US-trained Goan-origin pianist Evelyn Dias was recently in the city for a recital and spoke to the Navhind Times about her roots, musical upbringing, and her work as performer and teacher.
1. Tell us a little about your Goan roots
My mum’s side of the family came from Anjuna and my dad’s side from Panjim. My aunt and uncle, who are both siblings of my parents, still live in Goa. My sisters and I visited Goa many times as children. I remember seeing the large living room of the family house for the first time. I was so impressed! I have many fond memories of picking green mangoes and cashew fruit up the hill in Anjuna. Even now when I return to Goa, I feel a sense of belonging that I have never felt anywhere in the world.
2. How did you get started on piano? How old were you?
The first piano in our house was a wedding gift to my parents. I wanted to play it for as long as I can remember. My sisters (who are a little older than I am) had lessons and I couldn’t wait for my turn. Although I wanted to start earlier, I finally began music lessons at the age of 6. My dad was a big influence. He often played his classical music LPs at home. He was also a violinist and a member of both the Cantata choir as well as the Paranjoti chorus. Going to his concerts at the N.C.P.A. and other venues across the city was something l looked forward to. Without doubt these experiences inspired my love of music.
3. Tell us a little more about your career path. How and when did you decide to go to the US?
I studied Economics and Statistics in Mumbai but realized quickly that those subjects didn’t make me happy. Since my sisters had already left the country, I wanted to stay behind with my parents. Eventually though it became clear that I was denying my dream of being a professional musician.
I still remember my first day in music school in the U.S. in August 2001. It was a theory class of 80 students and I was the happiest one there!
I consider myself fortunate to have had wonderful teachers at both the University of Iowa and Northwestern University. An “invested” teacher can make a huge difference. In addition exposure to great musical performances is vital to the growth of a musician. Completing my doctorate in the Chicago area was an excellent experience. I took advantage of affordable student tickets and am lucky to have seen/heard many of my musical heroes in concert.
4. Having returned to India, what is your impression of the music ‘scene’ here?
Upon my return to India, I have been delighted to observe many more musical activities and opportunities than were available to me when I was a student. From the increased number of visiting artists to the growth of music schools and programs, music students today have much more access than ever before. In addition the vast amount of recordings, scores and information available on the internet can supplement learning. It is my hope that curiosity for information and initiative to keep improving standards continues.
5. Describe your experiences of playing here in Goa.
I have enjoyed coming back to Goa to perform. The concert with Madeleine Mitchell was my third opportunity to play here. In addition to meeting wonderful people, these concerts have allowed me to explore parts of Goa that I have never seen before.
6. You’ve had an insight into the current situation regarding teaching at Child’s Play. You’ll agree there’s a lot of potential on so many levels? Tell us about the experience.
The highlight of my recent trip to Goa was a meeting with the teachers and students of Child’s Play. I attended a few lessons/classes and was really moved by the experience. I witnessed dedication and investment from the teachers and the joy that music brings to the students. The impact of music in the lives of both students and teachers is undeniable especially in the case of students who come from challenging backgrounds. I thoroughly believe that music/training should be for everyone and not an elite few. I hope to return to Goa to work with Child’s Play in the months ahead.
7. Lastly any advice: for the music student in general, the piano student in particular, to music teachers, and to parents and the wider public. What can we all do to take India further along the path where music education and the flourishing of music in general are concerned?
I would encourage students and teachers of music to avail of every possible opportunity to perform, to go to concerts and to refine their craft. Even if they don’t intend to make music a career, there are so many benefits to studying/playing music. Recent research has proven the positive effects of music-making and listening on our brains. Parents play a vital role in supporting young musicians – taking them to lessons, concerts and ensuring consistent and thoughtful practice. Although the process is long and sometimes difficult, every professional musician knows that the learning never stops!
(An edited version of this article appeared in the Buzz section of the Navhind Times on 25 January 2017)