Grammy award-winning violinist Manoj George is all set to release his 10th studio album 'Enlightened Sunrise'
In an exclusive interview, Indian violinist Manoj George talks about his new album Enlightened Sunrise, his online gig initiative called ‘Positive Vibes’ amidst lockdown, and his book, ‘My Journey with the Violin-Volume 1.’
Manoj George is an Indian violinist and music composer with a unique Indo-western style.
Born in Thrissur, he is a maestro when it comes to his craft, and is always willing to experiment when it comes to music, learn something new in the process and grow every day.
He was a part of the 2015 album ‘Winds of Samsara’ as a conductor, string arranger, violinist and choral arranger, which won the Grammy Award for ‘Best New Age album’ an album that he worked alongside producer and composer Ricky Kej.
During his career he has performed in over 3000 concerts across the globe, and was the first Indian violinist to perform at the United Nations as part of the ‘Breathe Life for Healthy People- Healthy Planet’ which was the WHO’s (World Health Organisation's) first global conference on air pollution and health in Geneva.
He was honoured by the Chief Minister of Kerala for his outstanding achievements in music in Thiruvananthapuram in 2015.
Apart from his solo compositions and full-fledged music albums, he has worked on songs for Kannada and Malayalam popular films, such as ‘Athmeeya,’ ‘Urvi’, Vaadhyar, Kharaaksharangal amongst others.
He is the proud founder of a Music School in Bangalore called ‘Manoj George School of Music’ established in 2009 and he is the founder of the popular world fusion band ‘ManojGeorge4Strings.'
Most recently amidst the lockdown, the award-winning violinist has been allowing his creativity to flow and he created his 10th Studio album called ‘Enlightened Sunrise’. The first track was scheduled for release on September 6 and the remaining tracks will be released in the subsequent weeks ahead.
In an exclusive interview with YS Weekender, Indian violinist Manoj George talks about his new album Enlightened Sunrise, his online gig initiative called ‘Positive Vibes’ amidst lockdown, and a book he has recently written, titled ‘My Journey with the Violin-Volume 1’
YSW: Growing up in Kerala, a state known for its rich culture, were you exposed to music from a young age?
MG: I am from the city of Thrissur in Kerala which is the cultural capital of Kerala, where many cultural programmes are often conducted. This, in fact, exposed me to art and culture early on in my childhood.
It all started for me while watching my church choir. I was always fascinated with the melodious music created by the choir, but it was only later that I realised that it was from a violin. I began admiring the instrument greatly.
The mesmerising sound haunted me all the time, and that developed into a desire to learn the instrument. I started playing when I was 13 years old.
YSW: Tell us about how you first chanced upon the violin, and how you decided to become a full-time, professional player.
MG: Selecting my profession as a violin player was, in fact, a very tough decision.
During my college days, I used to play in college fests and other programmes, received many prizes, and got the opportunity to play with legendary Malayalam singers like Yesudas, KS Chitra etc.
However, I longed to learn western classical music, and after my graduation I decided to move to Pondicherry to pursue the same. Later I moved to Bengaluru, where I continued learning till I completed LTCL in violin from Trinity College of Music, London.
During this time, I was awarded a scholarship from the Ministry of Human Resource and Culture, by the Govt of India, New Delhi. The opportunity to learn western music and my desire to get deeper into world classics, motivated me to take up the violin.
YSW: Who were some of your early artistic influences, and who are they now (Other musicians, singers, bands, artists, writers, lyricists, composers?)
MG: I always enjoyed the compositions of “Mozart, Beethoven, and other world class musicians”. Their marvellous work moved me to tears when I visited Vienna.
I always wanted to create new compositions which incorporate a blend of Indian and western classics. And I made this an integral part in my musical journey.
I was fortunate to learn the violin from luminaries like Philomena Thumboochetty, Galina Heifetz and Arvind Santwan etc. and I have been inspired by renowned musicians like L Subramaniam, Stephane Grappelli, Jean Luc Ponty, John Mclaughlin, and Yanni.
I still listen to all kinds of music.
YSW: Can you tell us about a performance or show that you did that you look back the most fondly on?
MG: I have done more than 3000 concerts and performances around the world. And all these were done with great passion. I got to collaborate with a number of musicians across the globe, and all of them remain very close to my heart.
However, when the chief minister asked me to perform for the Kerala Government in Thiruvananthapuram, it was one of my most memorable concerts.
It had artists from different parts of the world and a 25-member string section with my band. Initially I thought there won’t be much of an audience, but later realised that people were listening from outside the auditorium too. They couldn’t get inside as the auditorium was jam packed.
The most life altering experience of that concert was the saving two people who were going to commit suicide that night. After watching this concert, they changed their decision and decided not to take their life.
YSW: You were part of the album 'Winds of Samsara'. What inspired you to work on this album?
MG: I was a conductor, string arranger, violinist and choral arranger for the album 'Winds of Samsara,' which won the Grammy Award for the Best New Age Album in 2015.
That made me the first Indian violinist to be recognised by the Grammys. I have been collaborating with Ricky Kej and this was also part of that collaboration
YSW: You are the first Indian violinist, and first Malayalee to be recognised by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. How does it feel to receive this honour?
MG: This is the dream of any musician and this was one of the best moments in my life. It has inspired me to work more passionately on my music.
Apart from this, I also got an opportunity to do the orchestration for the renowned Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Voxaphonic Choir, London. As a musician, it’s a milestone and an honour.
It took about a month for me to compose and orchestrate for the song “Vande Mataram” by Ricky Kej and ILA Paliwal.
Recording at the most prestigious Abbey Road Studios, London was an amazing experience.
