Prince Frederick talks to professionals from different fields who are united by their ability to make music

Hilarity shifted into top gear with ‘I’m A Malayalee’, a music video based on Queen’s ‘I Want To Break Free’ that reinforced popular perceptions about the Malayalee with images of ping lungee (pink lungi), kappa meen curry and ‘gelf’ (the Gulf). Many summers have passed since the whacky song was released to thigh-slapping wows, yet nothing has come along to topple it as the Mallu anthem, at least for the Mallus who believe in the winning power of self-deprecating humour.

Back then, and now too, the song caught attention for one element incidental to it: that a dentist was behind it all. Dr. Yohan Chacko was the man who had taken the music-loving world by storm. In fact, the team behind ‘I’m A Malayalee’ — it’s actually ‘I yam a Malayalee’, if you cock your ear to the lyrics — included one more doctor, Jaison.

The idea that a doctor could be the progenitor of a chart-busting song does not quite line up with what we know about the profession.

This medical field is overrun with professionals who have neglected social lives and, rather ironically, their own health, because the time separating consultations, procedures and emergencies is simply not enough to have these things in their fullness.

And then, we had the GATT Quintet stimulating our imagination with its line-up of unlikely musicians — three medical doctors, Kalyan Subramanyam, Samuel Grubb and Ravi Santosham, and an aeronautical engineer, Allan Sathyadev.

Tony Davids is the lone full-time musician in this quintet, familiar to lovers of American-African gospel music in Chennai.

The prefixes to three names, and the professional qualification behind another, within the GATT Quintet may suggest they are amateurs. But look where they have performed on invitation — the Vatican service at Rome; the Sydney Opera House for the Sydney Olympics; the Grand Opera House in Wilmington for the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival; at Chicago for the Gospel Choir Festival, and at Coventry (England), Belfast (Ireland) and Berne, Zurich (Switzerland).

The surprise of professionals outside the music field taking centre stage is always fresh: because, all the time, some group bursts onto the scene with a motley collection of high-flying professionals in its line-up.

At this point, this surprise has a new name to it: Aarohi, which is rehearsing for ‘Pancham Meets Isaignani’, a concert in tribute to R.D. Burman and Ilaiyaraaja, at Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium on July 4, planned on a big scale.

Look at some of its singers, and you’ll know what we are talking about: Sudeep, an engineer and managing director for the India operations of a clean water technology company, Harishankar Mani, a lawyer and an IPR specialist, Surendra Menon and Renu Akileswaran, both chartered accountants, Balasubramaniam, a chartered accountant who is also a respected music critic, Prashanti Suresh, an entrepreneur in the field of fabric sourcing and Vidhya Srinivasan, a lawyer by education and a marketing communication professional.

These men and women are united by an ability to appreciate Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam music from a particular era and a sense of social responsibility, which they promote through their music. The Aarohi Charitable Trust, attached to the band, has raised funds for social initiatives, including the one providing treatment to children with cancer. According to a release, the July 4 concert is aimed at “subsidising medical expenses of patients on dialysis”.

These three examples of outside professionals romancing the octaves and the ragas nail three theories for me.

First comes the 10,000-hour principle of professional mastery, expounded by author Malcolm Gladwell in his Ouliers: The Story of Success. According to this theory, accumulating around 10,000 hours in the pursuit of a skill will signal its mastery. Having been marched off to music classes as children or having picked up the skills at college, many of these professionals must have crossed that coveted mark or covered much of the distance towards it.

Born into a family that valued musical notations next only to scriptural verses, Ravi Santosham had the advantage of growing up in an environment that fostered music.

“At age four or five, I could play the harmonica,” says Dr. Santosham, who brings a baritone voice to the GATT Quintet. When he entered medical education, he found himself in the company of budding doctors who made music. It was a time when the Madras Medical College, where Dr. Santosham studied, produced many music bands, including the Singing Surgeons and The Medics. Next comes the theory that a good number of high-flying professionals who are into performance music at some level, once aspired to be musicians but had to bow to the demand of having to put a career-oriented education ahead of their musical ambitions.

Vidhya Srinivasan of Aarohi, which consists mostly of professionals in their 40s, explains it: “In the 70s and 80s, music was part of culture but seldom seen as a career. There was no money to be made in music. In effect, anyone with a talent for music went on to take up other professions. It is different now, when parents are open to the idea of music as a career. Many avenues exist for someone aspiring to a career in music.”

Third, professionals with highly demanding and stressful jobs turn to music as a hobby. Talk of self-promotion, I have a collection of music instruments, a mini harp, a bulbul tara, cymbals and tambourines among them.

They look good on the glass shelf in my living room. I don’t know if they sound good too.

- Check out I Am A Malayalee on YouTube — a whacky tribute to the enterprising people of Kerala.

- Except for Christmas, when all the five meet in Chennai, the GATT Quintet does not seem to be very active anymore. You can check their old performances online, including on Facebook, though.

- To catch up with Aarohi, call 90949 69465 or mail at aarohi.crescendo@ gmail.com

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