Bollywood Star Shreya Ghoshal Reflects on Residency at 'Hogwarts of Music'

By 
Kimberly Ashton
January 16, 2018
Shreya Ghoshal rehearses with the Berklee Indian Ensemble during her six-day residency in December 2017.
Student Shradha Ganesh from Toronto, Canada, sings during a master class with Shreya Ghoshal.
Shreya Ghoshal performs to a sold-out Berklee Performance Center on the last night of her residency.
Student Shrivant Singh, of New Delhi, India, performs on stage with Shreya Ghoshal at the Berklee Performance Center.
Shreya Ghoshal
Student Swarathmika Swaminathan sings on stage at the Berklee Performance Center during a master class with Shreya Ghoshal.
The Berklee Indian Ensemble poses with Shreya Ghoshal after a sold-out concert at the Berklee Performance Center.
Image by Katya Krishnan
Image by Katya Krishnan
Image by Katya Krishnan
Image by Katya Krishnan
Image by Katya Krishnan
Image by Kelly Davidson
Image by Katya Krishnan

The Berklee India Exchange had been talking with Shreya Ghoshal, one of India’s most highly regarded playback vocalists, about doing a Boston residency since the group was founded, in 2013. As the years passed, people would post videos to her Facebook page of the work the Berklee Indian Ensemble did with other visiting artists, including Clinton Cerejo, A. R. Rahman, Vijay Prakash, and Shankar Mahadevan.

What always struck her as she watched these videos, she said, was how the ensemble found a fresh way to take on the artists’ work while at the same time preserving the soul of each original composition. In particular, she was impressed with how the ensemble reimagined Rahman’s iconic pieces. “They were such beautiful interpretations of his very well-known songs. That’s what amazed me. The popular songs are songs that already have a certain impact. How can you reinterpret it and make it even more beautiful and have its own identity and its own effect?” Ghosal said.

“Absolutely every moment of it was overwhelming, with great music happening around me all the time.”

-Shreya Ghoshal

In advance of her early December residency, the ensemble started sending Ghoshal arrangements of her own work. Annette Philip, the ensemble’s director, said Ghoshal was “the most open artist, being willing to perform completely revamped versions of her songs with the ensemble.”

In preparation to perform with Ghoshal, the ensemble rehearsed 10 hours a day for two weeks, student Swarathmika Swaminathan, of Mumbai, India, said. Ghoshal noticed: “When I landed I went to the rehearsal room and, boom, it was like they’re all ready. The amount of rehearsals and the perfection...was something that blew my mind.”

The next six days—working with the group, conducting a master class, performing at the concert, and simply walking the halls at Berklee—she describes as “one of the best times of my life.”

“Absolutely every moment of it was overwhelming, with great music happening around me all the time,” she said. “...You go through and you pass each of the classrooms and somewhere there’s gospel, somewhere there’s jazz, and some classical piano being played, and you hear some amazing brass arrangements. It’s so amazing. It’s like the Hogwarts of music. I really felt that I was in a magical world, and I’m not at all surprised. I came with all those assumptions that this was going to happen. And, of course, this is beyond what I thought.”

A Down-to-Earth Star

She also gave a few students some of the best artistic experiences of their lives. Swaminathan said that she was shaking when she first performed for Ghoshal at rehearsal. “I mean, who wouldn’t be nervous if you get to sing in front of one of the top singers of India?” But Ghoshal quickly put her at ease. “She spoke to me and guided me as a friend would guide a friend. After that moment with her, my respect for her increased, and I have also started believing in myself.”

Shradha Ganesh, who, along with Swaminathan, was one of the five students to perform for Ghoshal at a master class, also noted how the superstar “spoke to me as a friend” while giving her concrete feedback on how to improve. “Never would I have ever expected a leading playback singer in Bollywood to take time out of her busy schedule to help a student like me and encourage them along the way,” Ganesh, of Toronto, Canada, said.

“A beautiful and a much-needed experience,” is how student Shrivant Singh, of  New Delhi, India, described his private lesson with Ghoshal, who taught him to focus on conveying the emotion of a song, and less on hitting all the notes. “Now I know what exactly I need to work on [with] my voice and I feel I have an outlook of how I want to see myself as a performer in the future,” he said.