“I’m driven to do what I do, but you must also leave room for life, to live,” says promising young soprano Tharanga Goonetilleke who captivated audiences with her performance at the Symphony Orchestra concert on February 12 at the Ladies’ College Hall. It was a huge success and so was Tharanga.
Sitting down with the Sunday Times in the aftermath of the concert, Tharanga spoke of her early inspiration. Her childhood memories are full of notes and songs. Identifying music as her passion was made easy by a household that enjoyed singing. Tharanga’s mother was a piano teacher and her home was always filled with piano music. Her father always hummed and sang baila tunes and this made her realize even as a child that singing can make one feel happy.
Born and raised as a Sri Lankan, making a career out of singing opera, was not something many would consider an option. Tharanga too admits that it was a difficult choice.
Opportunities and facilities allocated to a performing musician are limited in the country but there will always be a path to success if you work hard enough and always look out for opportunities, she says. Appealing to the President’s Fund helped Tharanga continue her education in classical singing. They funded her living expenses during her Masters at the Julliard School in New York. “The main thing is not to get discouraged,” she advises the young talent of the country.
Getting selected to Julliard, is not impossible, though there is a rigorous selection process with the number of candidates getting smaller at every round before finally facing the panel of judges at the last interview. A nervous Tharanga in the midst of that final interview asked the panel about her lack of financial funding and if that could be a reason for her not to be accepted at the school. She received a reply that was both reassuring and encouraging. “If we want you - that would not be a reason for you to not be selected”. Relating this incident Tharanga stresses on not giving up on your dreams nor letting go of your passion. “Always try to reach new heights.”
Tharanga was the first female from Sri Lanka to be accepted and awarded a full scholarship for singing at the Julliard School of Performing Arts. Her experience at Julliard was a wonderful insight to the world of classical music. Students from diverse cultures and etnicities with an amazing gift for singing became Tharanga’s colleagues and friends. At the and of her second year of her Masters, five students, including Korean and Italian singers were picked to perform with Tharanga. “You learn a lot from all the students there. I brought what I had experienced and learnt in Sri Lanka to them. They learnt from my culture and background as much as I did from theirs,” she says.
Tharanga loved her education at Julliard but confesses to the hardships one must endure. “It really is a lot of fun, but you also have to work very hard. Some talented students dropped out of the university because they could not handle the work preassure. It is stressful, yet extremely rewarding at the same time.” Extensive research and knowledge is required for the performance of classical song. A study into its history, literary relevance and language must be conducted. At times the entire week’s lectures would have just one voice lesson.
Since the languages Tharanga sings in are native to most foreign audiences her pronunciation had to be perfect. To evoke feeling and to communicate effectively with a responsive audience she must speak to them through song. Lessons on diction of a particular language can take a year or even two, but the results in return are amazing. “It makes all the difference,” Tharanga says.
Coming back to the performance in Sri Lanka, she said singing for the people and faces you knew and sometimes even looked up to was an amazing feeling. At the end of her performance last Saturday she received a standing ovation. “It was thrilling. I felt so happy and I wanted to disappear at the same time,” she smiles. She is uninterested in commercializing her voice just yet. Her focus is on performing live in front of an audience.
Tharanga plans on continuing her studies after what she calls the “peak of her voice” fades. Her education being completed last May, on her return to the US, there are oratorios, recitals and operas awaiting her. A bright musical future no doubt, for this talented soprano.