Pick a song that suits your voice: Ashwati Parameshwar

Soprano Ashwati Parameshwar on singing and the forever changing dynamics and nature of the voice

The body doesn’t always listen to us. Young singers struggle to understand this, that their instrument [the body] is still developing, it will get fitter or fatter… If you’ve had a long night of partying or a stubbed toe or exam stress or hormonal changes, it will show in your singing. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I couldn’t hit high notes, my voice would crack…” Ashwati Parameshwar decoded the physiological hurdles of being a trained Western classical voice while seated at Turtle Café, Nizamuddin East, last Sunday. The soprano, dressed in a casual vest and skirt with a stringy, blingy neckpiece still cut a tamer version of her onstage persona for her August 3  performance at the India International Centre (IIC) that she peppered with coy smiles and glances, winks, arched eyebrows, and poses at the piano in a fitted blood red gown accentuated by a sparkly nose stud. Her solo act, aptly titled, A Brief History of Musical Time, was on 12 arias (songs) between 1657-1934 written by the operatic who’s who – Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Puccini, et al… Each aria embodied a maiden who was either the seducee or seductress, and Parameshwar moved beautifully between her roles of a shy damsel to a femme fatale with practised ease.

Enhancing the hour-long musical recital was Sunit Tandon, the genius on operatic history and on IIC’s programme advisory board, who gave the back story to every piece in his inimitable baritone and panache. And Nagaland’s star pianist Dinaibo Rentta proved a good accompanist as he let the lady become the cynosure of all eyes.  

“I’ve been some version of these girls at some point in my life. Doodling the initials of my crush or planning something I know my parents won’t find acceptable...” said Parameshwar, originally Mumbai-born and bred, who has lived in Bengaluru, New York and finally Delhi. She was enrolled for Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam lessons at age 13 by her traditional South Indian parents. At 17 she discovered Western Classical music. Despite her parents’ initial disapproval towards becoming a professional singer, she followed her heart after completing a BA in English and Music from St Lawrence University and MA in Fine Arts from Massachusetts, Amherst, and trying out supposedly ‘stable’ professions in India of a kindergarten teacher to a features writer.But the moment she arrived in Delhi in 2011 after securing a new writing job, Parameshwar remembers rushing to visit the famous lyric/dramatic soprano Situ Singh Buehler, even before fixing her accomodation.

“By the end of that first class I was crying. It had been after a long time I was able to use that voice and techniques which you can’t use elsewhere because the fully projected voice is overpoweringly loud in normal situations. It was a joy to remind myself what my voice was capable of,” says the 37-year-old. “Singing is a muscle. Don’t use it you lose it. You have to build muscle memory,” said the vocalist, adding that your voice is forever evolving and that  she’s still finding her best voice.

“My voice was different seven years ago before I met Situ, then changed after her training, and again after while I carried my two babies, and then when I lost weight after the deliveries…. The trick is to pick songs most ideal for your voice at present. For instance, I’m not going to risk singing Rossini’s Una Voce Poco Fa, practically a show-off piece with its many short fast runs if haven’t been practising it recently… However, with Situ’s training the Bel canto technique, my voice has become rounder, fuller, and achieved that ability to project sound across the room.”

She notes one cardinal mistake beginners generally make: to emulate their favourite role model.  She’s had a 63-year-old student trying to sound like Pavarotti, rather than using his own natural voice, which caused him actual pain.

“Also a lot of pop music has been altered, so when kids try and force their voices to copy that digitally changed sound, it’s very stressful on vocal apparatus. Instead listen to singers who’s voice matches yours. It will help you understand what your voice is capable off.”

While her husband, a sports consultant, has volunteered to foot the bills so she can pursue her music, Parameshwar takes voice lessons to sustain her art.

“There is no ecosystem to support a full-blown opera in India. Unless I get up and move base. But I have family and kids. So I try to showcase what I’ve learnt on my own through these concerts.”

A point to remember

Parameshwar notes one cardinal mistake beginners generally make: to emulate their favourite role model. 

She’s had a 63-year-old student trying to sound like Pavarotti, rather than using his own natural voice, which caused him actual pain

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