Sing Me A Song Of Strength

ONCE UN­DER- CON­FI­DENT WITH A SPEECH DEFECT, MUMBAI BOY AMAR MUC HALA IS NOW A SUCC SSFUL OPERA SI GER

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Breakfast For Champions - Text by Ananya Ghosh Phot s shot ex­clu­sively for HT Br nch by Prab­hat Shetty

I t’s hard to be­lieve that the debonair man in tux belt­ing out Giuseppe Verdi’s Quando le sere placido to a mes­merised au­di­ence was once a stam­mer­ing wreck, un­able to speak. But that’s what Amar Muchhala, the In­dian tenor of in­ter­na­tional fame who has wowed au­di­ences across the globe, tells us he used to be.

It’s 9.30 am at Prithvi Café, and Muchhala, though claim­ing to be slightly hun­gover from a party the night be­fore, is ar­tic­u­late, soft spo­ken, charm­ing, and ev­ery­thing that one needs to be to be­come Mr Pop­u­lar. “But I had a very bad stam­mer and would hardly talk,” he says. “And this was as late as when I was 21!”

Muchhala was a shy, quiet child, and no one in his fam­ily made much of his stam­mer. But school was a dif­fer­ent story. “At a sub­con­scious level, to avoid em­bar­rass­ment, I evaded any kind of in­ter­ac­tion in school,” he says. “I wouldn’t min­gle with the kids. I was su­per scared of pub­lic speak­ing and would dread the first day of class ev­ery year when you had to stand up and in­tro­duce your­self. At that point, I couldn’t even say my name with­out get­ting stuck. And kids those days were bru­tal.”

To add to his woes, Muchhala was an obese kid and hated sports. “The only thing I could man­age was the spoon race where you bal­ance a lemon on the spoon and walk,” he says. “When other kids went out to play, I would doo­dle or read. I was quite good at my stud­ies, so peo­ple as­sumed that I was a nerdy kid.”

For­tu­nately, Muchhala was not re­ally bul­lied in school. “I was a nice boy and no­body ruf­fled my feath­ers,” he says. “But the flip­side to that was that no­body re­ally both­ered to talk to me ei­ther. So I went fur­ther into my shell. To­day, when I think of it, maybe I was never an in­tro­vert. It was just my de­fence mech­a­nism. I never found an out­let to ex­press my­self.”

IT’S NO JOKE

When Muchhala was in class 10, his par­ents sent him for speech ther­apy ses­sions. “There were tricks like adding an ex­tra con­so­nant be­fore a vowel. The les­sons were ac­tu­ally ex­actly how they showed them in the movie The King’s

Speech (2010). Those were my lip drills. I did all of that,” he says. “But my stam­mer­ing was very tem­per­a­men­tal. For me there were no fixed let­ters where I would get tongue-tied. It kept chang­ing. One day it was P, the other day it was W, the next it was some other letter. So I had to learn how to pro­nounce each letter. Like when I had a prob­lem with P, in­stead of say­ing par­rot, I would say PHar­rot. The funny part was that many thought I had an ac­cent! And it was hard­est on the tele­phone.”

This, un­for­tu­nately, tended to get him laughed at. “That was trau­matic, and worse were the car­i­ca­tures of peo­ple with speech

“I RECEN LY WATCHED A HINDI SE­RIAL WHERE A BAHU IS RIDICULED F R STAMM RING DUR­ING AARTI... IF ND THESE JO ES IN­CRED­I­BLY OFFEN IVE!”

de­fects in movies,” he says. “When you have noth­ing pos­i­tive to com­pare to, peo­ple make fun. Of­ten the funny guy or the butt of all jokes in a movie is a per­son who stam­mers. And tele­vi­sion se­ri­als are worse. Only the other day I watched a Hindi se­rial where the mother-in-law made fun of the bahu be­cause she stam­mers while singing the aarti. Now, how can you be so ig­no­rant? It is com­mon knowl­edge that no­body stam­mers while singing. Sorry, I don’t get these jokes. I find them in­cred­i­bly of­fen­sive. ”

The high­light of Muchhala’s life in school was the singing. “We had some amaz­ing teach­ers at Jamnabai Narsee School in Mumbai, and I just loved to sing. While singing I would not stam­mer,” he says. “Strangely, I never had stage fright. But I would never in­tro­duce my­self or talk, I would just sing. And I started re­al­is­ing very early on that some­thing beau­ti­ful hap­pened when­ever I sang.”

