Deepak Paramshivan: 2015 Killam Award Winner

Recent summer zig-zagging from Edmonton to New York, India and Toronto echo PhD candidate's off-the-beaten path academic journey.

Deepak Paramshivan - 06 November 2015

Following a PhD in energy and climate systems modeling that led to a successful career touring the US, Europe and South Korea as a guest scientist, Deepak switched gears to enter the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta as a postdoctoral fellow in 2013, only to change course dramatically to follow his passion towards admittance in the Department of Music's doctoral Ethnomusicology program in 2014.

The 2015 Killam award winner's current research includes North Indian classical music, Sarangi, Mysore style of Veena, classical theatre practice in Southern Karnataka, music and religion.

The following is a retelling of Deepak's summer of travel, research and performance adventures in his own words.

As the Winter Term 2015 came to close, the end of April crept up on me almost unexpectedly and I faced the same question many students were pondering at that time:

What will I do with my summer?

May: Planting Seeds & Serendipity

By May, I had completed my TA duties for Music 101, the last course that I was committed to for the semester. Following the final exam proctoring, I had no binding commitments in Edmonton for the summer, professional or otherwise. Like any graduate student in ethnomusicology, I wanted to make the most of my summertime to leverage my musical and academic work. I decided to use the summer for preliminary survey work and network building in India by visiting libraries and archives and by meeting musicians I wished to interview for my dissertation-a discipular ethnography on the Sarangi maestro Pandit Ram Narayan.

Deepak (left) meeting with Pandit Ram Narayan Ji (right) in India, Summer 2015.

I contacted a number of eminent musicians associated with the maestro and explained my research work to them. Their response was not only overwhelmingly positive, but I learned that most of them had plans to tour the United States over the summer!

They suggested meeting in the US rather than in India, if it was easier for me. At that moment, a master plan for the summer began to take shape...

All of these musicians will be performing in New York City… My sister lives nearby in Virginia…Why don't I visit her and then go to meet these musicians in June? Afterwards, I will travel to India to meet the others.

Like the final piece of a puzzle clicking into place, it all made sense. I booked my flight to the United States with the hopes that my trip would be a fruitful one.

June: Journey to New York

After a brief sojourn in San Francisco I made my way to Virginia. I settled into my sister's place with mixed feelings, torn between enjoying my new American environment but at the same time lamenting the separation from Edmonton when it was slowly transforming into a summer paradise.

As the days passed, I eagerly awaited the arrival of musicians in New York. One fine morning, while I was busy playing with my niece, my phone buzzed. To my surprise, it was a message from Ms. Twilla MacLeod, a very dear friend and the former UAlberta Music graduate student advisor-whom I now refer to as "a harbinger of good news." Twilla's message read:

I don't normally use Facebook on official U of A business, but I wanted to connect with you and tell you that you should check your U of A email ASAP. You will be pleased.

Cheers! Twilla

I excitedly checked my email inbox and was not pleased, but overjoyed!

Inside was a message informing me that I had won the prestigious Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship, a major academic award in the Canadian graduate student community.

Without further delay, I shared this wonderful news with my supervisors Dr. Michael Frishkopf and Dr. Regula Qureshi and with other Music faculty members who had helped me at various stages of the application, including Dr. David Gramit, Dr. Brenda Dalen and Dr. Guillaume Tardif. Later, I celebrated with my sister and her family.

Receiving this award represents a milestone in any academic career. It was quite the occasion.

Shortly after receiving this news, I heard from Pandit Anindho Chatterjee, a world-renowned Tabla player and had a fruitful meeting with him. The following week, I heard from Grammy award nominee Ustad Aashish Khan, the torchbearer of the great Maihar gharana of music in India. We arranged to meet.

During my meeting with Khan, he invited me to play sarangi on his new jazz album as well as on Anoop Shobhankar's album, who is also one of his disciples and a Grammy award nominee.

Deepak (centre) with Andrew McLean (left) and Anoop Shobankhar (right), in New York City.

Needless to say, I accepted! I packed my bags and headed to New York City to record.

July: New Opportunities in Film & Theatre

After completing the album recordings and performance in New York, I left for India to meet the remainder of musicians on my interview list, notably the Grammy award winner and sarangi maestro Pandit Dhruba Ghosh, and his brother tabla maestro Pandit Nayan Ghosh. I visited Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore meeting eminent musicians and musicologists including the legendary Veena maestro and exponent of Mysore style Vidwan D Balakrishna.

During my stay in India I had numerous opportunities to perform sarangi and veena concerts and also to record music for many upcoming Indian film soundtracks. Most importantly, I enjoyed contributing music to the upcoming movie GodhibannaSadharanamaikattu which was scored by Charan, a young and promising music director and the artist who sang the Grammy award winning song in 'Winds of Samsara'.

In addition to these wonderful experiences, I also had the rare opportunity to play the lead role in a Kannada theatre project. My father Paramashivan is an eminent theatre artist and a legendary Kannada theatre musician, and for this project he revived an old Kannada play titled Rajasooya Yaaga.

The play is based on the Mahabharata, a dramatic theme that was very popular between 1930 and 1950. My father was inspired to create this project based on public demand and the success of his previous project Subhadra Parinaya, another musical from the same time period in which I had also acted.

But the summer continued to gift me with fantastic news: towards the end of the August, I witnessed the new Kannada movie Rangitaranga, in which I made a special appearance as a sarangi player in a song, become a box office hit not only in India but also in UK, Canada and USA. A number of friends from all these countries congratulated me having seen me on the big screen.

Watch the video of the song:

August: Onwards & Upwards

Eventually, I returned to Canada to prepare for the next leg of my PhD studies. As if that wasn't enough of a thrill, I was invited to perform at the prestigious CAN-AM Annual Music Festival in Toronto for its inaugural season in September.

Deepak (centre) accepting his Killam Award from UAlberta's Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research Dean Heather Zwicker (left) and Killam Trustee Jim Dinning (right) in Fall 2015.

Whenever things did not go smoothly, I had many times fancied if it was wise on my part to bid adieu to my high paying scientific profession and pursue my passion in ethnomusicology. But I always found solace in the famous verse from Bhagavad Gita in which Lord Krishna reassuringly says in his own inimitable style:

You shall only have the right to perform your prescribed duty,
But you are not entitled to the fruits of the actions therein.
Never deem yourself the cause of the outcomes of your actions,
Nor be attached to inaction.

- Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 47

It is not the life itself, but the incertitude of life that is exciting.