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At 16, Chelsea is an internationally acclaimed pianist
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Lathesh Suryakantha

At 16, Chelsea is an internationally acclaimed pianist

When she plays the piano she reminds you of the American actress Amy Irving from the 1980 film The Competition — fierce and focussed.

Away from the expensive piano that sits in the hall of her Mumbai residence though, Chelsea De Souza is a charming young lady, soft-spoken and with dreams in her eyes quite like Dorothy from The Wizard Of Oz.

Chelsea will travel to Dorothy’s Kansas this July to attend the International Institute of Young Musicians through a scholarship she earned recently. And if all goes well, the 16-year-old could well find herself in a land of opportunities, those that India cannot offer her.

Indeed in a country where the loud and gaudy Bollywood fare stifles all strains of classical music, this prodigy is something of a misfit. Chelsea, who started playing the piano when she was three years old, hates Bollywood music and has watched “exactly two Hindi films in my life — Fashion and some Hrithik Roshan flick, which I think had Pyaar in its title”. However, Chelsea is not entirely sure if she wants to leave her motherland, not yet at least. Her mother tells us that it’s because she’s “so good in her studies, she wants to pursue her academics and her music simultaneously”.

Last year Chelsea completed her ISCE or the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education with a score of 96.14 percent. She has been a class topper all along. After completing her schooling from Bombay Scottish, she chose to go to Cathedral because “they encourage you to participate in extra-curricular activities”.

Interestingly, it isn’t just academics that Chelsea excels in. She has won numerous elocution and contests, athletics meets and needless to say, has lost track of the whole lot of music competitions in which she participated and won.

Among the prominent ones that she aced is the All India Piano Competition in the age group below 14 years, when she was merely 10. At 13 she was the youngest contestant and runner-up at the All India Piano Competition in an open age group of up to 30 years. She has been to Germany twice on summer music scholarships to the University of Cologne and will be heading back there this summer too.

More recently, in September 2009, she won the advanced division of All India Musiquest Piano Competition in Pune and has now been nominated to represent India at the Kawai Asian Piano Competition in Hong Kong. Chelsea has also passed her LTCL or the Licentiate of the Trinity College of Music, London, an exam we are told is taken by people not younger than 25.

Of course the list of Chelsea’s achievements could go on. But the 16-year-old’s concerns are somewhat more immediate. She has her school examinations and likes to focus on them whenever they’re around the corner. “That’s when the piano rehearsals are reduced to about an hour a day,” she says “During competitions I usually practice for at least five hours each day, which can get difficult because I don’t return from school before 5 pm. I love English and Psychology and would like to major in one or both subjects.”

Back at Cathedral, Chelsea is part of the school’s choir and performs with the various rock and pop bands within the school. When she isn’t playing music, she loves to read books and watch movies just like other kids of her age. Unlike most of her peers though, Chelsea has read “almost all the classics” and devours fantasy novels like there’s no tomorrow. As for movies, she loves comedies among other genres.

She says, “I loved Pirates of the Caribbean because of its amazing script and of course, Johnny Depp. I don’t enjoy a lot of action films, although I did like The Dark Knight. Among my favourites I’d count all three parts of Pirates, August Rush and a whole lot of comedies. I just watched (Jack Black’s) School of Rock and loved it. Somehow I never liked Hindi movies because they’re so melodramatic. There’s no escaping Bollywood music, though I don’t particularly enjoy that either.”

What she does enjoy is a lot of jazz, pop and rock. She continues, “I love Alicia Keys and Mariah Carey in pop, Guns N’ Roses, Coldplay and Dream Theatre amongst the rock bands and a whole lot of jazz pianists. My iPod has a lot of rock and Alicia Keys, though my dad decided that some classical pieces won’t do much harm.”

As it happens, the father is a pianist too and also strums the guitar once in a while. Her mother is also a pianist and drives her around for recitals and rehearsals. Both her parents are supportive of their daughter’s career decision, whatever it might be. “She’s spoilt for choice,” her mother tells us. “If she was not so good in her studies, music would have been her only option. But I guess she wants to take her time and decide. Whatever her choice may be, we’re sure she’ll excel in it.”

Chelsea likes her father, an engineer in the merchant navy, to sing and play the piano for her. She confesses somewhat sheepishly, “My mom tells me that when I was in her womb, he’d sing me a song called ‘Daddy’s gonna buy you a mockingbird‘. Then about a year after I was born and dad was on the ship, mum sang it to me. She tells me that I cried silently. Today I’d probably request him to play (the jazz piece) Misty for me or Careless Whisper by George Michael.”

Leave the piano to her though and chances are that Chelsea would play “Fazil Say’s Paganini Jazz if I was upbeat, orReflections in Water by Debussy because it is slow and impressionistic”. She continues, “I love the music of the Impressionist period as well as the Romantic era. Impressionistic music is very abstract, which is what makes it so enjoyable to listen to.”

While playing and listening to music de-stresses her to a great extent, Chelsea also likes to meditate just before a big show or a contest. “I just sit, don’t speak and try to focus. During such days I take a day off from school so I am not running around. If I am appearing for my school exams I give studies a priority and let the piano take the backseat. I usually like to take one thing at a time and take it to its logical conclusion. That way I don’t have too many things on my plate and can focus on the task at hand.”

It isn’t surprising when she says she cannot entirely relate to the young students who have been taking their lives, but says that the Indian education system does not offer you second chances. “You cannot blame the school or the parents. As kids we need to focus on our studies. I also don’t see how 3 Idiots is contributing to so many suicides. You cannot just follow something because it is shown in a movie. However, the Indian education system can be somewhat cruel. If you don’t do well in the major examinations, there are no second chances. But the key is not to get bogged down by the pressure. Failure is not the end of the world.”

While she admits that she might not have seen big failures in her life, Chelsea says that it is something she is prepared for. “With success comes failure. So I know I will have to face it someday. But like everyone else I too have my share of small failures, during such times I try to learn from them and move on. I believe that is the only thing you can do anyway. It’d also be the very advice I’d give to people of my age. Failure is not the end of the world.”

Chelsea says it helps to have a hobby in order to deal with failure and stress. She continues, “You cannot make studies your entire existence because you’re going to get bored. Having a hobby — whether it is reading or watching movies or even something like surfing the Internet — helps you take your mind away from the mundane.”

Source: Rediff.com

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