Abraham in class with his student Nazish Khan who is also learning Indian classical violin from Anandanada Yogi. Photo courtesy of Northside Music School.

For immigrants who come from around the world to this land of promise, the only way to keep alive the spirit of their ancestors is to mix their culture and traditions into the melting, ever-changing stew of cultures that makes America what it is. Asian Indians are no different in this regard. The passion for Indian food, festivals, arts and sports is much greater among immigrants here than the native people who chose to stay back in their motherland.

I am a CPA by profession and my passion is Indian classical music – I am a vocalist. Trained from the age of six, I brought with me this exquisite, highly-evolved art form of my ancestors when I arrived in the United States as a young bride. As much as I encouraged my two daughters to pursue Western music, I also inculcated in them the passion for Indian performing arts. A few years ago I started teaching mostly young children vocal Indian classical music.

Anandanada Yogi in class with his Indian classical violin students. Photo courtesy of Northside Music School.
Anandanada Yogi in class with his Indian classical violin students. Photo courtesy of Northside Music School.

With time the demand grew. At one point I had more than 30 students, with my daughter handling some of the beginners. I realized that I could not service this need of the community too much longer without running myself dry. As luck would have it I was introduced to Anandanada Yogi, an accomplished violinist from India through a mutual contact. Anand was eager to relocate to San Antonio. The search for a sponsor began.

I contacted every art organization, and every music school I knew with no success. No one wanted to touch this. I was told that this was a risk, a liability. Where others saw hazards, I saw possibilities – the potential to energize a whole community. Anand held on to hope and never wavered in his faith in me. Frustrated and dejected, I sat down in front of the computer one evening Googling music schools in San Antonio. One school name appeared that I had not contacted yet – Northside Music School. The owner’s name was Robin Abraham. Feeling like an intrusive telemarketer, I placed the call.

Abraham in class with his student Nazish Khan who is also learning Indian classical violin from Anandanada Yogi. Photo courtesy of Northside Music School.
Abraham in class with his student Nazish Khan who is also learning Indian classical violin from Anandanada Yogi. Photo courtesy of Northside Music School.

Abraham picked up the call. He was somewhat confused by my request but agreed to meet with me. We met at his home. Sitting in his little office, I was surrounded by piles of paper and an old computer and even older furniture. Abraham is an affable 90-year-old man, a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, a violin and piano teacher. After hearing my story he asked me very gently, “Now why does this man want to come here?” “For the very same reason that everyone else does” I responded. He agreed to sponsor him as long as I footed the immigration attorney’s fees and stayed on task until the school was up and running. This was November 2013.

On January 12, 2014 an open house was held at the Northside Music School. Forty-five students registered that day. Anand went about meeting his potential students with his broad, open smile. Today the school has close to 80 students. Anand travels to Austin on weekends and teaches students there as well. He has played in concerts in San Antonio as well as in Austin and Houston. The Indian wing of Northside Music School has energized the western wing of the school with some students straddling both Indian and Western music. The school celebrates its anniversary on Sunday, August 30.

Abraham and Anandanada Yogi. Photo courtesy of Northside Music School.
Abraham and Anandanada Yogi. Photo courtesy of Northside Music School.

The ever-generous Abraham has decided that his share of the revenues from the Indian wing of Northside Music School will go towards the promotion of Indian performing arts in San Antonio. To that end, he has appointed me to the board of the school. “Tarang (thrill) Expressions” has come to life out of this idea. Tarang Expressions will promote Indian music, dance, and theater to the mainstream community through collaborations and will energize the art base in San Antonio by using local artists, both professionals and amateurs, mainstream as well as Asian Indians, alongside talent from outside the city in its productions. The inaugural performance will be an evening of chanting and meditative music (“Music of the Divine”) scheduled for Saturday, August 15 at the Yoga in Motion studio at the corner of Lockhill-Selma and West Avenue starting at 7 p.m.

Abraham and I are from two different cultures, and several decades apart in age. Yet we have worked together in a spirit of trust, mutual admiration, and respect to bring to fruition a project that has made quite an impact on the art community in San Antonio. Our partnership is proof that music and the arts are without a doubt great unifiers across race, religion, and geographical boundaries.

*Featured/top image: Abraham in class with his student Nazish Khan who is also learning Indian classical violin from Anandanada Yogi. Photo courtesy of Northside Music School. 

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Sujata Venkateswar

Sujata Venkateswar is a licensed C.P.A. and an active member of the San Antonio Indian Community. She is a specialist in Indian Classical music and is a well-known vocalist and teacher. She conceived and...