When cherubic young children show an ability to render complex songs in languages they barely know, not many can remain unimpressed. How do these children learn a song which some take years to master, in just a few minutes?
IQ, social conditions, genetics and other factors do support such genius, but we are still a long way from understanding how these children see what others cannot. In this article, CSP profiles three young children who have wowed the world with their phenomenal musical memories.
Eleven year old Zbigniew Bigniew is the son of a Polish mother and an Indian father and has in the last few years been the face of commercial brands like Tesco, BT, NISSAN, CAMELOT etc in the UK. At the age of two his father Sharat would show him car monograms and tell him the make of the cars. When he could recognise all the cars by seeing the monograms in two weeks, Sharat started teaching him names of the capitals of countries, currencies, inventions and discoveries.
“By the age of three and a half he was able to tell the name of 200 countries and also all major inventions and discoveries. That is when I taught him Jana Gana Mana and he learnt it in 30 minutes,” says Sharat. He was singing many Telugu songs by the age of five.
The first song Zbigniew learnt from his father was Paadhutha Theeyaga Chalkaga, an old classic. He could pick up a song on hearing it two to three times. Today, he can sing 175 sings in all South Indian languages, in Hindi and in Punjabi.
It took just one request for Zbigniew to sing Vande Mataram, in a voice so sweet and with the correct pronunciation, despite being down with a cold for two days, when this author spoke to him. He can sing in eight languages and also makes his own videos and writes his songs. He has acted in three Hollywood short films that are being shown in film festivals across Europe and the US - Things that bleed, Audrey and A new day. He is currently scheduled to act in a Roland Joffe film.
Zbigniew does not speak or understand Telugu, but his father has started teaching him the script, so that he gets the emotion or bhava right. “He does not understand immediately, but makes sure that he knows the meaning of every word. He always asks for the meanings of words. He wants to sing with correct expression and emotions,” says Sharat.
Zbigniew has made waves on Social Media with film stars including Shah Rukh Khan, Kamala Hasan, and Telugu film actor Akhil Akkineni praising his music.
Another child with a great promise is Rahul Vellal, who has lent his voice to Simba, in the Telugu remake of the Disney film Lion King released in July 2019. Aged 12, Rahul has performed in Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Lagos in Nigeria, Durban, as well as a part of the 35 instrument Symphony Orchestra at Honk Kong.
His music videos by renowned music director Kuldee M Pai have crossed over 30 million views on Youtube. His parents found that he was inclined towards music from around two and half years. Within the first few notes of the song being sung, he could identify the song even while he continued playing with his toys, says his father.
“At that age he could identify nearly 60-70 songs from all genres. We realised that he was listening to songs subconsciously. That is when we decided to put him in Shloka classes at the age of three to channelize his energy in this area and get into the discipline of focussed learning,” says his father.
Rahul started formal trainging in Carnatic music at around four and half years. He would pick up a mike and sing without inhibition from a very early age. “But it came as surprise to us when his guru gave him an opportunity to perform classical music at the age of six years for half an hour. After the performance, he came to us and told us that he loved performing with the mridangam and violin. That was his first mini Carnatic classical music performance at the age of six.”
His repertoire today includes 80-85 kritis from various composers, varnams, devotional songs. Apart from Carnatic music, Rahul is learning to play the piano, where he has completed his Grade 2 form the Trinity School of Music, London.
Still but a child, Rahul loves dogs and reads and researches the various breeds and spends a lot of time with the dogs in his neighbourhood. While travelling, he is more interested in seeing dogs rather than anything else and that makes the trips memorable for him, says his father, who wants him to have as normal a childhood as possible.
Rahul learns Carnatic vocal from his guru Kalavathy Avadhoot. She teaches him the song in class, which he repeats and then goes back home and practices several times. Once he learns a krithi, he makes it a point to listen to a lot of renditions by yesteryear legends of the same krithi. His rendition of Jagadodharana is simply splendid, full of bhava - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trS7T3sSWyM
As we move to Paris, another Indian showed very early promise. Aniruddha Pradyumna who demonstrated the first signs of understanding Carnatic music at the age of 14 to 15 months. His mother Bhavana, a Carnatic musician says that by the age of 20 months he could recognise 40 ragas. “By the age of four years he could identify the names of the 72 melakarta ragas. Right now he can identify nearly 100 ragams and is learning Carnatic vocal music, Konnakkol, and the Mridangam.
Aniruddha is a polygot. He can read and write English, French and Russian along with speaking Kannada, Tamil, a little Telugu and French. Recently, of his own interest he has started learning Spanish and Italian.
He loves numbers and knows the squares of numbers upto 100 and the multiplication of all two digit numbers. He knew the tables upto 20 by the time he was four. He loves solving puzzles related to reasoning and logic. His best timing in solving a Rubix cube is 65 seconds.
Aniruddha has been performing with the Carnatic Conservatory of Paris as well as the Vasanthapura Thyagaraja Aradhana in Bangalore. “Aniruddha recently performed as part of his class choir, at his school in Paris. His classmates did sing well with him, but one can’t make out their level of interest,” says Bhavana.
Talent or genius, it is difficult to say, but for sure these children are endowed with a musical gift which makes one pause and listen.