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MS - an inspiration and role model for Arthi Kumar
Arthi Kumar is a disciple of Shri Madurai R. Sundar (Detroit, Michigan, USA) and Shri Kolkotta K. Vijayraghavan (Chennai, India). These two are disciples of Sangeetha Kalanidhi Madurai Shri. T.N. Seshagopalan. Arthi gave her maiden concert in October 2008. Since then, she has sung in several sabhas and temples in India, USA and Canada. And, she has won many a competition, held within and outside the country. Why is she into Carnatic music? In a candid interview to www.carnaticdarbar.com, she elaborates her goals and aspirations.

Since when are you learning Carnatic music?
Answer: Since the dawn of the new millennium (year 2000).

Who has been your inspiration for Carnatic music?
Answer: Unquestionably, my mother (Prabha Kumar) and my father (Suresh Kumar).

What is your academic background?
Answer: I just completed eleventh grade in High School in Westlake (a suburb of Cleveland) Ohio, USA. I will be starting my twelfth grade (final year) of High School in September this year.

Who are your gurus?
Answer: I am enchanted by the uniqueness, ingenuity, robustness and versatility of the `Shri T.N. Seshagopalan'-style of music. My gurus are: Shri Madurai R. Sundar (Detroit, Michigan USA ) and Shri K. Vijayaraghavan (Chennai, India), [Both of whom are disciples of Shri T.N. Seshagopalan]. My namaskarams to my gurus for the countless hours of effort they are spending in imparting this art to me and always keeping my best interests foremost in their hearts.

What has inspired you to get involved with Carnatic music?
Answer: It is one of the most challenging and difficult art forms. It is an ocean of knowledge and permits boundless innovation. It is an addiction. Many lifetimes are insufficient to know it all. It keeps my mind and soul occupied.

At what stage are you in i.e. in terms of your music learning?
Answer: I view myself as a life-long student of music. Learning is a continuum, making it difficult for me to define "stages". I am giving concerts now (in Chennai, USA and Canada). I know there is always more to learn from my gurus and "miles to go before I sleep".

What is the purpose of your learning music?
Answer: To fulfill my destiny, to achieve mental peace, satisfaction and the sheer joy of the ability to be creative and also to invoke serenity and joy in my fellow humans through music.

What is your short-, medium- and long-term objective of learning Carnatic music?
Answer: I will define my long-term objectives first: To "master" the art. I know this is a life-long journey. To be happy in life using music as worship and to teach music to others who want to relish its sweetness (later on in life). I want to become immortal like M.S. Subbulakshmi.

My medium-term objectives: Strive for perfection. Gain experience by giving concerts. Understand the nuances of Carnatic music.

My short-term objectives: Learn from my gurus. Always revisit the basics. Practice arduously.

Do you plan to be a professional artiste?
Answer: YES!

Will it be sustaining money-wise?
Answer: I am a perfectionist by nature. I like to pursue perfection in anything I do. My father always tells me that life is like a game (e.g. cricket); if the player focuses on the scoreboard, the game will be lost. It is by focusing on the art and perfection of the play that the score may increase. This philosophy is from the Bhagvad Gita. Doing one's duty is important, because it is the only thing under our control. The "reward" (aka "prasadam") is not under our control. Thus, at this stage of my life, I do not know whether music will be financially sustaining for me. I am planning to make music my career. I plan to keep singing until my last breath. But I know that in the long-run, money cannot buy tranquility and joy. However, since I also plan to do a "job" in the future, I am studying hard at school and plan to attend college.

Who is your role model (as distinguished from gurus) for Carnatic music?
Answer: Late M.S. Subbulakshmi. I was given a choice between money and a beautiful black and white photograph of M.S. Subbulakshmi as the award for a performance I gave. I chose her portrait. It sits on my bedside stand. It portrays her lighting a lamp and the light from the lamp amplifies the radiance from her serene face. I draw inspiration from her every day. She sang from her soul and since she and her mesmerizing voice continue to thrive in our minds - to me, she is immortal.

What music - especially Carnatic one - means to you?
Answer: Music is the language of the soul. It gives me immense peace. It is like meditation. I view it as a gift to me from God and it is my duty to nurture it. I have discovered (one of) my purpose(s) in life.

Your approach to music - is it awards-driven or fame-driven or purely joy-driven?
Answer: Fame, money, awards etc. cannot bring peace and happiness. The human mind craves happiness and innovation. For me, Carnatic music ` fits the bill'.

How much is your music a product of force (from parents and others)? Or. How much self-motivated is your music?
Answer: Initially, as a child, it was a product of force (a mother knows what is best for her child) and now it is sustained by my self-motivation with marvelous support, encouragement and, most importantly, blessings from parents and grandparents, gurus, my older sister (Pooja Kumar, who is a professional Bharatanatyam dancer ), family and rasikas.

Shri Ghatam Suresh is a Godsend for me. I had applied to his `Isai Velvi' concert competition and after listening to a sample music piece on tape, he gave me a chance to compete. I won a prize, following which he gave me a chance to perform a concert. I did not know him until I met him after the competition. He has encouraged me and is providing me many platforms to perform. His sense of fairness and altruism are qualities that everyone should emulate. I am indebted to him for being a powerful and magnanimous catalyst for my career.

I am extremely lucky to have been born in Cleveland, USA, because Shri V.V. Sundaram (Chennai, India) and Shri. Venkataraman (Toronto, Canada) bring "Chennai", the crucible of Carnatic music, to Cleveland every year in April in the form of the phenomenal Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana. Several renowned artistes from Chennai are airlifted to Cleveland and hundreds of rasikas from all over USA and Canada flock to my city of birth to immerse themselves in two weeks of pure classical music and dance. This year we had about 200 artistes!

Performances, competitions, lec-dems, workshops, being in the presence of the giants in the field, having them listen to you perform (not even in India can one have the opportunity to perform in front of several maestros and eagerly grab their comments and pearls of knowledge in their feedback. Words cannot express the feeling. The motivation is incredible.

What kind of a musician would you like to be known as?
Answer: A SOULFUL singer.

I believe that music has the power to heal, when it emanates from the soul. This is the only way, as a vocalist, I can reach out and touch others' hearts and souls - to give and share peace and happiness to/with all. I seek the blessings of one and all because in the ultimate analysis those blessings are the reward.
Comments
Ghatam V Suresh - ghatamsuresh@gmail.com
Kumari Arthi Kumar is a rare phenomenon of sincerity and true ideals in today's context of undue projections backed by affluence and power. Her interview reflects this. She is justly talented, deserving support which I also give as a duty to posterity. Negating the common beliefs about western culture, she and her sister Pooja Kumar are truthfully humble and dedicated. Some of our India-based upcoming artistes must imbibe these qualities to survive in the long-run. The gurus and parents also have big roles in this. My best wishes to Arthi and Pooja.

Meenakshi sundaram - meenapsundaram@yahoo.com
Very mature and inspiring interview. Aarti really loves to sing and it shows. She is very blessed to have parents who support her and wonderful gurus who have selflessly taught her rigorously. Congratulations and may the Almighty bestow many many musical years for you.

Charu Shankar - charulatha_shankar@hotmail.com
Dear Arthi, It was wonderful to read your interview! I am sure you will accomplish all that you have stated and a lot more too! Have a wonderful time in India! Charu
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