Who is Ambi Subramaniam?

Ambi Subramaniam is such a master fiddler that it is nearly impossible to choose his best fiddling performance. The breakneck speed with which he plays, sometimes simple and at times powerful, leaves the listener breathless, it's so intense. The Bangalore-based 29-year-old Ambi is very down-to earth, simple and just like any Gen X youngster, until he picks up his violin.

Hailed as "India's Itzhak Pearlman" by Ozy Magazine, Ambi has been trained by his father and guru Dr L. Subramaniam since he was three years old. He gave his first public performance at the age of seven. He received the Ritz Icon Annual Award, the Rotary Youth Award, two GIMAs (Global Indian Music Award for Best Fusion Album and Best Carnatic Instrumental Album) and Big Indian Music Award (Best Carnatic Album). In 2007, he released his first album and two years later he received a Golden Violin from Sri Jayendra Saraswati.

Ambi also co-wrote India's first series of textbooks for teaching the Indian violin.

Ambi has performed extensively with his family and collaborated with Larry Coryell, Ernie Watts, Corky Siegel, Shankar Mahadevan and many others. His first album, released in 2007 when he was just 16, won both BIMA (The British Interactive Media Association, which annually gives British awards for excellence in the digital world) and GIMA (Global Indian Music Academy Award), Ambi is truly "the new king of Indian classical violin".

Ambi and his sister Bindu manage the Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts (SaPa) in the field of music education, with the aim of creating a music ecosystem to teach students not only Indian music but also global music, and trying to make sure that students have access to some of the best musicians around the world. The duo is also part of the contemporary world music band SubraMania, a space to collaborate with different artists.

In a freewheeling interview with Verus Ferreira, Ambi shares his story.

Let's start at the beginning. At what age did you take up learning the violin?

I started learning the violin when I was three years old, and that time you had smaller violins. I think it didn't really start formally, like somebody going to a class, or sitting down in front of a teacher and taking lessons. My dad obviously was playing a lot of music at home, practising and perfecting that kind of thing. I think it started very informally where I had the violin in my hand and I would try and imitate what my dad was doing. Of course, it became a bit formal once I started enjoying the instrument. Then my brother, my sister and I learnt to sing, how to play the piano; we learnt Carnatic and western violin.

What would you say your style of music is?

It's a very interesting question. Like I mentioned, we learnt a lot of different things, because for me I tried to be as versatile as I could. That means, sometimes you don't want to label all that you are doing, and you keep trying different styles so you can keep growing. Of course, I was initially taught Carnatic music and western classical music. When I played with my mom, Kavita Krishnamurthy, that would be a complete Bollywood set. Then it was a challenge for me to figure out how I would play in those situations to suit that style of music, or suddenly if I am in a situation when I am with a set of musicians. For example, in Spain playing Flamenco music, how to bring out my individuality. I'd play something that suits that style of music. But I think style is something that keeps evolving.

Do you still learn from your father, L. Subramaniam?

Of course, I think there is so much to learn from both my parents, and I think my dad is just incredible, obviously not only in terms of his musical skills and him being a legendary musician, but there are so many things that you learn from him as a person as well, so that he never stops. He would play phrases and I would try to repeat, and then there was a stage where we were performing a lot together. I learnt a lot by playing with him onstage and now the way I learnt is very different. So sometimes he will hear a piece I have done and he will give me feedback. That learning process is always there, but the way you learn changes over time.

Do you also sing and play the piano?

Yes, I do enjoy singing and playing the piano a lot, think, you have to make a choice if you want to really go deep into anything. I do sing and play the piano, but it's mostly for myself.

When did you first start your concert playing?

I think the first time I was on stage was when I was six years old when my brother and I were singing for something. My first violin performance was when I was seven and I think it is very important to have very positive experiences when you are on stage. When I say that, it's completely different from being skilful on stage. I'm sure I wasn't that great at age seven, but I went on stage and came off the stage feeling very good. I think that was very important for me, because from that age 1 enjoyed going on stage because of that.

