the end, ‘Be a student till your last breath and stay grounded,’ believes Varija.