Vocalist Nithya Rajendran On Music as Therapy for Kids and Mothers

Nithya Rajendran

You belong to a family that was already an established name in music. Barring that, you went on to pursue a degree in Economics and Mass Communication, and you even worked with advertising agencies for a long time. What made you switch yourself back to music as your primary career? Would you say that music never actually “left you”?

Yes, that’s correct. Somewhere the calling never left me. When one is very young, the allure of a fancy corporate job with great salaries that hits the bank every month is tough to resist. Music initially seemed like something I could keep alive only as a passion. Over the many years dabbling in different careers, I realized I became sadder and sadder and felt a ‘dagger in the heart’ every time I thought of the neglect I was showing towards music.

It was around a decade and a half ago that it finally dawned on me that music is a gift I have been fortunate to receive from the Almighty and I would be doing a great disservice to his gift if I were to not take it up more seriously. I imagined what my life would feel like at age 80 if I spent all of it away from music and that thought was scary! That’s when I went on to pursue music as a full-time profession.

“Music therapy” continues to be something that is an enigma for many people out there. Mothers can especially benefit from it who could feel rejuvenized keeping therapeutic music in the background, since for new mothers, leaving the baby alone is rarely an option. Can you tell us more about how music therapy works and what is its scope, especially for women?

Music therapy in India is a loosely used term. Unlike in the west where music therapy is a certified field, in India, the therapeutic effects of music, especially Indian classical music is still under research. Having said that, it holds immense potential as I have seen in my years of professional singing and imparting classical music education.

Being a mother myself, I have leaned so much on music for myself and my child. I would put my child to bed with music. I would destress from a heavy day with my own singing or hearing classical music. I have also seen its immense impact on a lot of mothers who came to learn from me or who were audiences at my concert.

Being a woman in today’s day and age is not a simple task. We carry a lot of responsibilities as mothers, daughters, wives, homemakers and professionals on our dainty but strong shoulders. We need something we can lean on to refresh our minds and rejuvenate our hearts. Singing or hearing Classical ragas is an effortless way to do that. Besides, classical music helps mothers calm down and reach meditative states easily – a skill much needed for new mothers, whose nerves are jangled and stressed by the intense demands of motherhood.

You were allowed to pursue your professional interests and drive towards your passion. How would you explain your parents’ contribution towards it, providing you the freedom to make your own choices? Parents always wonder how much freedom is too much and face difficulty in balancing it. We would like to know your thoughts on it.

I must say in this respect I’ve been very, very lucky. I have parents who have put my freedom of choice first while at the same time keeping my value moorings intact. I sometimes wonder how they managed to do that. I think a big part of showing genuine love for your child is to respect your child as a unique individual and not treat them as extensions of you, or has little human being who needs to be ‘trained’. At the same time, since it is important to teach children the values that we hold dear, we need to strike the balance by befriending our child, keeping doors open to communication and set examples for the values we want to inculcate in them, by the lives we ourselves lead parents.

Children appreciate the respect and non-judgemental parenting and reciprocate with love and gratitude by being open to wise advice we can offer them. I think that’s how my parents managed the balance and that’s how I intend to do it with my child too.

It seems like you were a child prodigy, winning national-level prizes in Carnatic music since school. As a child, what motivated you to reach for more? Was it your passion that drove you or the interest from your parent’s end? How did your teachers in your school play a role in it?

I think it was all of these. I had a very encouraging family and parents who valued music, I studied in a school that laid immense emphasis on music and dance and I myself had talent and interest. Everything came together to make my life and career the way it is today. While prodigy may be a lofty word to use for me, I certainly consider myself blessed by the almighty.

From my parents’ side, the effort was to get me great tutelage which I did, from some very prolific people in music including Padmashree awardees. They also provided an encouraging environment at home. From my school, I received tonnes of opportunities to take part in many competitions- regional, state and national level that kept giving me the impetus to keep reaching for higher goals.

My own contribution is in the fact that I never really ever gave music up despite the distractions and allure of different careers that I dabbled in. Somewhere, the persistence and commitment stayed and is now paying off richly with the rewarding profession I have now.

Your work is really multi-faceted. Extending beyond music as an art-form, you have also delved deeply into photography and have been widely recognized for it now. Co-curricular, sports, and activities such as music remains a taboo for many parents who want their children to just excel in their studies. However, you were successfully able to establish your name in music and photography while being academically vigorous in your higher studies. How were you able to do both so effortlessly? Do you think these two spheres reinforced each other in any way?

I actually hold this philosophy dear – No matter what you do or how many mistakes you think you are making, you will succeed always if you are willing to grow and learn from experience. In my case, all my experiences – as an advertising executive, as a photographer as a musician, and even in general as a mother, wife, daughter friend, or just a human being, have contributed to who I am today.

I don’t think I would have the perspective of my musical career and what I want to do with my music if I had pursued only music or only academics from the start. I might have become known as a singer or become a successful corporate executive alright. But to have the breadth and depth of context and perspective while delivering my music in the way that I do, has come from all the experiences life has given me. And for that I am grateful.

Parents should encourage children to explore the world and themselves and allow them to grow from their experiences. There are really no mistakes in life, only beautiful lessons to learn. If we can provide our children with experiences of all kinds – not only academic or extra-curricular, and be a wise, guiding friend beside them; they will grow to be responsible individuals who know how to make decisions for themselves and how to take responsibility for their lives. This is the strategy that worked for my parents! I am sure it will work for our children.

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