Is the violin you play different from violins played in Carnatic music?

I play a five-string violin. Normally violins have four strings; there's an extra string at the bottom which is the viola string, and it gives a bigger range, but that also makes it harder to play. Apart from that, the violin is very similar; it also has an electric pick up.

What brand of violin do you use?

There are many violins that are made in India, and it's really nice to see the violin skill-making really improving in India in the last decade or two. It's something that hasn't traditionally been made in India. I use a violin from the U.S. I generally try not to use too many violins, unlike a guitar, as a violin doesn't have frets like a guitar, so every violin has its own uniqueness, it has its own challenges as well. For example, if I pick up a new violin, the spacing will be completely different. So all of sudden if I try to play the same way that I play on my current violin, it would be completely out of tune.

Who are your music idols?

There are a number of them. There are many violinists like Israeli violinist Maxim Vengerov, Joshua Heifetz who are incredible violinists. I also take inspiration from a lot of composers because a big part of what I do is composition.

What are your plans for the year 2022?

I hope by then we would be able to have some more live performances. I think given the situation in the last two years, we've been extremely lucky and we've been able to make studio work, make a lot of albums, and I think that process will continue. But I think for the entire music industry and for music in general, it would be great if we can open up once things are safer.

Well, to be honest, I really enjoy cricket as well and I had a flair for Maths, so probably, I would've been a cricket statistician or something like that.

Your message to the readers of The Teenager Today

What anybody does, whether it's music or anything else, it's good to keep working on skills that interest you, even if you think that this doesn't go with something else that you also like. One thing that we always talk about at SaPa is that you don't have to be just in one thing. We have a lot of very talented kids who are interested in coding and also in music. They also like doing music, but they also like painting or design. It's very nice to pursue all these things that you like. None of us know what jobs are going to exist in five, ten or fifteen years, so you could be creating something special, and at some point of time you'll be having skill sets that other people don't have.

Credit : Verus Ferreira (The Teenager Today)

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I want to make a career in music

I'm a good singer and can play instruments like the piano and guitar. I want to make a career in music, but my parents say that I should first take up a secure career (such as medicine) and then continue with music. But I'm afraid I won't be left with enough time, as the studies and career will leave me exhausted. Please suggest some colleges/institutes in which I could pursue music as a career.

Have you had some training in playing an instrument or singing? Training under an experienced guru from childhood helps to sharpen your skills; later you can develop the instinct through talent, experience and practice.

You may go for a B.A. in Music after 10+2. During the course, students receive a thorough grounding in the core areas of practical skills, music history and analysis. They may further specialize in performance, composition, electro-acoustic music or other areas as they progress through the course.

Some of the institutes are: Bhatkhande Music Institute Deemed University, Lucknow; National Academy of Music, Dance & Drama (Sangeet Natak Academy), New Delhi; Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata; Visva Bharati, Santiniketan, Tansen Sangeet Mahavidyalaya at various places.

The life of a professional musician can appear glamorous. But when it comes to making it a profession, the jobs are highly competitive and difficult to find. It often takes the right contacts and a lot of luck to find work. You may experience a great deal of rejection and there may be periods of time when you don't work, at least as a performer.

I'm telling you this not to scare you; rather that is the reality. Breaking into this industry also requires dedication, talent and sometimes good luck. That may be the reason your parents are suggesting that you first secure yourself with a good education and career.

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What are music and its types?

Music

Music is a performance art created by the sounds of singer, and instruments, and covers an incredible range of styles. It can he enjoyed live or through various media forms from television and radio to the Internet. Music has always been written and performed, but it was not until the 20th century, when new technology to record and share music developed, that musicians could become global stars.