Be­com­ing a singer was never part of the plan, un­til Muchhala went to the US in 1997 to do his un­der­grads. “I think my stam­mer was mostly anx­i­ety re­lated or breath­ing re­lated,” he says. “The so­ci­ety I grew up in was rather rigid and there were many re­stric­tions. I was al­ways scared of of­fend­ing peo­ple or say­ing some­thing in­ap­pro­pri­ate. And that made me stam­mer more. When I went to the US to do my un­der­grads, that so­ci­ety was so open an en­cour­ag­ing that it helped me cope with my stam­mer­ing. Also, there peo le would not laugh when I got stuck on a ord, but wait pa­tiently for me to fin­ish my sen­tence. That was some­thing new and I started open­ing up to ac­tual conve sa­tions. Slowly I started voic­ing my opi ions and be­came an ex­tro­vert. Toda , I am maybe a bit too much of an ext overt!”

Also, his tr in­ing in West­ern clas­si­cal mu­sic be­gan at Franklin & Mar­shall Col ege, USA, where he comp let edhs de­gree in busi­ness man­age­ment ad French lit­er­a­ture. “I didn’t even k ow what a tenor was un­til I jo ind a choir in my col­lege – the ch ir­mas­ter in­stantly iden­ti­fied me a a tenor (a voice type be­tween a ass and a bari­tone — the high­est of te or­di­nary adult male range ), ad the next thing I knew I was singing B rn­stein’s Chich­ester Psalms as part f the tenor sec­tion. But when I star ed tak­ing proper mu­sic les­sons, he breath­ing ex­er­cises re­ally helped. ith my breath­ing sorted, my sta mer dis­ap­peared. Well, al­most. I till stam­mer, though very rarely. ”

FREE­DOM OF EX­PRES­SION

To­day, Muchhala is an sta­b­lished tenor. Hav­ing com­plete his stud­ies in the opera course at uild­hall School of Mu­sic and D ama, he made his Royal Opera ouse de­but in 2013 with The Opera G oup, singing

Chu­lak ( The Fire­work Maker’s Daugh­ter, world premi re) in the Lin­bury Stu­dio Theatr .

“Opera singing fit he pitch of my voice per­fectly and eo­ple started ap­pre­ci­at­ing my per­for ance,” he says .“But more than te adu­la­tion, can you imag­ine the ki d of high a per­son gets when his v ice fills the au­di­to­rium and hold ste au­di­ence in thrall, es­pe­cially when the per­son has not been able to speak roper sen­tences his en­tire life with­out eing laughed at? Opera gave me the tage and the free­dom to be heard.”

The theatre ex­erci es that form part of opera train­ing lso helped him shed his in­hi­bi­tions “A art from my stam­mer, I was not con ident about my body, the way I looked, tc. There were thou­sand other things iled up in­side me mostly be­cause of y con­ser­va­tive up­bring­ing and be­cause I never re­ally opened up to any­one. I be­came con­fi­dent and kind of shame­less, so much so that these days many peo­ple find me brash!”

Even be­fore Muchhala started train­ing to be­come an opera singer, he was fa­mous for his part in an A cap­pella bar­ber­shop quar­tet. Later, there was a mu­si­cal event at his col­lege where his teacher of­fered him the lead role. Since mu­si­cals in­volve di­a­logues as well as singing, Muchhala to­tally freaked out at the very idea.

“I re­fused. I was scared. What if I started stam­mer­ing on stage?” But his teacher did not give up on him. “It was set­tled that I was do the pro­logue, but that also had a mono­logue. I was pet­ri­fied. I prac­ticed day and night. I some­how man­aged to de­liver the lines that day, but I vowed never to put my­self in that sit­u­a­tion ever again,” he re­veals.

But he em­pha­sises that even to­day, when­ever he stam­mers, it is not be­cause he is con­scious of the au­di­ence but be­cause of his in­ner demons. “I don’t want to re­mem­ber those, but at times mem­o­ries of peo­ple mak­ing fun of me, or laugh­ing at me, sud­denly sur­face. And I freeze and start stam­mer­ing.” Muchhala has mas­tered Komm, O

Holde Dame, one of the most dif­fi­cult tenor arias. But the past still comes to haunt him, chok­ing his voice, time and again. ananya.ghosh@htlive.com Fol­low @Ananya1281 on Twit­ter

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