Arts, Culture & Media

Chandrika Tandon's take on Indian classical music

Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon is a hugely successful Indian-American business leader who also happens to have a Grammy nominated CD. The World's Alex Gallafent brings us this profile.

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One of this year's Grammy nominees is Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon. She sings a form of Indian classical music. Tandon's album �Soul Call' is nominated in the Contemporary World Music category. It's the latest success in a life full of them.

The chant �Om Namo Narayanaya' is central to the album. It appears all the way through, arranged in a variety of musical colors. Chandrika Tandon estimates it's somewhere between 3,000-6,000 years old.

�It's meant to correspond with the eight vital centers of the body,� Tandon said. �And what's believed from ancient times is that repeating this chant many times puts a protective armor around your system as the cells are going through their healing processes.�

One of Chandrika Tandon's friends suggested she set those eight syllables to music. She put the idea aside until, waking up in the middle of the night; she heard orchestras playing in her head.

�I was hearing the music,� she remembered, �and for the next few hours I was sitting there with my keyboard and my tape recorder just singing out these songs.�

Chandrika Tandon spent years studying with some of India's great master musicians, visiting them for a week here and there in the midst of her busy schedule. She is busy.

Tandon happens to be an extremely successful business leader in the United States.

Tandon finished business school in India at the age of twenty. When she came to the United States in the 1970s, she worked for Citicorp, and then became a partner at McKinsey and Company. In 1992 she launched her own financial advisory firm.

Nowadays she runs that company and also serves as a trustee and board member for various institutions, including New York University and her own charitable foundation.

Chandrika Tandon said really wants to excel at the things she does. And she wants those things to matter.

Tandon didn't compromise when it came to her singing, either.

She sought out the best teachers in India and the United States, criticizing herself endlessly, working at her craft for decades. When it came to making her album, and collaborating with an orchestral arranger, Tandon knew precisely what she wanted.

�I was very clear when I composed them that they were composed on certain beats, with a percussive element,� she recalled. �I composed in six, seven and eight beats, and I wanted certain kinds of divisions on the eight beats using my classical training. Then he took it to a whole different level.�

Now Chandrika Tandon is a Grammy nominee. People are paying attention to her singing, including friends and associates from the business world � many of whom didn't really know much about her other, musical life.

�Until the Grammy nomination I think they were bemused by it all,� she said. �Now they're like �oh my God!' So my friends are in shock, and my business friends are in shock.�

But, in the end, what matters most to Chandrika Tandon isn't notching up another material success � she's got plenty of those. Instead, she's genuinely moved when she talks about receiving a note from a fan, a police officer somewhere in the Midwest.

�She wrote to me and she said, �look I found this album of yours and I'm in a very high-stress job in the police department and I've been playing this CD non-stop. And I just want to thank you for making this music.' She didn't need to do that. She didn't need to do that.�

Tandon continued: �It makes me happy that it makes people feel good because I think ultimately when we hear great music the music crosses some boundary and touches something within you. You find your happiness.�

Tandon is quick to say that there are countless singers and writers more accomplished than her. But judging from the response she's been getting, �Soul Call' is crossing some boundaries. It's music that seems to matter to people.

�I think that's what makes me awestruck,� she said. �And I feel really grateful.