By Khalida Sarwari
If Majhon Phillips traded her sheet music for a baseball bat, she’d be batting two for two—the two being a pair of musical talents from Saratoga recently recognized by a panel of judges in a contest that Phillips encouraged them to enter for the very first time.
Phillips, who runs Music As Language, a music studio she founded three years ago in Morgan Hill, is the proud instructor of Sandhya Sundaram, 14, and Esha Krishnamoorthy, 18, who showcased their skills in the 2016 American Protégé International Competition of Romantic Music, a contest that invited instrumentalists from around the world to submit short video or audio recordings showcasing their musical talents.
“Music As Language is honored to have such talent in our midst,” said Phillips. “I’m just honored and excited to be a part of both of these journeys.”
Sandhya placed third, qualifying her for a spot in the Winners Showcase at New York City’s famed Carnegie Hall later this month, while Krishnamoorthy received honorable mention in the “We Sing Pop” international vocal-pop competition for her vocal and songwriting abilities.
In her video, Sandhya performed “Liebestraum, No. 3” by Liszt, a piece she’d been rigorously practicing for 15 months, Phillips said. She reprises the song at the March 26 showcase. She invited her father and Phillips to be her guests.
Sandhya is still trying to wrap her head around the fact that she’s just days away from performing at Carnegie Hall.
“It was just kind of shocking and I’m kind of nervous,” the Saratoga High School freshman said. “I don’t want to go all the way there and not play it really well. I just want to be confident going in because it’s one experience that I get, and I really want to make sure that the experience is worth it and that I make my parents proud.”
Sandhya entered the competition in November after learning about it from a cousin who’d entered and was successful. It seems music runs in her family. She has another cousin in India who sings classical Indian songs. Her 12-year-old sister plays the piano and sings. Her mother and grandmother also dabble in singing.
Krishnamoorthy’s family is comparatively less musically inclined–well, maybe save for one parent. “I mean, my dad likes to sing in the shower,” she said, laughing.
Sandhya counts Jarrod Radnich and Norah Jones as influences, and like Jones, she also plays the piano and sings. The multi-talented teen doesn’t restrict herself to just music; she also plays volleyball competitively.
Still, it’s no secret that piano is her first and real love. She practices almost daily and has been hard at work on a rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” for some time now, but “it’s coming together,” she said. Eventually, she’d like to build a repertoire of songs.
“With piano, you can play melody and bass and you can sing and play, and I like doing that,” she said. “The piano, in general, is a way to get away from other things, and you get into your own world when you play.”
While Sandhya has ensconced herself in the classical tradition since the age of 4-1/2, Krishnamoorthy is more of a contemporary music enthusiast and practitioner. She, too, was introduced to music at a young age, but didn’t start taking lessons until she was about 8.
In her audition videos, the singer-songwriter performed an original composition, titled “Stand By You,” and a cover of Nat King Cole’s “Orange Colored Sky.”
She said she was “a little in awe” when she found out about her recognition, especially because she’d been hesitant to enter the contest at first “due to nerves and uneasiness.” But she decided to take the leap, with Phillips’ encouragement and motivation.
“I was really excited, and I was really honored that they thought my performance was worth the honorable mention,” she said. “Having (Phillips) as a teacher, mentor and friend has opened so many doors for me. Her dedication to helping me achieve my dreams has really been essential to my development as a musician.”
Krishnamoorthy is a Saratoga High alum who’s enrolled in the Middle College program at West Valley College. A true Jill-of-all-trades, she sings, writes songs and plays the piano, drums and guitar. Rather than favoring one instrument over another, she tends to prefer different ones depending on her mood. If she feels agitated or excited, for example, she reaches for the drums; if she’s feeling calm, she picks up the guitar or plays the piano.
“But for singing, I do it all the time,” she said. “I don’t have to be in the mood for it.”
A big fan of British singer-songwriter Adele and pop and rock band Maroon 5, Krishnamoorthy likes to incorporate elements of rock, pop and jazz into her own music. She finds herself doing some form of immersion in music every day, whether it be playing or writing.
When she’s not doing musical things, she spends her time volunteering or being outdoors. She also runs The Musical Connection, a group she formed to bring music to people who are experiencing hardships or are living in less fortunate situations, she said.
Whereas Sandhya envisions music playing a supplementary role in her life, Krishnamoorthy has set her heart on pursuing a music career. She believes that opportunities such as the American Protégé competition can help get her closer to her dream.
“I kind of pushed myself out of my box and said, ‘if you don’t pursue this, it’s going to hold you back.’ If I keep making excuses for not putting myself out there, it’s going to stand in my way of me reaching my goals,” she said.
Phillips, who has known both girls for about five years now, could not be prouder of her students. She lauded Sandhya’s diligence, discipline and motivation.
“Sandhya is very driven not only in music, but also in life,” she said. “I am consistently surprised and impressed by her work ethic, practice habits, choices, great questions and vigor for success. It was all of these qualities that led her to this competition, and now they are leading her straight to Carnegie Hall.”
Calling Krishnamoorthy “a rising star,” Phillips said it was just a matter of finding the right type of teacher for her, one that encouraged her to stick with pop and rock instead of pushing her toward classical music, as past instructors had done.
“She has the passion, power, and charisma to go all the way to the top of this field,” said Phillips.
To listen to Krishnamoorthy’s music, visit her Facebook page at facebook.com/eshakmusic. For a video of Sandhya performing the Liszt piece, visit youtu.be/ySKfNyO8uIw.