Written by: Myuran Thananjeyan
As a five-year-old child, my desire for a younger sibling increased by the passing day. I remember praying every single morning that year just so that this would happen. After a year, lo and behold! My prayers were answered in the form of my thambi, Kirishan Thananjeyan, who was born on December 11th, 1999. I had also just started my Carnatic vocal classes, and we had moved into our new house a month later. We were overjoyed by all the new developments in our lives…but little did we know that three years later, things would change very dramatically.
I remember my parents had started to worry after my brother turned one. Around two years old, it was apparent that his social development was not occurring as fast as it should have. He would not even respond to his name being called, verbally or otherwise. Still, I myself, only spoke coherently at nearly two-and-a-half years old, so we all thought that it was going to be the case with him as well. After many consultations with several medical professionals, my brother was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
Naturally, my parents and I were devastated, having previously never heard of this. At the time, it seemed like there was no hope. However, the power of music would end up helping him more than we could ever comprehend.
As a couple of years passed, my brother’s social development slowly improved, thanks to my parents’ determination and unwavering care/support. They even arranged their work schedules to make sure that at least one parent was constantly nurturing him. The TPAS programs, private therapists, and even the experimental acupuncture therapy he received, all played a crucial role in his development. However, his musical development was something none of us expected. Around 8 or 9 years old, flashes of this development really began to show.
I remember practising a song, and within the first few seconds of it, he immediately yelled out “Shanmugapriya”, thereby identifying the raga (ascending/descending scale in Carnatic music) of the song! Thinking it was a fluke, I sang a couple of other songs in different ragas, and to my amazement, he identified all of them within a couple of seconds.
To this day, I still do not know how he learned to identify ragas, because this is something that takes the average Carnatic musician a couple of years to do properly. Additionally, because he had not even started learning music yet, this was all truly astonishing!
It was this incident that was a major turning point in his musical journey, as my parents immediately enrolled him in Carnatic vocal classes (with my guru). In our classes, he would continue to amaze me by asking our guru to teach him the most high-calibre and complex of ragas and songs. These classes really helped to develop his singing skills and repertoire, along with immensely improving his focus, patience and discipline. This vocal training laid the foundation for him to be able to sing in different genres of music, such as Tamil semi-classical, film and Western songs.
A year or two later, he also began dabbling with the keyboard and violin, the latter at which he has become quite proficient in. He started to play Disney songs on his own, and eventually, we started posting his material on YouTube.
Armed with these newfound talents, he started to perform on Tamil radio stations, in temple concerts, during our music school’s annual shows and Thyagaraja festivals, and for smaller-scale musical events held by organizations such as SAAAC, OCTD, DTA and ATI.
This year, 2017, has been a year of phenomenal musical growth for him. At the beginning of the year, thanks to the efforts of MP Gary Anandasangaree and team, Kirishan made history by becoming the first-ever Tamil Canadian to sing the Tamil Thaai Vaazhthu (Tamil Anthem) at Parliament Hill, during the debut Tamil Heritage Month celebrations. He also performed at Nathan Philips Square for Autism Speaks Canada’s Walk-A-Thon, an event which drew a crowd of over 500 people, including the likes of Toronto’s top cop, Chief Mark Saunders.
In June, Kirishan held a CD release/fundraiser for his debut Carnatic CD, “Isaiyum Naanum”. He raised over $2000, and all proceeds were sent to Thilakavadiyar Illam, a home for orphaned and destitute girls in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. He also performed with a light music band (Mega Tuners) for the very first time, singing a semi-classical song for Thamil Isai Kala Manram’s Canada Day celebrations. Finally, as perhaps his biggest achievement to date, he performed a song LIVE with the legendary playback singer K.S. Chithra, for ATI’s fundraising show “Chithra Geetham”. This is something that many aspiring singers could only dream of, and he was very fortunate to have been able to sing with her.
Now, Kirishan will be presenting a summation of these talents at “Colourful Moon”, a show organized by SAAAC for both autism awareness, as well as for fundraising efforts directed towards their new, state-of-the art autism support facility. Please come out and support talents like him, as well as the many other wonderful artists performing in this show. To get your tickets, please visit the following link: http://bit.ly/2w0ElR1.
Thank you for reading his story, and we will see you there!
Also, check out a quick sample of Kirishan’s upcoming duet performance with Jessica Judes at Colourful Moon.