Review of Nitya Thomas’ new CD/Interview with Nitya

Guest Blogger, Amy Duncan

Review of Nitya Thomas’ CD, Awakenings

Awakenings_500pxBy Amy Duncan

For her debut CD, Nitya Thomas offers three songs that were obviously chosen with great care and love.

The first is a popular hymn from the Christian Science hymnal based on the traditional Irish melody that we know as “Danny Boy,” with words by Rosa M. Turner. Nitya enters humming gently over a lovely, delicate electric piano intro, and we’re immediately captivated by her disarming sincerity, exquisite phrasing, and most of all by the purity and warmth of her voice. Peter Link’s backgrounds are subtle, gently supporting and building just enough as the melody builds…never too much.

The second song, “My Grateful Spirit Sings,” with music and lyrics by Sally DeFord, has Link setting the stage with another deft, tasteful intro—this time with acoustic piano and brass—and then Nitya’s voice enters, singing the uplifting lyrics with comforting simplicity, riding gently over orchestral backgrounds that accompany beautifully the rising and falling of the melody.

The third and final song—a brand new setting for the well-loved Psalm 23—marks Nitya’s Thomas debut as a composer, and we hope to hear more from her. With its gorgeous, soaring melody, it’s plain that this composition flowed straight from the heart, as Nitya herself comments in the liner notes. Link expertly underpins it all with a background of piano and lush strings.

Awakenings is an album to listen to over and over…to savor. When you hear it, you’ll want more. Nitya Thomas’ voice is a one to be reckoned with—it’s not only gorgeous, but her singing is uplifting, effortless, disarmingly unaffected, and sincere—you can tell she means every word. Her pitch is spot on, her diction impeccable—overall, a sheer pleasure to listen to.

You can listen to samples and buy Nitya’s CD here:

Interview with Nitya Thomas

Nitya at First Church of Christ Scientist, New York

Nitya at First Church of Christ Scientist, New York

So Nitya, you were born in India, right?

Yes, I was born in Bangalore, India, and lived there till the age of 17, when I left home for college. Since then I have studied, lived and worked in the U.K. (London), in the US (in Philadelphia and now New York) and also in Mumbai (India). My family is still based in India, and I visit them every chance I get!

Do you come from a musical family?

Yes I do, although I am the first one from my family who has had the opportunity to study music seriously. My dad is a wonderful guitarist and singer and is a well-known musician in my home-town. I have tremendous respect for his musicianship, because he never had formal lessons, and pretty much learnt everything by ear. My mother studied the piano, and played the organ in church for many years. So I definitely grew up with a lot of music, both sacred and secular.

When did you first become interested in music?

My parents started me off learning the piano when I was six years old, and I took to it very naturally. I also was very often picked to sing solos in both my church and school choirs, as well as to lead smaller ensembles. I always loved singing in harmony, and was always the one who would be asked to sing with the harmony sections that were not strong enough, whether that was alto or soprano! I was primarily a pianist growing up, however. It is very common in India to follow the curriculum of the Royal School of Music, UK, and so I did all their exams concurrently with my schooling and passed all of them with distinction. My piano practice always came before all else, even my studies! Later on in my teens I started taking voice lessons as well, although it was hard to find a teacher in my city who was able to teach vocal technique.

I understand that you had a career in finance. Tell me about that.

When it came time to go off to college, despite all my achievement and dedication to studying the piano, I wasn’t quite ready to focus solely on music as a career. It’s hard for me to really know why, although a large part was probably due to the fact that this is not at all the norm in my country, particularly at that time. Also, as I was very keen to study abroad, and considering this required a substantial financial investment, I was not sure that music was the right field for me at the time. I ended up majoring in Math and Economics and graduated from the London School of Economics. With this background, it was quite natural to find a job in the finance world. My intention was to spend a few years getting some experience and earning some money to repay my student loans. I ended up staying for 4.5 years, and by then, I was very sure that I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life. I ended up taking a year off, and it was during this time that I was led to re-start my musical studies.

Tell me about how you came to the US, and why.

During that year off after leaving the finance world, I applied for a few summer programs in music here in the USA, and ended up doing a Summer Vocal Institute at the Manhattan School of Music. I really enjoyed the program, and decided to apply for a full-time undergraduate program once I finished the summer. So the next year, I came back to New York City, to begin my studies at Mannes College of Music.

How did you meet Peter Link and Julia Wade?

I love telling this story! It was Julia that I first got to know. I had been listening to Julia and Peter’s music for quite a few years, and was already a big fan. I finally got a chance to hear Julia sing in Boston, at the First Church of Christ, Scientist, the same summer that I was in the US to study voice. I remember going up and introducing myself and having a little chat – I was super excited to meet her in person, as I was such a fan! I was amazed at how humble and friendly she was. We became Facebook friends, and when I returned to New York to study at Mannes, I got in touch with her, and showed up at a Watchfire Music Listening room concert and we connected once more. I eventually got to know Peter through my friendship with Julia.

And now you work for Watchfire Music…tell me how that came about.

