Supriya Nagarajan, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

My mother was the main influence in my life. She was a musician herself and she inspired me to pursue my passion for music. My music teachers were also a great influence on shaping my music. I was encouraged to bring my passions to life and for both my mother and my music teachers, I am grateful for such opportunities.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Having worked with many musicians and composers I would say they have all had a significant influence upon me in how I interpret my music and compose. When it comes to composing, there is also Messiaen’s work which I admire. He interprets the world around him and my work takes on similar forms. It’s experimental and abstract and that’s what I find most influential.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

My greatest challenge and frustration is the lack of role models whom I can look up to. It does mean I am free to chart a new pathway for myself but sometimes it would be good to follow rather than lead.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

It’s amazing how you get to tell a story from the very beginning and integrate the team into the style. As I bring so many variations to a composition in terms of musical influences, it’s a pleasure to explore a theme through different angles. I like to bring experimental sounds to a composition which means the team takes the piece on a new journey. It’s then about bringing it to life, step-by-step, and it is wonderful when it all falls into place. It’s almost like a child being born – you can’t wait for it to fully grow and when it does, it’s an absolute joy.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

Every time I work with a musician, I learn something new. A lot of the music I do is improvised so I love the interaction with musicians and we get each other’s point of view. You need someone on the same wavelength as you and that’s important in choosing the right person for the right piece. You have to have the right fit and that’s a big challenge, but an exciting one. For example, when I did a composition with Iceland Symphony Orchestra, it was the first time they had done anything with Indian music and it was a learning curve for all of us but our ‘Lullaby’ project came to life beautifully and the project was so well-received.

Of which works are you most proud?

The Lullaby piece with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra is something I’m really proud of. As well as my Lullaby compositions as a whole. This is a project that’s improvised and so every time there are new influences and a new burst of energy, and I really enjoy that.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Abstract, experimental, Indian-Classical and sounds of the world around us. It’s about interpreting everything we do in our day-to-day lives, from the hum of cooking in the kitchen to the rustle of leaves in the trees. Everything is musical to me, I draw from every little thing to make my compositions.

How do you work?

As a performer I prepare by clearing my head and having quiet, and reflective, meditation on a performance day. For composition, it’s a longer approach – from putting ideas down to preparing the right musicians and team. Compositions happen in small bits, over time and you react to things in rehearsals. So, for me it’s about having an open-minded approach and a flexible mindset.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

There’s a whole list. I have influences from India, Carnatic vocalists and experimental music in the UK. I listen to all kinds of music such as Japanese and Portuguese too. I love jazz as well – John Coltrane is my absolute favourite musician and was an inspiration for my Bollywood Jazz project.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is composing and working in music where I’m at ease with myself, comfortable and have amazing people around me. When I can also see that the music around me is influencing things, I consider that to be a success.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Follow your musical path. There are paths forged by people before and after you, but you have your own musical journey to explore. That’s how the greats of music achieved their success so stick to your style and path of music and, if you work hard at it, you will enjoy it so much.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

In an ashram at the top of the Himalayas sipping a hot cup of tea, putting my feet up and listening to the sound of the music around me.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Having two minutes with no thoughts in my head. If you don’t have any wants and you have everything you need, that’s perfection for me.

What is your most treasured possession?

My tanpura – I couldn’t part with it.

What do you enjoy doing most?

I love music and food. I love cooking and I love playing, listening and singing alongside cooking so that’s an enjoyable time in my life when I get to do both together.

What is your present state of mind?

Excited, calm and happy.

The world premiere of Composer Supriya Nagarajan’s Pleiades Ne Maia takes place on 24 November 2018 at the Canopy of Voices concerts, part of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Further information

Supriya Nagarajan is the director of Manasamitra and works internationally as a vocalist. Although her training is in South Indian classical music, Supriya has worked with a number of artists from other genres creating new musical vocabulary and constantly widening the boundaries through collaboration. She also works in the education and community sectors, developing a range of projects, using music within a social context.

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