The moment I knew I was going to meet Lydian Nadhaswaram, less than 48hours after his amazing win at the first ever season of The World’s Best on CBS, I assumed I would meet a shy boy who was either struck by fame or someone who was already tired of the constant media attention. Instead, I met a bundle of joy with talents far superior to most experts thrice his age.
Lydian is not your typical Chennai boy, and then again, he is. Home-schooled to allow him to focus on music, the young music prodigy began his journey into music when he was just about two-years-old.
“I began playing the drums when I was two. It is still my favourite instrument along with the piano. My love for the piano came much later. I guess I was around nine-years-old when my father showed me a YouTube video of a four-year-old boy playing the piano; I immediately wanted to start playing the instrument. My sister was also a pianist and I often used to imitate her — but the love and interest began then,” says Lydian as we sit down in his family’s living room in Saligramam, Chennai.
Growing up in a bilingual family — they speak both Tamil and Telugu at his home — there’s a lot of multicultural influence that surrounds the young musician. “I do not watch films, I only watch animation movies, but I do listen to film songs and my favourites in Tamil are almost everything that Illaiyaraja uncle and AR Rahman uncle have composed,” says the little genius.
“I still can’t believe I won it and I am so happy,” he says, beaming. “The whole thing began when my father came across a producer of such shows in the USA. He followed her on social media and shared videos of me playing the piano. She moved to CBS and was involved in The World’s Best and that’s how I got selected,” says Lydian. “But now that I have achieved this, I want to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the moon,” he adds, breaking into peals of laughter.
I am left confused if he is serious or just playing with me, but looking at his achievements so far, it doesn’t seem like something he won’t achieve. “Being on Ellen’s show was a great experience. She was so much fun to be around. I don’t think I will ever stop playing the piano, but now that I have achieved this, maybe I can focus on drums for a while too,” Lydian says as he looks at his father for approval. His father is all smiles.
The living room also features a tabla set and we‘re piqued. What else can you play? We ask. “I also play the tabla and the mridangam, the bass guitar, the harmonica and like playing around with music software. I also sing. I love composing my own background tracks to animation short films. Just recently, my father, sister and I ripped two whole animation films of their original soundtracks and replaced them with our own soundtrack and composition — it was so much fun,”
We take a break for a while and Lydian plays a bunch of his favourite melodies as we shoot him in a few different looks for this story. While he speaks to us, his father takes over and plays random chords on the piano. Lydian identifies them
“I also love to sing pop songs and am now learning Carnatic music too. I’m focussing on the 72 melakarta ragams and I love singing them as I learn them,” shares Lydian. And what about your western favourites? We ask. “Micheal Jackson is my favourite pop star; Illaiyaraja uncle, AR Rahman uncle, my dad and my sister are my inspirations. But my dad is my biggest inspiration. It all started because of him. When it comes to Western Classical music, my favourite composers so far are Ludwig van Beethoven, Frédéric François Chopin and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.”
Lydian settles himself in front of the tabla and begins playing a few well-known beats… it’s already been an hour; time flies in the presence of this adorable youngster. We decide it’s time we gave him a break, as TV crews are lining up outside to interview him and we’d really like him to have some breathing space. I decide it’s time for the last question.
Do you hope to be a big composer some day? “Yes,” comes the prompt reply. “I want to keep learning. When I achieve something, I want to celebrate by learning more. I want to learn all possible genres of music out there. I hope to develop a Lydian style of playing some day,” concludes the multi-talented little boy as he breaks into what we can only describe as his signature laugh. We’re left smitten.
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PHOTOGRAPHER: Thivakaran M | @thivakar.photo