YSW: Tell us a little bit about your band ‘Manoj George 4 Strings’ and your music school ‘Manoj George School of Music’. What are some of the instruments currently being taught there?
MG: Our band principle is to create 'engaging, entertaining, exciting' music for our audiences. Apart from creating unforgettable moments for the audience we also promote the music and the band adds its own original compositions and other famous compositions that fans of all ages can enjoy.
My fusion band is called “ManojGeorge4 strings”, established in 2009. The band members perform for numerous occasions like corporate events, music festivals, public events, and college fests.
The band has collaborated with several legendary musicians, chamber orchestras, artists from different parts of the world.
I started my music school in Bangalore in 2010 where we teach violin, guitar, keyboard and piano. We take both online and classroom classes. I have students from across the world ranging from Australia to the USA.
YSW: Amidst lockdown you recently penned and composed your 10th studio album ‘Enlightened Sunrise’. When is the launch and what can the audience expect?
MG: In isolation, my imagination knew no bounds. I imagined looking at life differently and with positivity, which resulted in the album, “Enlightened Sunrise”.
There are 7 tracks in this album...
The first track is scheduled for release on September 6 and rest of the tracks will be released over the subsequent weeks. The tracks are as follows:
Waves of New world - rise to revamp from the extraordinary moments
Vibes of Love – Smile and be happy with our precious life.
Divine Atma –Our Atma is our Guru, Feel the God in you.
Chase the dreams –Always chase our dreams, never give up
Sparkling Celebrations – Celebrate every moments of life- life should be celebrated
Spectrum of Chakravyuha – There are no shortcut to life, break invisible chakravyuha
Flames within – Find the fire and strength within you to fight the battle / Have a spiritual fire within
YSW: You have written a book called ‘My Journey with the Violin-Volume 1’. Can you tell us about it?
MG: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. This book describes precisely my step-by-step approach on how to create a strong foundation in the art of playing the violin.
When I saw the years slipping by, I asked myself, ‘What do I want to contribute to the next generation?’ I realised that I wanted to share my knowledge.’
A simple and easy method is explained in “My Journey with Violin”. This book helps teachers as well as the students teach and learn violin in an interesting way.
The audio and the accompaniment tracks of the book are available on my YouTube channel for reference and practice. This book is available on Amazon.
YSW: Who is your favourite International violin player of all time? Which is a destination you would most like to visit.
MG: Itzhak Perlman. I was fortunate to see him perform live with the Israeli Philharmonic orchestra and it was an unforgettable moment to meet him and conductor Zubin Mehta after the concert.
Though I have been to different parts of the world, Vienna is my favourite. I make a point to visit the Vienna Central Cemetery (Wiener Zentralfriedhof) where legends like Beethoven, Mozart, Franz Schubert and Brahms are buried.
YSW: What would you describe your personal musical style as?
MG: Indo-Western. Though I like playing different genres of music, there will be an element of Indian style in my music.
YSW: You have worked on the soundtrack of both Kannada and Malayalam popular films, such as ‘Athmeeya,’ ‘Urvi’, Vaadhyar, Kharaaksharangal amongst others. How do you like working on music for films?
MG: Composing music and scoring background is my key competency. I am really looking forward to exploring my key strength in the Indian film industry while I continue to do my independent music.
These movies which I have worked on have bagged many awards. I am still waiting for a real opportunity to showcase my talents.
YSW: Who are some of the musicians you have had the most fun collaborating with, and who would you most like to collaborate with in the future?
MG: My next project includes an orchestra from Prague and vocals by an amazing soprano singer, Barbara from Austria. I have two more projects in the pipeline where the collaboration is planned with international musicians.
I have been fortunate to work with many industry veterans like Hariharan, Lucky Ali, Shankar Mahadevan to name a few. I am also looking forward to collaborating with orchestras and different genres of musicians.
YSW: What is your message to fans and individuals who are having a difficult time with the new lifestyle shift due to COVID-19?
MG: The impact on the world has been huge and I am sure all of us are going through the changes and it is inevitable. But how you rise to the new situation is important.
I have only one message to all. Never lose hope and never give up. Helping hands are always around us.
YSW: What is your message and advice to aspiring violinists and musicians out there?
MG: I have a music school in Bangalore, and I have been teaching for the past 25 years, New generations of students are keen to learn music. Without practice or working hard it’s very difficult to do well in the field of music.
So, dedication, passion and practice are my three messages to young music lovers. Also, be open to listening to all kinds of music.
YSW: Tell us a little bit about your online gigs amidst lockdown and your series ‘Positive Vibes’.
MG: During those initial days, I felt people were confused about the situation and the lockdown and they were concerned about the future too. That’s when I came up with the idea of a “Positive Vibes” series to share some positivity all around and change their lives through music.
During the phase of the initial lockdown I recorded my 'Positive vibes' videos every day and published them on social media platforms.
My audience on all my SM platforms enjoyed it. They wrote letters to me telling me how it had changed their lives and kept them positive and motivated. Hence, I continue to do 'Positive Vibes' at least once a week.
YSW: Apart from being a renowned violin player, you are an avid philanthropist. What are some of the organisations you support?
MG: I am a patron for “Little Flower Charitable Society”, which supports families who have lost their bread winners. Apart from that, I perform for many fundraising events to support various charitable organisations worldwide. Half of my concerts are mainly for charity.
YSW: What do you enjoy doing most on the weekend when not playing music?
MG: I love nature. I used to think that if I was not a musician, I would have been a farmer. I love travelling, and I travel to many different places, close my eyes and listen to the music of nature. That’s the most fascinating feeling.
(Image Credits: Manoj George)
Edited by Asha Chowdary