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Lydian Nadhaswaram

A child prodigy who started playing Chopin, Mozart by ear at the age of eight, Lydian Nadhaswaram wishes to contribute to world peace through music. The TOI #Unstoppable21 jury has picked the 17-year-old from Chennai as one of the Unstoppable 21 Indians under 21 years

Lydian Nadhaswaram started playing the mridangam and the drums at the age of four, but he was eight when his father realised that he was a gifted child after he started to play Mozart and Chopin by ear on the keyboard. By the time he was 10, Lydian had cleared grade 8 in piano at Trinity School of Music, where he was guided by his teacher Augustine Paul.

He won $1 million on the CBS show, ‘The World’s Best’, when he was just 13.

But what strikes you about the 17-year-old is his constant smile. He played Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee at 325 beats per minute, no easy feat, with a smile on his face. The smile remained on his little face when he appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and also when music composer AR Rahman interviewed him.

Ask him how he manages to stay calm under pressure, he says, “Once we practice something perfectly, the results are beautiful and fulfilling. I get that feeling every time I perform on stage. To be honest, what I experience is not pressure but faith, love and respect of every single music lover.”

What also helped him was the unconditional support of his father Varshan Sathish, a Tamil music director, who encouraged both Lydian and his elder sister – a vocalist and flautist – to follow their hearts instead of getting bogged down by schoolwork. “I attended school only for classes I and II,” says Lydian.

The music whizz is also awaiting the release of the Mohanlal directorial ‘Barroz’– a children’s sci-fi fantasy – whose music has been composed by Lydian. “Mohanlal sir is family for us. I recently released my debut jazz album, Chromatic Grammatic, and he attended the release.”

Lydian is currently being mentored by music maestro Ilaiyaraja and is considered his only student till date.

Ilaiyaraja, Lydian says, is kind and disciplined. “He will listen fully to whatever I compose and appreciate it wholeheartedly. Recently, I played a composition of his on stage and he remarked that I was the first person in 40 years to have played such a complex composition, originally composed for classical guitar, on the piano with all its nuances.”

The crowning moment for Lydian was when he received a Steinway acoustic grand piano delivered to Chennai, all the way from New York, a gift from music connoisseur Michael Novogratz. Lydian had played before Novogratz in New York once but hadn’t thought more of it, though Novogratz was impressed by his skills.

A protege of AR Rahman, Lydian has been described as the ‘music ambassador of India’ by the maestro in many interviews. “He calls me ‘buddy’, which makes me feel very connected to him. He gifted me a Roli keyboard and a Harpejji he personally used. He always advises me to do something new in music, and I will make him proud.”

Amidst all of it, does he manage to find time for friends? “I have just two or three friends of my age group. But I have a lot of musician friends and well-wishers around the world, of all age groups...they are my wealth.”

Now that he is about to turn 18, where does he see himself beyond being a child prodigy? “I believe performances will be a major part of my career as I receive blessings from music lovers directly,” says Lydian. “But I also want to compose music that will stand the test of time. More importantly, I want to be a responsible musician and a good human being. I want to contribute to world peace through my music and set an example of what a good musician should be.”

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