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Meet Tamil Nadus Vidya Subramanian, Who Is Empowering Women With Her Online Music Academy - The Logical Indian

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For many people in India, learning classical Indian art forms has been an integral part of their childhood. Apart from learning the necessary skills, it helps in instilling discipline that helps in the long run. Be it classical music or dance, the classes follow the traditional ‘guru-shishya’ method where the lessons take place face-to-face in order to teach the same.
As the years evolved, the teaching medium has undergone a massive transformation. Thanks to the internet, online classes are becoming increasingly popular due to their accessible nature which expands the overall bandwidth of knowledge. The COVID-19 pandemic only quadrupled its popularity as the virtual medium was the sole way to stay connected.
While many institutions took to online classes in the last three years, a Carnatic Music academy in Chennai called the ‘Vidya Subramanian Academy’ has been teaching the same virtually for the past 15 years, revolutionising the traditional art form and taking it to the masses.
The academy is run by a renowned singer named Vidya Subramanian in the Tamil Nadu capital. She was exposed to Carnatic Music when she was three years old. Subramanian honed her craft for close to forty years during which she blossomed into a performer. She tells The Logical Indian, “My guru was Lalgudi Jayaraman, who is a Padma Bhushan awardee and a Sangeet Natak Akademi fellow. After his demise, I have been under the guidance of an eminent vocalist named Vijayalakshmi Subramaniam in Chennai.”
VAlong with spending her time excelling in the art form, Vidya Subramanian imparted the knowledge of the same on a global level. She was living in New York when she decided to start an online learning platform, catering to the Indian diaspora who wanted their children to be in touch with their roots by learning Carnatic Music. “There was a lot of demand for an online medium for traditional platforms such as Carnatic Music. I realised that I was able to adapt the traditional teaching methods into the virtual model of learning,” she adds.
With her platform, the singer wants to present a modern perspective on the age-old ‘guru-shishya’ tradition. The method believes in the student imbibing knowledge from his or her teacher in the best way possible. Therefore, the online academy is modernising the lessons by keeping the essence of the historical custom alive in its lessons. Instead of group classes, the academy holds lessons in a one-on-one setting to increase the teaching efficacy.
Apart from the online method, the Vidya Subramanian Academy stands out for an interesting reason. Over the years, she has created a team of teachers that consists of women who have learnt either Carnatic or Hindustani music. While they had the talent, they did not get an appropriate platform for them to showcase it. In a country as populous as India, very few people make it to the top when it comes to performing arts.
Therefore, Vidya Subramanian grabbed the opportunity and used it to her advantage. She employed the artists and taught them soft skills and computer training to adapt to the virtual model. She explains, “Over the years, I was able to build a strong team of women. Some of them came from underprivileged backgrounds as well so we provided them with skill training. Also, I consciously started looking for people not just living in the Indian metro cities, but those from Tier 2 or Tier 3 cities because I felt that this was a game-changer for them as it was a work from home opportunity.”
As a result, the academy became a source of income for several women. They got an identity and a platform where they could share their knowledge with the world. Earning a sizeable salary, the women earned respect from the community they belonged. Subramanian further continues her conversation, “Now that they were able to earn a decent income from the teaching opportunity, the way the community and the family treated them with respect.”
Currently, the academy’s student body is over 1500 and is growing at an exponential rate. It saw a surge during COVID-19 where many people signed up to take the necessary lessons. Along with imparting knowledge, Vidya Subramanian used Carnatic Music for a noble cause by empowering women around the country. It was for this reason that she was recently awarded the NITI Aayog’s ‘Women Transforming India’ Award. She was one of the three women from Tamil Nadu who are breaking barriers and making a difference.
However, her journey was not devoid of hurdles. When she started the online model, many artists were not supportive of the idea. “There was a lot of scepticism from the traditional performing artists, who often said that such methods are more of a compromise. But, frankly speaking, when I studied their teaching methodology, I found there was a lack of willingness to adapt,” Vidya Subramanian adds.
Despite this, the singer has soldiered on to further her cause. An important reason for the platform’s success is the diversity of students. It does not matter if the person belongs to particular societal strata or has crossed a certain age. They should have the curiosity to learn the art form. Therefore, as time go by, Subramanian has made sure that it is inclusive in nature. “One thing I have tried to stay away from is to only showcase the super-talented students. In fact, many of them who approached my academy realised it is a varied range that is learning here. We encourage each and everyone to learn from us, irrespective of how talented they are,” she adds.
Believing strongly in quality above quantity, Vidya Subramanian aims to retain the academy’s essence in the future. Their current focus is on getting on platforms such as ‘Coursera’ or ‘Swayam’ that will help people from any part of the world to learn the art form at their own pace. Subramanian ends her conversation, “With the recognition I got recently, I am hoping to explore some opportunities with the Centre and State Governments to reach out to the public school system and schools in villages and take the traditional art forms to them in a suitable and free model so that we can expand our reach.
Also Read: Tradition Meets Modernity! This Online Platform Revives UNESCO’s Only Indian Indigenous Craft Form From Punjab
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