Carnatic teen maestro hits the high notes in Australia

By Indira Laisram
Rahul R. Vellal // Pic supplied

Rahul R. Vellal can easily be called a child prodigy in Carnatic music. At just 16 years old, he has already amassed numerous awards and is currently on a four-concert tour of Australia beginning 22 March.

First up, when asked about his journey into music, Rahul admits it’s quite a long story. He was two years old when he developed an ear for music, he says, ‘I used to listen to music—be it film, classical, or devotional—being played in the house, and the second time the same song was played, I used to recognise it within a fraction of a second and let my parents know that I was actually listening to the song.’

Rahul started learning Carnatic music when he was four years old. By the time he turned six, he gave his first short public performance in Bangalore, his hometown, at the house of his first teacher, Vidwan Suchethan Rangaswamy.

“I remember I sang a raag which was supposed to be about rains, and it rained that day.”

Carnatic music, explains Rahul, “Is a wonderful culmination of bhava (feel), raga (scale), tala (rhythmic cycle), and also technicality, which is the manorama or the creative part.” He believes that within the scale, there is the freedom to do raga alap (melodic improvisation or freestyle singing of the ragas without any rhythmic cycle) or, say, svaras within the framework of the raga.

Rahul R. Vellal // Pic supplied

“Within that, there are infinite possibilities,” says Rahul, who is currently pursuing his Grade 8 in Western Piano from the Trinity School of Music (London) under the guidance of Sri Abhishek N.

For his Australian tour, Rahul has aimed to maintain variety, including compositions from various composers, diverse rhythmic cycles, and a range of ragas. He’s curated a mix of fast-paced songs, slow melodies, and ragas evoking different emotions.

What excites him most about coming to Australia is “meeting new people, extending my family, and singing for my extended family in Australia”.

He doesn’t keep track of the praise, but one comment on YouTube resonated deeply with him. Someone shared that their bedridden father found solace and comfort in Rahul’s music, ultimately feeling uplifted.

Rahul R. Vellal // Pic supplied

Rahul has also been mentored by Kuldeep M Pai for the “Vande Guru Paramparaam” Series. “The aesthetics of studio recording and the details which go into learning a song, modifying it, and singing it perfectly—all that I have learned. Kuldeep sir has taught me about modulations; he is a perfectionist and extracts the best out of me.”

Currently, he is learning Carnatic vocal music under renowned musicians Vidushi’s Ranjani & Gayatri. “My idols are definitely my gurus and also doyens like M. S. Subbulakshmi,” he shares.

A student at R V PU College, Bangalore, Rahul maintains a delicate equilibrium between his musical pursuits and academic endeavours, attributing it to his “disciplined routine. I make it a point to study every day so that I don’t carry any backlogs and also practice my riyaz every day. I balance so that I don’t feel pressure at the end.”

He has performed everywhere but recalls his 2019 Raaga & Rhythm concert in Hong Kong, where he had the opportunity to perform with a 35-piece symphony orchestra as one of his most memorable. “I had a great time rehearsing with them and also performing.”

Rahul R. Vellal concert flyers

A look at Rahul’s resume would seem like a complete enough achievement. He received many accolades, including the “Change Maker 2022” award from Deccan Herald and “BYJU’s YOUNG GENIUS 2022” recognition from CNN NEW18 Network. He holds the India Book of Records title as the “Youngest Carnatic Musician to have performed in 7 countries.” And there’s more, but he says what he has learned or achieved so far is just a tiny drop.

So, is he a child prodigy? ‘No, but that’s what people call me,’ he says with a smile.”

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