Music and academics not easy to pursue together

When he was 13, Ambi decided he wanted to quit studies and be a full-time musician. His violinist-dad L Subramaniam said, ‘Okay, quit after you do a PhD’.

Ambi Subramaniam

Music has always been integral to my life. As a child, I loved playing with the violin. It made me feel like my father L Subramaniam, who was, of course, my hero. When anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would always say, “A violinist”.  It felt like the right thing to say, and people around me would be happy to hear it.

Wanting to be a violinist and practising the violin are different things, and when I was a child, I didn’t always love being told to practise. I loved playing outside, and cricket was my favourite sport.

My father was cautious and did not want me to play sport lest I hurt my hand, just as his father had been cautious with him.  

I decided I wanted to be a musician when I was about 13–that’s when something inside me changed, and I began playing less because I was told to play and more because I wanted to play. To be the greatest.

My greatest challenge was to play better than I had played the previous day, and my only competition was myself.

Since I was sure I wanted to be a musician---a violinist, composer, educator---I tried to convince my dad to let me pursue music full time (and quit academics). He replied, “You can stop studying as soon as you finish your PhD.” As a 13-year-old, I was frustrated and annoyed, but the current me should be done with a PhD in a few months.

Being young and performing and travelling is fun, the adventure, recognition, all of that is great, but what people don’t always see is the hard work that goes into it every single day.

Being from a musical family often means you have to work harder to prove yourself worthy. Travelling and performing while you are in school means you still have to catch up on assignments and homework, and you still have to write exams. You have to deliver both on stage and in school. It means giving up on fun, time with friends, relaxing, partying. It means working hard every day, come rain or shine.

I think discipline and willingness to work hard is crucial in every field. I love being a performing musician and composer — both as a solo classical violinist, and as a musician with my bands the ‘Thayir Sadam Project’ (with sister Bindu and iPad king Mahesh Raghvan) and ‘SubraMania’ (with Bindu). I also love being an educator.

There is something powerful about being able to share your art with the next generation and inspire kids. Through SaPa, we work with about 25,000 children, and they all know that whether they are first generation musicians or fourth, it’s discipline and dedication and hard work that will take them places.

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Music and academics not easy to pursue together


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