Shape Shifting

Shifting from investment banker in New York City to pianist in New Delhi may seem like a dramatic swing to most, but for Sahil Vasudeva ’08 the pursuit of his dream was an inevitable turn. After a year and a half in banking in New York City and three years working with a startup after his return to India, he ventured back into the world of music. “I loved music, and I found the piano to be challenging and intellectually stimulating… I was impulsively drawn to it.” Along with altering his career, he took his western classical style of piano, a deep-seated interest since childhood, back to India where there is limited-to-no exposure to the genre. “Given that in India there is no independent music industry, there are no real concert pianists, so I knew that it was a monumental task to take on and suddenly throw my life from banking to the other extreme.” However, through breaking the rules of classical music performance, departing from the rigidity, incorporating personal experiences into his performances, and exercising his undeniable passion, he has garnered attention and made this music more accessible to an untapped audience.

Sahil Vasudeva ’08

Becoming one of the few western classically influenced pianists in India wouldn’t be an easy climb for anyone. Inviting a younger audience into the sounds of classical piano has been part of the challenge, but you’ve remained optimistic and tenacious, even through the shutdowns of COVID-19.

An artist here has to constantly innovate. You don’t have the support structure that you have in America or Europe for these forms of music, so you have to create your own ecosystem and do everything from the marketing to education. I was carrying my own piano to venues. Through Covid, I’ve continued to create and compose, and I hope to put out an album later this year.

You began to seriously play the piano later in your life. What was your relationship with piano up until then?

My mother introduced me to western classical music when I was a kid, and I played then. The arts were always a big part of my life, even though I was studying mathematics and economics. At Denison, I studied with Dr. Nelson Harper for four years and took courses on producing music on the computer. After graduation when I was working, I would go home and play music, while also working on the side, composing music for corporate films. I really started the instrument again at 25, but I went back to the drawing board, which is unconventional for classical piano playing. I play some western classical but am now focusing on my own music and developing my voice.

You have added a very personal piece to your music. How did you come to this style, and how do you feel people have connected to it?

I started experimenting by mixing many different forms, and I would try this out in bars. I would perform a very theatrical presentation of the piano, where I included comedy and anecdotes of my life while mixing it in with a musical piece. This led me to write a show titled “Un-Recital.” It was my personal journey, looking at the struggle of the musician, juxtaposed with the struggle of the country. I think it helped people to connect with the music a little more because it involved a narrative. It helped the music to feel less alien. The show received a great response, and I performed it at the Opera House in Mumbai. I will probably perform it outside of India soon.

Published August 2021