While studying at Mannes, I was part of a Women’s Leadership Program at my residence hall (International House, New York). As part of this program, we needed to find a mentor for ourselves. I just knew that Julia would be the perfect mentor for me. I wrote and asked her, and was thrilled when she said that she would be able to help. During this year of mentoring, I learned a lot, and Julia also got to know my skills and interests. After the program, it turned out that they were looking for somebody to do some part-time work at Watchfire, and it was really the perfect opportunity for me to learn more about this world. I started out just one day a week, and gradually over a period of time, my hours increased, until I was much more involved in the business. Every time I think back on this story, I am just so grateful for this fit of the skills that they needed and those that I was able to provide, and vice versa.

When did you first become interested in Christian Science, and how did you find out about it?

I first heard about Christian Science in my early teens through a family friend who was a Christian Scientist. I also attended a Sunday School camp in Mumbai, India quite early on, and remember thinking how wonderful the people that I met there were! Something about the atmosphere really struck me. Over the years, my aunt, who is a Christian Science practitioner, would often share with me ideas that I found very helpful. There was no church in my city in India, so the first time I attended a Christian Science church was when I went abroad for college. I managed to get a little time in Sunday School as well. The more I learnt about Christian Science, the more it just felt right and intuitive to me. It was like coming home to what I already knew deep down somewhere. All the many questions I’d had about God throughout my childhood were finally being answered in a way that felt peaceful and right. I started attending church very regularly, and was led to take class with a teacher in London. Years later I became a member of the Mother church in Boston.

How has being a student of Christian Science affected your musical aspirations and career?

I think Christian Science definitely played a key role in my decision to study music so much later in life. Humanly speaking, this would not seem like the most rational decision to make—giving up a lucrative career that I had invested in, to go into a world where I would need to begin again from scratch. It was my understanding of Christian Science that enabled me to really listen and pray about my purpose—to give up any sense of fear, and follow where I felt I was being divinely led. It was not easy, particularly in the beginning. I had many people (including teachers) asking me why I was doing this, and telling me that it did not make much sense, which was very disheartening. But every step of the way, despite all the hurdles, there was just something within me that knew this was the right thing to do. Also very importantly, from Christian Science, I have gained the understanding that my abilities are simply the expression of God’s infinite ability, and therefore cannot be limited by age, experience, bad habits, personality, education etc. I’m so deeply grateful for this understanding—it really has really been the foundation of all of my growth and progress in this field.

You are now the soloist at First Church of Christ, Scientist in New York City. How do you think this experience is helping you, or will help you, both spiritually and in your musical career?

It has just been such a wonderful experience at First Church so far, and I am so grateful to the members of this Church for giving me this opportunity. It is such a beautiful and sacred space, and I am so happy every Sunday to be there and to be a part of the service. The position definitely required me to step up right from day one—singing in such a large reverberant space is not without its challenges! But it has been an amazing experience to learn how to do this more effectively and to grow into this role. I am still learning, but very grateful for the progress

I am very fortunate to work with a highly talented, experienced and very supportive organist, Ron Berresford, who makes the whole process such a joy. I’ve also always really enjoyed doing the spiritual study involved in picking out solos—this is one of my favourite parts of the job.

This is your first recording. What was it like for you, preparing for it and then actually recording your CD?

Yes, this was my first experience in the studio, and it did take a lot of learning and preparation. Having worked almost entirely in the acoustic space for the past 4 years, I was very apprehensive of working with mikes. Luckily for me, I had one of the best teachers in the business! Peter Link was very encouraging and worked tirelessly with me to navigate this steep learning curve. We didn’t have a whole lot of time to figure it out, and there was a lot of learning that happened “on the job” so to speak, but thanks to him, the whole experience was really wonderful, and I can’t wait to work more in the studio and get even more comfortable in there!

What plans do you have now that your first CD has been released?

One of my favourite parts of this whole process was getting to work on my own composition, Psalm 23. It was really a thrill to go through the whole process of writing, and then recording it for the first time, and finally getting to hear the finished product. I hope to write more sacred songs over the rest of the year and work with Peter on getting this material recorded and out there!

I heard that you have thought of yourself as shy. How have you been able to overcome this?

I wouldn’t say shy, as much as introverted. I grew up being quite internally focused, and so being in the limelight is not always the easiest thing for me. I find what really helps is being able to really focus on the idea that I’m communicating. It’s then that I lose my sense of self, and therefore self-consciousness, and am able to be much more free. It’s a process I’m still working on and Peter and Julia have been so helpful in this regard. On their advice, I have been taking acting lessons for the past year, in the Meisner technique. This technique places a strong emphasis on really being in the moment, and being truthful to the situation. It has helped me tremendously in my performing. Getting to perform every Sunday in church, has been and continues to be a great discipline and practice for me.

Besides music, what are your favorite things in life…what do you like to do in your spare time?

Hmm, I don’t have a lot of spare time at the moment—I’m so deeply involved in the things that I am working on! I find that now that I’m doing what I love, I don’t necessarily need a lot else. But living in New York city, whenever I do have some spare time, I like to get out into the open and do something active. I love to run by the Hudson river or in Central Park. I am also a huge fan of salsa dancing, and attend classes quite often. As much as I can, I try to make use of living in this amazing city by attending as many performances as I possibly can—whether that is acting, dancing, music or anything else—there is just such a wealth of things happening here!Studio Session nitya-4800 small











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