  1. DISCO: In the 1970s, pop music with a dance beat known as disco (from discotheque, a French word for nightclub) filled dance floors across the globe. Disco music topped the charts and created major stars, but faded from popularity in the 1980s.
  2. CLASSICAL: Classical music is a general name for the various types of music written to be performed in a concert hall. It may be composed for the instruments of an orchestra (either a full symphony or a small group of players), or written for a choir or opera company. The music of composers like Bach and Beethoven is still popular, centuries after it was written.
  3. MUSIC AND VISUALS: From the late 1970s, bands made short music videos to accompany and promote their songs. The arrival of music video networks and the Internet has created a huge boom in this area. The virtual band Gorillaz, who previously only existed as cartoon animations in music videos, turned the form on its head in 2005 when they performed live as a normal band.
  4. DANCE: The popularity of electronic instruments like synthesizers, and the ability to use computers to make music, led to a new generation of music written to fill the dance floors. DJs became stars, using turntables to mix live music.
  5. JAZZ: Jazz was born in early 20th century America, when elements of European music were blended with the rhythmic music brought by African slaves to the south.
  6. ROCK: In the 1940s and 50s, rock-and-roll music sprang up in the United States. It was played on electric guitars, bass guitars, and drums, and featured exciting vocals, catchy tunes, and a strong beat. This evolved into rock music, a group of many diverse styles that remains popular worldwide.
  7. POP: This type of rock music is aimed mostly at a young audience. Pop songs can be fairly simple in their structure, with lots of repetition in the lyrics, so it’s easy to sing along. Today’s major pop stars reach an international audience with their hit songs.
  8. R&B: Rhythm and blues, or R&B, music started in the United States in the 1940s, originally performed by and for a mainly African-American audience. Today’s version of the style is closely related to disco and dance music, but is smoother and features softer vocals.
  9. REGGAE: This style of music originated in Jamaica in the 1960s. It has a characteristic rhythm style and a slow and steady tempo (speed). The bass guitar keeps the rhythm and is the most prominent instrument. Reggae is associated with the Rastafarian religion.
  10. COUNTRY: Mixing the traditional music of the southern states of America with rock-and-roll and other musical styles, country music is one of the largest-selling music genres today, with major stars, huge record sales, and enormously successful tours.

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Is music always good for your sleep?

What kind of a person are you? Do you always have your earphones on while at home, listening to music whenever you get a chance? Or do you use it just to wind down at night, listening to some soothing music as you drift away to sleep. Either way, you might be disrupting your sleep patterns, especially if you tend to have earworms frequently.

What are earworms?

 Earworms correspond to catchy songs or tunes that persist in our minds long after we've finished hearing it. It is said to be an involuntary musical imagery and it often plays over and over in the person's mind. While these occur commonly to many people while awake, a recent research has tried to explore its effects on sleeping.

Sleep researcher Michael Scullin is an associate professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Baylor University in the U.S. On realising that he was waking in the middle of the night with earworms, he decided to study how music, and earworms in particular, might affect patterns of sleeping.

Survey and experiment

His study involved both a survey and a separate laboratory experiment. Over 200 participants took part in the survey, which included a series of questions on sleep quality, music listening habits, and the frequency at which a participant usually experiences an earworm, especially those around bedtime and sleep.

The lab experiment was conducted on 50 participants. The researchers tried to induce earworms and tried to figure out how it affects sleep quality. Polysomnography, a comprehensive sleep test, was used to record the participants' sleep quality.

The results from the research were contrary to popular wisdom that states that music is hypnotic and aids in sleeping. The researchers came to the conclusion that people who caught an earworm not only had difficulties in falling asleep, but also had more night-time awakenings and spent a larger share of time in light stages of sleeping.

What's more, the study showed that individuals who listened to music more often through the course of the day experienced persistent earworms and also a decline in sleep quality.

Write before you sleep

Apart from moderating music listening and taking the occasional breaks, Scullin suggests staying away from demanding activities for the brain (such as watching television, playing video games) near bedtime. Just spending five to 10 minutes of your time by putting down your thoughts or writing a to-do list before going to bed would not only help you sleep faster and better. but also help offload worrying thoughts.

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