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Interviews |  27 Dec 2017 17:54 |  By Kavita Yadav

Indian Classical music helps broaden your vision: Ishita Sinha

MUMBAI: LA-Delhi based versatile composer-singer, Ishita Sinha is a known name internationally today. The artiste has worked with names such as Emmy Award winner Nathan Wang and been a solo vocalist for Treehouse Music, LA. She has also, composed ad jingles and brand themes for well-known companies like Regent Theatre, Carrier United Technologies and many more. But, this journey began with Indian Classical music at the age of six. It was her passion for music that took her to Berklee School of Music. Since then there has been no looking back for this performer.

In an interview with Radioandmusic, she talks about music, collaborations and Classical music. Excerpts.

Do you think life would have been different without music?

Life would have definitely been different and, yes, it is difficult to imagine my life without music. My relationship with music is one of the longest relationships I have had in my life. If I had to give up music tomorrow, it would be like parting with a family member.

You've had some motivating teachers on your musical journey. Be it Annette at Berklee or Mrs. Shanti Sharma your classical teacher. Do you feel fortunate to have these people in your life?

Oh, absolutely! I learned so much from them. Not only did I learn about music composition, but also about life in general. Your art often reflects what you are and what you believe in, and good teachers, I feel, play an important role in shaping how you see and understand the world around you. I am grateful to have found amazing teachers/gurus, not just in Annette Philip and Shanti Sharma, but all throughout my student life. Even now, learning is such an important part of the daily workflow. And I feel that’s true for all art forms.

You've had some outstanding opportunities internationally. How did you get through? Was it Berklee?

It was a mix of things. Berklee, of course, played an important role, but it also prepared me to seek out opportunities on my own. I have come to understand that there is no perfect formula that will find you the right opportunities. I experienced difficult times too, but it’s just a matter of putting yourself out there in this big crazy world. One thing leads to another, you start meeting the right kind of people, and opportunities find their way to you. For example, Namiya came to me a little out of the blue. I had met a friend of Nathan Wang’s in May and had shared some of my music with him. After that I didn’t hear anything for about six months. Then, I got a call from Mr. Wang in late October and the next day I was on board, writing music for Namiya.

You seem to have accomplished a lot in a short span of time. Which way are these success milestones taking you?

I have worked toward getting those opportunities and accomplishments. It’s been an incredible rollercoaster of a journey so far, and I am grateful for how rewarding it has been. For me, relationships have played an important role in finding interesting projects. If you are genuine and true to your art, people who you work with notice that and want to work with you again and again. That’s something that I look for when I am trying to find people to collaborate with. Working as a composer internationally is now my reality, and I am determined to work hard and keep it that way for a while. I’m also aiming to start my own company/studio in a couple of years.

Have you had the opportunity to explore your Indian Classical learnings at its optimum?

Yes, my Indian Classical roots come in handy almost every day. I suppose they are more noticeable when you hear me sing. My understanding of raags/scales, permutation and combination of notes, and how to use intricate embellishments, are things that I was introduced to through my Indian Classical training. When I am composing, even in completely different styles or genres, these basic techniques are always things I go back to.

What are your future plans? Is Bollywood the new path?

I have worked in India and I am in talks with some folks there for upcoming projects. I’m glad that I have the opportunity to work internationally. As and when I come across more projects from the Indian Film Industry that needs my music, I’ll definitely work on them.

You like collaborations. So, any collaboration plans?

Yes, collaborations, I think, are the key to music in general. Whether you write orchestral music - where you collaborate with an orchestra - or you write contemporary music - where you collaborate with musicians playing a variety of instruments - collaboration is the natural path of music. I have been fortunate to have collaborated with amazing musicians like Tree Adams, Lili Haydn and Nathan Wang and plan on doing so in the future. As a composer, there are so many ways in which you can collaborate with other musicians. Working with someone on the technical side of things, or composing and arranging different styles music around someone’s melodic idea, are all a part of collaborations that we as composers do on a regular basis.

Which Indian/international artiste are you looking forward to working with?

Wow, this list can be pretty long! But to keep it short, for now, I would say Johann Johannsson, Mica Levi, Sulk Station and Advaita. What I love about all these artistes is that they have such distinct sounds and it’s intriguing to see how fearless they are with their music.

What kind of music do you prefer listening?

I actually like to listen to all kinds of music. I listen to Indian Classical (there are a few videos of Mrs. Shanti Sharma’s on YouTube that I often go back to) and Western Classical (Death and the Maiden by Schubert is one of my all-time favourites). Genres and musical traditions from around the world really fascinate me and I try to find out about new things that are happening in music. I even listen to Heavy Metal and its sub-genres. There is so much happening in those compositions in terms of rhythm. Metal music has some of the most intricate polyrhythmic patterns. As a composer, I want to keep educating myself with music from around the world because then I am able to make well-informed musical choices.

I do tend to gravitate a little more toward listening to scores from film/TV in my leisure time. At the moment, composers I listen to pretty regularly are Alexandre Desplat, Johann Johannsson and Jeremy Zuckerman.

What is your studio like?

It’s a fairly straightforward setup that allows me to work on lots of different projects. Some of the hardware I use are Yamaha HS8 speakers, Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 audio interface, and AKG C214 condenser microphone. At the moment, I’m mainly using Logic Pro and ProTools, but I’m thinking of switching to Cubase sometime soon. I did some sound treatment in the room myself to prevent sound reflection when recording. Currently, I’m working on upgrading that to make it work even better. I am constantly looking for new sounds, hardware and software to make sure my rig is up to date with industry standards.

You've made scores for movies and ads. Would you be exploring more of the composer in you or the singer in future?

Both are equally important to me and both aspects are so complementary to each other. I see my vocal work also as a part of being a composer. When I’m singing for a TV or film score, I’m often invited to improvise, which is composing on the spot. As a composer, I want to stay relevant and also let my music evolve naturally, and exercising my skills as a vocalist helps me do that. There are so many skills one needs to have to be an efficient composer. Being able to work with technology, arranging/orchestrating - which is essentially composing around an existing melody - all these skills go hand in hand and are essential for a composer to have in today’s work. So, to sum it up, it’s never been either or, I see my work as a vocalist an integral part of being an effective composer.

Indian Classical is more appreciated abroad than in its homeland India. What is your take on this?

I think there are still quite a few Indian Classical music audiences in India. Like any art form, even Indian Classical music is evolving. Nowadays there are so many young Indian Classical artistes and bands, like Yodhakaa, Advaita, to name a few, who are doing interesting things like juxtaposing it with funky contemporary arrangements. Indian Classical is being presented in different ways now and on many different platforms these days.

I do recommend that if someone is actually serious about pursuing music as a career, they should learn Indian Classical music. It really helps broaden your vision.