Johns Hopkins Gazette: June 23 1997

On Students:
Peabody Prep Standout
Waxes Poetic With

Anne Garside
Special to The Gazette
In a practice room on the third floor of the Peabody Conservatory, Shruti Kumar sits cross-legged on the piano stool and discusses matter-of-factly what she wants to play on the Late Night with David Letterman show.

" 'A Peacock Dancing in the Rain,' " she says decidedly. "And 'Summer Days.' " Both are titles of two of her own compositions. At the ripe old age of just turned 10, Shruti has a whole portfolio of compositions for piano, and she recently completed a sonata for violin as well.

She didn't know whether she would be playing her compositions on the CBS program or whether Letterman would ask her to recite one of her poems. If Letterman wanted a poem, Shruti thought she might choose the one she wrote about Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, titled "The Light of Life." It begins:

I walk through a mystical, peaceful cave,
As the echo of my footsteps sounds like thunder,
The rhythmic noise surrounds my brain,
Sounds like rocks rumbling down under.

Shruti, who attends Friends School in Baltimore, has been studying at the Peabody Preparatory and in the Hopkins Center for Talented Youth for the past four years. She has just been accepted into the Prep's Arts for Talented Youth program, too. At the Prep her piano teacher is Conservatory faculty member Julian Martin (she is the only Prep student Martin takes), and her composition teacher is Stephen Coxe. Over the past months, this young musician has been winning a string of competitions and will be making her debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Meyerhoff in a "Family Concert" on Saturday, July 26, at 3 p.m., as soloist for the Bach A Major Concerto.

When Shruti got to New York on Friday, June 13, to tape her segment, David Letterman finally met his match. "Shruti was a real killer," says her proud Mom, "Nothing Letterman could say intimidated her. He asked her to write a poem about him, and she did!"

The Late Night with David Letterman audience will be able to judge the results for themselves sometime during the week of June 23, when the segment is scheduled to air. Shruti was one of eight children from all over the country who taped interviews for this feature on exceptionally gifted children. Local CBS affiliate WJZ-TV 13 planned to air the segment with Shruti in advance to alert local viewers when to tune in.

In the meantime, Shruti has other things on her mind, such as her upcoming performance as winner of the Maryland State Teachers Concerto Competition. She will be playing a piano concerto specially composed for children by another Peabody student, Matthew Edwards, who is completing his doctorate at the Conservatory. Shruti has already appeared with the Peabody Prep String Ensemble as winner of the Peabody Preparatory Concerto Competition.

But teacher Julian Martin is most proud of the fact that last December she gave her first one-hour recital in the Prep's Leakin Hall.

Shruti's parents have had to make adjustments to their own careers to accommodate their daughter's exceptional talent.

Her parents came to Johns Hopkins University a few years ago during a sabbatical year from their native India. While attached to Hopkins, they discovered the resources of the Peabody Prep and the Hopkins CTY program and decided to continue basing themselves in Baltimore so Shruti could continue her music lessons and her accelerated coaching in math through CTY. This means quite a commute for both parents.

Her father, Srkanta Kumar, now flies out on Southwest Airlines each Monday morning to Chicago, where he is on the faculty at Northwestern University in the field of electrical and computer engineering. Her mother, Tara Vishwanath, is an economist with the World Bank in Washington, D.C. Shruti has the shortest commute, from the family's Roland Park home to Friends School.

The family is used to making adjustments to fit each other's cultural backgrounds. Coming from the Bangalore province in India, Shruti's father speaks the Kannada language. Her mother is a Tamil speaker, so husband and wife use English as their common language. Shruti also speaks English as her primary language but has picked up a fair amount of Kannada from her father and grandparents.

This young composer may very well explore her own Indian musical heritage one day, after she has thoroughly mastered Western classical music. She may become a well-known "crossover" composer one day, or a brilliant physicist, or a poet.

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