Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Profiles - KIS Music Festival artists

David France grew up in Connecticut and studied music at the University of Minnesota. He remembers his violin teacher with great affection and recognizes her as the person who has taught him everything he knows. After leaving university he lived in Minnesota for 3 years applying for jobs in orchestras before deciding that maybe teaching was a good option He went on the internet and started looking for teaching jobs and within a couple of hours had found an opening with the Bermuda School of Music where he started teaching in 2004. About the same time as Louise Southwood, the other half of the musical duo, who grew up in Hampshire, UK. Louise studied at the Royal School of Music in London but after 3 years of city life was ready for a change. She too did an internet search and found the Bermuda School which seemed to be the answer to her dreams. They are just beginning to establish their relationship as a duo on an international basis and enjoying travelling and performing together. When asked their impressions on their first visit to India Louise answered “India is everything and more”. David added “it is beautiful, it is crazy, so many things in one”. We certainly hope they will come back and visit us one day as all here in KIS were enthralled with their performance. We also wish David luck with his YouTube orchestra and hope to see some clips in the near future.

Oliver Rajamani was born in Madurai to Tamil parents. His father was a vet and was posted around quite a bit. As a result of this in 1978 Oliver went to live with his grandmother in the family house in Kodaikanal. Oliver was lucky to get financial aid after applying for a place in KIS so he began school in first grade as a day scholar, only 2 years after Kodai School became Kodaikanal International School and was itself grappling for self identity. Being a “local kid” was not easy for Oliver and created a big identity crisis for him. On the one hand his parents were keen he get westernized and learn to speak English, but on the other hand, being a local boy, he felt deeply the differences between himself and the other students in the school. Cultural differences were strong even amongst the Indian students who were mainly from the north and from very wealthy backgrounds. When vacation came many went abroad and all seemed to come back with stories of what exciting things they had done. Oliver returned to his family in Chennai and didn't feel his stories of the vacation were as exciting to recount. At that time he studied in the Loch End schoolhouse, which he remembers fondly as a beautiful building and intimate due to its small size. His music career began early; his first teacher was Keith DeJong. Later it was Peggy Jenks and then Alfred Pickard who inspired Oliver by teaching other forms of music and at this point he joined a jazz band as the drummer which he enjoyed enormously.

After graduating in 1990 he won a scholarship to a Quaker college called Friends World which has branches in several different countries. The Quakers have a different, hands on approach to education and Oliver was attracted to this plus the scholarship which allowed him to continue his studies. His first year of studying sociology, with a minor in music, was spent in Bangalore; one of the conditions of entry was that the first year had to be spent in the home country. Then he moved on to the US, New York, before finishing his thesis on Roma Gypsies in Jerusalem, Israel. Here he became familiar with Middle Eastern and gypsy music and his love of “world music” developed.

After returning to the US, being a first generation immigrant, he felt a certain pressure to “succeed” and music was not at that time considered to be a suitable career. He tried many different jobs but it was through his music that he really began to meet lots of different kinds of people. As he became more and more well known, for the first time in his life he felt that people were now interested in him as a person, in his cultural background and language. This helped him acknowledge his cultural identity and for the first time he felt proud to be a Tamilian.

Another facet of Oliver is his work in US prisons in 'cultural outreach programs " in conjunction with "One World Theatre" who are sponsored by the city of Austin in Texas where they live. He goes into schools and prisons to teach and play music to promote cultural awareness and spiritual well being through music. His wife, Anita June, is a psychotherapist from Germany. They work together using psychotherapy and music and do a lot of leadership skill workshops for youth. Anita also does family and marriage counseling programs. They have already released two CDs on music and hypnosis, their aim being to bring the essence of Eastern and Western spiritual practices and psychotherapy together.

Oliver was so happy to come back to Kodaikanal essentially because this was his home in the true sense of the word. Kodaikanal is where he grew up and where he lived with his family. He feels his greatest pleasure was to return to KIS and be able to sing Tamil folk songs which he would never have felt possible to do before which has enabled him to overcome many personal issues of how he felt as a student and how he feels now.

Oliver is gentle, calm and somewhat birdlike with his fine bone structure and petite frame. It is almost impossible to imagine while talking to him the power that he exudes when he is playing on stage. His performance is eclectic and his multi faceted talents with various instruments exciting. But there is such an obvious spiritual undertone to his music which leaves the audience with a sense of well being that is difficult to describe. He touched us all and we were moved by his quiet but forceful presence!

Hopefully Oliver will someday return to remind us all that despite personal difficulties the drive to accomplish one’s dream is in the hands of each one of us. Hard work, belief in oneself and an underlying desire to make the world a better place are the true ingredients of success. Thanks for coming Oliver and we look forward to seeing you back here again soon.

David Estes joined KIS in grade 6 in 1982. His parents worked in Hyderabad in the computer center of an agricultural institute. At first David found it difficult to adapt to boarding school life at such an early age but he now feels it definitely helped him develop a solid sense of independence which has served him well since. He joined the KIS music program early on playing trumpet but it was in grade 10 when he started playing the guitar that his musical creative side came to life. He joined a band with fellow student Oliver Rajamani and SoEx HoD Mathew Joseph who was living in Kodai at the time. His other passion was racquet ball.

He says he met some of the coolest people he has ever known here and wouldn’t have traded the KIS Experience for anything. He graduated in 1989, two years after his sister Gina. After leaving Kodai and going to college he was able to appreciate the unique flavor that Kodai offers here on its mountain top and he’s not the first and will not be the last to make that comment! He has kept in touch with many of his class mates (through FaceBook of course!) and has many fond memories of his time here. David now lives in Mountain View in California and works in a restaurant called Evvia in Palo Alto. He plays music when he can and joined up with his New York friends for their improvised concert here in KIS. A somewhat regular visitor to Kodai, David is always welcome here and hopefully now the Music Festival has been reignited, it might be the flame that draws more of his musical friends back next year too!