Prema Kesselman and her daughter, Ananda, who is in kindergarten, share a special bond of exceptional talent and dedication to their music. Their interview will be live on our YouTube channel on May, 19th.
HOW OLD WAS ANANDA WHEN SHE STARTED TO LEARN MUSIC?
Ananda’s Mom: Ananda has been surrounded by music since she was in the womb because I was playing full time in an opera, ballet and symphonic orchestra and her father was conducting. When she could barely sit up she would pretend to play intricate piano pieces on the piano which led to her improvising beautiful melodies at one years old. At the age of three, she begged me to play the flute and I let her try my flute headjoint. To my surprise, she produced a clear sound! I told her she’d have to wait until she was around seven years old to start flute. Soon after her fourth birthday, she began piano lessons and quickly progressed because she already at a first-grade reading level. Reading music came easily to her and her natural musicality and love for music flourished. I would have to beg her to stop to come and eat dinner most days!
One day, Ananda saw a video of a five-year-old boy playing a Nuvo Toot flute that enthralled her. She immediately asked if that could be something she could have and play. I obliged and ordered one that day! What I never envisioned was that she would learn to play it so quickly. She mastered multiple melodies within an hour of receiving it, and performed on our weekly “Musical Mashup” (outdoor concert for our neighbors and friends due to Covid-19) the following day, which she had already been performing piano in. After a week of playing, I recorded a video of her performing “Twinkle, Twinkle Variations” that received over 15,000 views in two days on a well-known Instagram flute page! Ananda subsequently progressed to the jFlute after less than two weeks of playing, after insisting that the Toot flute was too limited for the music she wanted to play because it didn’t play “enough high notes”. The transition was easy and I have been writing arrangements of classical melodies from symphonic, ballet, and opera repertoire and essentially any piece she asks to play, ever since!
ANANDA’S MUSICAL JOURNEY AT THIS YOUNG AGE –
Ananda’s Mom: On a typical day, she sightreads, learns, and records a new piece because her note reading is incredible, due to her solid piano background. It’s fun to sightread with Ananda, in between working on more challenging repertoire! This has allowed her to progress quickly on the flute since she doesn’t have to worry about reading the notes.
This summer, Ananda participated in the NY Philharmonic 30 day practice challenge! To our surprise, they featured her as a participant in their Instagram stories writing how much they loved her flute performance of Theme from “A Little Night Music” by Mozart. She managed to learn a new piece of music every day for thirty days as well!
Ananda is a homeschooling kindergartener and is currently working through second-grade curriculums. I have been sharing excerpts of Ananda’s daily piano practice since the beginning of February 2020 on my Instagram stories and Facebook stories. When she started flute, she also wanted to share her flute playing, so I’ve been posting excerpts of her flute practice as well!
She keeps me on my toes, so that she is challenged, yet not bored or frustrated, and above all, to have fun playing music. She inspires me everyday to shine and be in the moment. The moment is all we really have.
Ananda won 1st Place in the Charleston International Music Competition - 2020 Romantic Music Competition and 2020 Holiday Music Competition. She also won 1st Place in the 2020 King's Peak International Music Competition, 3rd Place in the Rocky Mountain Winter Romantic Music Festival Music Competition and she is currently in the Second Round of the Crescendo International Music Competition and will perform in Carnegie Hall before 2023 when it reopens. Ananda is an Ambassador for Nuvo Instrumental, who discovered her after she was playing the flute for one week.
WHAT EDUCATION HAVE YOU COMPLETED AND WHAT DID YOU GAIN FROM THOSE EXPERIENCES?
PREMA: I began my musical training in Valencia, California, and announced to my parents at the age of seven that I wanted to be a musician when I grow up. I had a voracious appetite to learn new music and improve as a flutist and pianist. My parents would often beg me to stop playing to come for meals. Playing music was a deeply profound experience for me and I was a passionate young performer, who loved sharing music with others.
I ended up leaving public school in seventh grade to homeschool and attend the Colburn School of Performing Arts on both flute and piano. The local community college, College of the Canyons, also allowed me to take both academic and music courses. It was a surreal experience studying alongside college-age students and surrounding myself with the best young musicians in the country at Colburn. I performed in recitals at least once a week and played in orchestra and chamber music on both flute and piano, as well as give numerous outreach concerts.
