Poly High School sophomore Aishu Venkataraman awakens each day at about 4:45 a.m. Within minutes, the violinist begins coaxing the soulful sounds of South Indian-style classical music from her instrument.
After two hours of practice, the 14-year-old heads to Poly, where she attends rigorous PACE honors classes and participates in the big band ensemble. Then it’s time for homework and at least three more hours of violin practice before bedtime at around 10:30 p.m.
It’s all in a day’s work for the acclaimed musical prodigy, who has completed a year’s worth of college credits at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. She will earn her college degree in performance by the time she completes high school.
Aishu recently recorded an album of Indian violin music, Bliss, for commercial release in the coming weeks. As part of her high school service learning project, proceeds of the album will go to the Baylor College of Medicine Pediatric AIDS Initiative.
Aishu takes her success in stride and credits the support of family and friends.
“All of this has happened step by step, day by day, hour by hour of practice. It’s not a one-time thing but a gradual process,” she said.
A Berklee professor was more effusive. He described Aishu as a full-bore virtuoso.
“I’ve only seen a handful of people like this in my life,” Marc Rossi, Aishu’s private instructor, states in a feature article on Berklee’s website, www.berklee.edu.
“She’s amazingly developed at a very early age. Some people will spend their whole life and not get to this point. It's pretty rare. There is no question that she's a prodigy."
Venkataraman – one of Berklee’s youngest students in history – completed a 12-week full credit summer program this year. She had earned the spot at Berklee after one audition at age 13. The full-ride scholarship is valued at about $40,000 per year.
“When she auditioned, they were head over heels, and they picked her up immediately,” said Aishu’s father, Vinod R. Venkataraman.
Aishu became interested in Berklee after attending a college fair at UCLA. Her father, a professional South Indian drummer and mathematics professor, had once performed at Berklee. He handed a Berklee representative Divine Strings, a live recording of a solo concert that Aishu performed at age nine as a fundraiser for Kettering Elementary School. At Kettering, she played in the orchestra, and she would later join the jazz band at Stanford Middle School. But the Kettering recording resulted in the audition.
“Kettering was a real turning point,” her father said, “and it’s been an upward trend, slow and steady. We’ve got some great teachers, and Poly is definitely one of the best schools I’ve seen.”
The proud dad, a native of Bombay, India, gave Aishu a custom-made, one-sixteenth scale violin when she was just 18 months old. She later began training with one of India’s legendary violinists, T.N. Krishnan.
Because much of Indian music is based on improvisation, the young musician gravitated toward jazz and has begun combining the two art forms. At Berklee, she played in Brazilian and Latin jazz ensembles.
Recent engagements include a seven-concert tour of India where one reviewer described her as “a worthy successor to the current four violin giants,” including her guru, Krishnan. Aishu performed during halftime at a Nets/Knicks basketball game and has been featured on the National Public Radio series, “Crossing East.”
Talented at math and science, Aishu plans to attend medical school and become a physician.
Though she describes herself as driven, Aishu also makes time for fun. She enjoys going to weekend movies and spending quality time with friends.
“She’s an amazing musician. The best part, though, is that she is also an incredibly nice, humble and well-adjusted person,” said Chris Stevens, Poly music department chair.
For samples of Aishu’s music and the recent interview with National Public Radio, visit www.divinestrings.com.