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Carnatic Vocal and Violin Teacher Mrs.Priya Hariharan

It is rare that the music lovers in Rocky Mountain region who did not listen to the leading exponent of Carnatic music and Violinist Mrs.Priya Hariharan. She is an accomplished Indian classical violinist and vocalist. Priya has been teaching Carnatic music for over a decade, and humbly attributes her musical success to the blessings of her guru and parents. Recently she has organized the major Thyagaraja Utsavam, a one of its kind in Colorado, in commemoration of the Carnatic musical saint Shri Thyagaraja. When DesiShades approached her for interview, she has just finished a 2-hour fabulous concert, along with Padmashri Adyar K. Lakshman for Bharatanatyam Margam, a solo dance performance by Mrs.Puja Allepalli, but was very energetic and patient to reply to the questions with a warm smile. Here is the interview.

DesiShades: You have just finished a great concert with Sangeeta Nataka Academy winner, Padmashri Adyar K. Lakshman. How do you feel about it?
It is an awesome experience. He is very experienced person, a senior musician, dancer and it is an honor and a challenge for me to perform along with him.

DesiShades: At what age did you start learning music? Where did you take training?
At the age of 6, I think. My mom says earlier than that, but as far as I remember it was 6. Late Sri Ramakrishna Sharma from Bombay is my first Guru. Later I moved to Sri Lalgudi G Jayaraman, who is a notable violinist and a senior musician in Chennai.

DesiShades: Are you working anywhere, or a full-time musician?
I am a full-time musician and music teacher.

DesiShades: How does your family support and encourage you?
I am a mom with 2 kids. I get great encouragement from my family. When I sing or play the violin, my family really enjoys it , they come and tell me, “that it is so beautiful, I love your music, or I don't like that, can you stop playing that (laughs).” My kids ,they let me practice, and let me teach, and they also love me performing and cheer when I perform

DesiShades: Whom do you admire among the senior musicians? Who is your favorite musician?
This question is difficult to answer. If I had to pick a musician I admire, I definitely prefer my Guru as the best violinist, of course. Singers I admire are Sudha Raghunathan, MS Subbalakshmi, DK Pattammal. I enjoy listening to all the amazing veterans. There are plenty of musicians coming up, and it is very difficult to pick.

DesiShades: How did you incline towards Carnatic music? Who inspired you?
My mom is a musician, she always want to be a performer, but she couldn't be, because of circumstances. She encouraged me to learn music and give performances.

DesiShades: You are a great singer and a violinist. How did you master in two modes of music?
I learnt violin all my life, and never learnt vocal music. But I was always a singer at Balavihar classes singing Bhajans etc. Vocal music is required because Carnatik music is a vocal music. It is required to sing before playing on an instrument, so we know how the song flows. So I landed up doing both at the same time. Lalgudi Sir encouraged me to really perform, when he heard me singing and said "you should also be singing, can't just be playing the violin". It is nice to hear from a master to tell me this, so I was serious about singing afterwards.

DesiShades: How do you teach? Is there a process that you follow?
My teaching process - I would first listen to the child, to see what level the child is and how to the child receives what I teach. Sometimes it is the individual lesson, and in a group, it would be basic exercises, and move on to advanced things like githams, varnams and so on.

DesiShades: What do you suggest the right age to start music?
Ideal age to start music - I think the kid listens to the music way early like 6months old. But to learn music, the child needs to be able sit and focus to the music for at least 20-30minutes. I would say when the kid start the kindergarten is the good time to start learning music, because they listen to the teachers and follow instructions.

DesiShades: Tell me about the recent mega event Thyagaraja Utsavam. How did you start it?
I missed performing in the Thyagaraja Aradhanotsavams for the past 5 years. I was never contacted, or people never knew how to contact me, and I would know about it afterwards. I think many other people would never know about it either. For a while, I did not see any performances or organizations coming up with this idea, I thought of organizing a small event, and people came in with a lot of enthusiasm and with a lot of Thyagaraja kritis. It was a super hit show, I enjoyed so much, and I can't wait to do it again.

DesiShades: In the Thyagaraja Utsavam, there were some Denver University students playing western instruments. Do you teach them too?
I have a student who is studying at Denver University, who knows western music, and very interested to learn Indian music. He plays double bass, and came to me to learn carnatic music. We took a Thyagaraja Kriti and put some harmony into it, and it turned out to be a great fusion. It is a wonderful and professional group of friends playing beautiful music together.

DesiShades: Did you formally setup a school for music?
Yes, I started Bhairavi School of Music in June 1999. But I have been teaching music over 10year.

DesiShades: What are your future ideas? How are you planning to take music closer to the people?
I would like to organize the events like Thyagaraja Day. Another thing I am interested in is to organize competitions for kids in classical music. This would make the kids aware of competing in music, learning what is good and not, judging etc. When there is a competition, kids work extra hard, and I think that is good. I am also interested in doing the musical shows and concerts, so kids can see how music is applied in different ways.

DesiShades: Can you talk about Annamacharya Day, which you are going to organize soon?
Annamacharya Day is organized by Sri Venkateswara Temple to celebrate the 601st anniversary of the poet. That will be an awesome day, with a concert from Mrs.Jayalakshmi Santhanam. We will be having Saptagiri Kritis by a group of musicians. There will be individual recitals by kids and others with light music.

DesiShades: Thank you very much Priya, for spending time and sharing your thoughts with us.
Thanks to DesiShades, for doing such wonderful work. It is an awesome portal you have created. One- stop- shop to see what is happening in the community. I am watching DesiShades more often these days.

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