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Akhil Vinay, an MA Music student from Thiruvananthapuram, competed with able students to win the second prize in guitar solo.

Blind music student wins honours at Kerala University Youth Festival
news Music Wednesday, April 03, 2019 - 13:28

On the night before the competition, Akhil’s guitar strings broke. It was 10.30 pm and he called his tutor, Willy Pulimugath, who asked him to bring the guitar to him immediately. An hour and a half later, Akhil returned home with his classical guitar all fixed and the next day, he went on to win the second prize for guitar solo at the Kerala University Youth Festival. Akhil Vinay, an MA Music student who has been completely blind for five years, competed with able students, to win the honour.

Akhil, sitting at his home in Thiruvananthapuram, shows the fingers of his hands when he narrates how much they pained last week, when he took a week off college just to practice. “He would be practicing when I woke up at 6 am and when I went to sleep at 10 in the night. He practiced so hard that the strings broke the previous night,” Akhil’s mother Sheeja says.

It took him two years to learn the composition - Leyenda by Isaac Albeniz. “It was a huge challenge for me to teach. It is difficult even to teach those who are well with their eyesight,” says Willy.

Akhil had on several occasions tried and given up learning this composition. “It becomes so tough because you need to play different styles at the same time and you need to play them very fast,” Akhil says.

It was four years ago that Akhil began learning western classical music with Willy. “Willy sir had come to our college – the Swathi Thirunal College of Music – for a three-day lecture demonstration (lec-dem). It is only on the last day that I got to hear him and I was so inspired by the composition he played - Carcassi's Waltz. I got his name wrong that day as Billy. And we searched for him for a year before finding him,” Akhil says.

The first day he went to meet Willy sir, Akhil spoke about Carcassi's Waltz, the composition he had heard Willy play a year ago. Willy said he’d teach him that and Akhil learnt it that same day. “I had recorded it and practiced it on a regular guitar. When Willy sir asked me, I played it and he said he would teach me that composition right away.”

Akhil was doing his Bachelors in Music then and learning Carnatic music at college. “He began learning Carnatic music at the age of three. We put him to it when we watched him climb on stone platforms and pretend to sing with a mike,” says Sheeja.

It was in his fourth grade that Akhil’s parents discovered he had a problem with his vision. “It’s called Retinitis Pigmentosa. Five years ago, he has turned completely blind,” Sheeja says. But neither Akhil, nor his tutor Willy, found that a problem when Akhil wanted to play the classical guitar.

The only break in Akhil’s musical life came when his voice cracked in his teens and some relatives mocked him for it. But he came back to music, picked up western and eastern streams, sang and played the guitar to his heart’s content. He has now composed two pieces of his own – one western classical and one eastern classical. The lyrics are by his Indo-Canadian friend Ipe Mathews.

Both the compositions will be played and one of them is going to be released as an album on April 20, at a concert organised by the Trivandrum Centre for Performing Arts at Hilton Garden. “My band Acoustica will also be introduced that day,” he says.

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