I gave my concerto debut at the age of fifteen and at the age of seventeen, I got accepted as a piano performance major at Peabody Conservatory and Indiana University on scholarship as a double flute/piano major, as well as numerous other colleges. I ended up pursuing a flute performance degree, while also seriously studying piano because I won an international flute competition when I was eighteen. I realized that my career as a performing artist on flute was more viable than on piano and received a Bachelor of Music in Flute Performance, summa cum laude at Temple University-Boyer College of Music, where I studied flute with David Cramer. All the while I accompanied on piano extensively for both college students and professionals and gave a final full-length solo piano recital a few weeks before my flute degree recital.
After giving my New York solo recital debut in Carnegie Hall on flute I went on to complete a Postgraduate Advanced Diploma (PGA) with distinction, sponsored by the Derek Butler Trust, and a Master of Music (MMus) in Flute Performance Studies, sponsored by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, studying flute with Wissam Boustany. My MMus dissertation and my final recital received a distinction from their respective juries, which included William Bennett.
WHAT WOULD YOU BE IF YOU WERE NOT A PROFESSIONAL MUSICIAN? WHAT WOULD YOU AND OTHERS SAY OF YOUR PERSONALITY?
PREMA: If I wasn’t a professional flutist, I’d most likely have pursued collaborative piano as a pianist for an orchestra, instrumentalists/chamber music, and/or vocal coaching.
I recall being told by a prominent conductor when I played in the LA Philharmonic in a special honor program for high school students, that I must have “ice in my blood”, to have played so confidently the 1st part in Daphnis et Chloe by Ravel. As a professional, colleagues seem to always note that I was “zen-like” in rehearsals/performances and they felt calm sitting next to me. They often asked how I managed to be so centered and concentrated under any circumstance or conductor. I would have to say that this sense of confidence arose surprisingly from working with incredibly demanding teachers/conductors as a very young child. I was also incredibly ambitious and hard-working from when I started piano at six and a half. I held myself to a high standard and had a voracious appetite to learn new music. It wasn’t about comparing myself to others, it was about challenging myself to be the best I could be.
I believe if we tap into our divine power, the possibilities are limitless in what we can achieve and express. One must be selfless when sharing music with others though and not concentrate that we are the doer. This is especially important because practicing alone is quite solitary and it can be easy to fall into the egoistic trap and think “I’m great!”. The greatest musicians I am absolutely convinced are the least egoistic. One of my former flute professors said I was the “most ambitious/spiritually driven” individual he’d ever met. There must be balance in the pursuit of excellence.
IN WHAT WAYS ARE YOU MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN PEOPLE’S LIVES THROUGH YOUR MUSIC CAREER?
PREMA: I have been privileged to perform music for special children centers, nursing homes, senior centers, and interfaith programs. While living in California, I was active in the community outreach program, Musical Encounters, which introduced the performing arts to inner-city public elementary school students through concerts. I performed flute and piano for the school children at special assemblies that were held during school hours when I was in high school. It was a joy for her to share music with the underprivileged children and introduce them to the technical aspects of how the flute and piano produce music. I also developed & performed chamber music concerts for the residents at the Thousand Oaks Health Care Center, California. Furthermore, I volunteered by singing with an interfaith choir for the residents in New Jersey.
I performed in South India at the Sai Kulwant Hall in Prasanthi Nilayam, in the ashram (spiritual headquarters) of the revered world spiritual teacher, Sathya Sai Baba. I performed in a free concert for around 10,000 people from all over the world who came together in a spirit of unity and love.
Due to the pandemic, in May 2020, I began a weekly “Musical Mashup” (outdoor porch/lawn concert for our neighbors and friend, socially distanced), performing flute, piano, and singing. My daughter, kindergartener, Ananda, also collaborated on flute and piano, as well as sing. In addition, her mother has been a driving force in organizing the concerts, which has brought joy to everyone, especially their elderly neighbors who have felt quite isolated this past year.
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