In 2009, at the age of twelve, Shruthi won the youth division of the Eric Stokes Song Contest with her original composition entitled A Memory. Shruthi shares her song contest experience with us reflects on its impact on her music career.
My name is Shruthi Rajasekar, and I'm a Minnesotan composer and vocalist. I'm currently living in London as a Marshall Scholar, where I am "reading" for a master's degree in Ethnomusicology at SOAS, University of London; next year, I'll be doing another degree in composition. I'm a product of the Wayzata Public Schools, and did my undergraduate work at Princeton University. In other words, I like school!
During the winter of 2008-2009, I did something that kinda changed my life--I submitted one of my ditties to the Eric Stokes Song Contest. The word "composition" was wholly foreign. I wrote some tunes, but I only performed them for myself; they were a part of my private "play" world.
A little about me: I began my studies in Carnatic (South Indian classical) music. My mom, Nirmala Rajasekar, is a veena player and Carnatic singer, so my education probably began in the womb! I wasn't the best singer, but I loved Indian music theory, and I made up little exercises. I also studied some piano; I was not very good at practicing the repertoire, but I really liked making my own songs. This did not translate to sight-reading/notational skills; I was basically an aural musician... and I'll get back to that in a moment.
So, the Eric Stokes Song Contest. I learned about this amazing contest through Zeitgeist virtuoso Heather Barringer. Before, I'd never thought that (1) what I did was capital-M Music and (2) others would want to hear my "Music." And so my submission--that is, sending my piece to the judges-- was the very first time I'd ever shared myself in that uniquely emotive way.
In fact, everything about the submission process was an exercise in growth. First, though my lovely mother has always paved the way for my musical happiness, I did this contest solo: she was touring internationally when I made my submission, and my dear (poor) dad had to teach me how to mail it in. As I mentioned earlier, I did not "do" staff notation, so I made a recording of my piano piece instead. It was the first time I'd ever used a recorder. I had this part-toy thing (bless its heart) that didn't pick up much sound, and let me tell you--I needed several takes. I'd also never written a bio before, probably because there was literally n.o.t.h.i.n.g. to put into it, so I created an actual biography of my young life (think math competitions and a lengthy explanation of my given name). As for the program note, see below... and please note the spelling error:
Dear Zeitgeist Judges:
This song, A Memory, has been recorded on a piano. It is only a basic melody line with a few cords, yet I feel great after I play it, and it brings back real memories about the
person who inspired this song. I hope you enjoy!
Humor aside, these are the very powerful attributes of the Eric Stokes Song Contest. You can choose between a score and a recording, you can submit any kind of instrumentation and any style of piece, you can write on any theme, there are different age brackets, there's no age limit (rare for "emerging" opportunities), and, best of all, you don't need to be a capital-M Musician. In my own words, your submission should be something that makes you "feel great." To this day, I don't think I've encountered another competition in the world like this one: everything about it allows you to simply be you. And it's exactly what I needed to make my start.
Zeitgeist and the Eric Stokes Song Contest took me on an unforgettable ride. Along with two wonderful "adult" composers, I was selected as a winner and received humongous benefits: several performances, recordings, a video clip, newspaper interviews, plus the actual winnings. It also made me pretty cool at school :). Most importantly, it gave me the confidence that I, and my music, mattered. This is a talisman that I continue to grasp--because they, the panel of judges and the Zeitgeist ensemble, were the first people to make me proud of being a female PoC composer with a funky music background.
That feeling set me up to go forth and write more. I soon attempted it all: choral, orchestral, film. And a couple years later, I even had the opportunity to write a piece for Zeitgeist called Morning Dew that they guided me in creating (this is the premiere and I believe they still perform it sometimes!).
Now, I am very much an "emerging" composer, but I have been so blessed these past ten years. You see, I have the courage to apply to a thousand opportunities (and take my 999 rejections with dignity), because they treated me, a fledgling musician who could not even spell "chord", as a real composer... not in selecting me as a winner, but in taking the time to listen to my recording, and creating a space in which any person could be heard.
I owe Zeitgeist, composer Eric Stokes' warm spirit and inclusive mindset, and the panel (my very first listeners!) everything. I don't know that I can repay that debt--all I can do is pass on the love they showed me, and tell you that this contest is a gift that will keep on giving.
P.S. Please feel free to reach out!
Zeitgeist welcomes song submissions (any type of musical composition) from youth and adult amateur composers throughout the Twin Cities.