Twelfth-grader Aditya Rao can check something off his bucket list — recording an album. Rao visited Hyderabad, India this past summer and recorded nine Carnatic songs. Carnatic music is a South Indian form of classical music with over 3000 years of history.
During his month and a half trip, Rao studied every day with his singing teacher. He has been studying with his teacher for 10 years via Skype, but when he visited his teacher in India, he learned in person. According to Rao, the songs are very ingrained into Hinduism, one of the most dominant religions in India. Originally, the songs were passed down from generation to generation by oral tradition. Now, with more people attempting to revive the art, these songs have been transcribed. Rao not only learns through his teacher’s repetition of these songs but also through the book “Swara Raaga Kadumbam,” written by his teacher.
In these nine songs, there were also instruments played by professionals in the background — the violin and the mridangam, a rhythmic drum. However, the violin was not played in the usual way, on someone’s shoulder. Instead, it was played up and down on one’s lap. The mridangam was played to contribute to the beat. It took Rao five weeks to practice the songs and then an additional week to record the songs in a recording studio. Explaining why he decided to record a CD this summer, Rao said, “At this point, I was ready to put all of what I’ve learned in a package. When you record an album, it has to be in a specific way — as if you’re giving a concert — and I finally learned the little intricacies, like how to improvise.”
As inspiration, Rao looks up to his grandmother and teacher. “They’re both huge roles in what I like to choose to become, and they’re very ingrained in their culture,” he said. His older sister sings, and his grandmother used to sing as well. Many students start singing cultural songs at a very young age but later stop practicing.
For Rao, recording the CD was more of a personal project, giving it to close friends and family. In the future, he plans on continuing to sing as a hobby. Listen to the one of his songs, “Pavamana Sutudu,” below.