Following his motivation, Gaurav embraced his uniqueness and became the first Glass Harpist of India. A musical freak by nature, his artistry has taken him to The Kapil Sharma Show- where he performed for Shahrukh Khan. Conducting a YouTube channel full of his renditions and covers of viral hits, Gaurav remains an inspiration for young and deprived artists in India. His TedTalk remains beloved among fans of music and his appearance on India’s Got Talent, spawning him to national fame.
A guitar enthusiast, a budding singer, and a musical hero take a look at what Gaurav Kotian had to say about his work and passion.
Questions and answers
Let's start this conversation by talking about uniqueness, which is very directly associated with your art. How did you get into it?
Growing up, my parents predicted that I would be a musician. When I was about a year of age, I was playing percussion instruments. I banged on them for a while until I came across my first Casio keyboard. It was tiny and equally famous at that time. SA-21 was the model, I remember.
Even though I had very little knowledge of music, I loved having my time around it. I think this is what I was meant to do. Later, I picked up a keyboard during my school days and played alongside my school band. We started performing with our instruments; that’s how it all began.
I was not as passionate about music then as we were young. I started performing in annual school functions and choir bands with my school music teacher’s help. Interestingly, in my 9th grade, my mom had gifted my dad an acoustic Guitar for their anniversary. It’s a funny story because it was meant for him to pick up and learn to play, right? He has always been influenced by music as it runs in the family. But since he is a busy man, he never took it up.
Coming to the point of uniqueness, I realized that there are countless guitarists on the planet. Would it then be possible for me to stand out?
I would keep asking myself this question over and over again. I never took any special classes to learn my music. I went over Google and YouTube and sought assistance from the tutorials. I kept on playing Guitar for hours and hours, and I fell in love with it. The Guitar will always be my favorite as the Glass Harpist was born from it.
You spoke about the "Set of Wine Glasses" as a musical instrument, just like any other. Can you elaborate on it?
When it dawns upon you that you cannot be the only best guitarist out there since there are many different layers and versatility to music, I thought of doing something unique, to stand out in the crowd. I wanted to be known for my work.
I researched a lot on the web and came across a video of a Glass Harpist who played on the streets of Prague. You get to see a lot of street musicians busking around Europe, and the people are spectators. I saw one of those videos and was surprised to see how a set of glasses had a hint of music. Initially, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
In India, we’ve heard about Jaltarang, which clicks and leaves a sweet sound. Still not convinced, I went up to my kitchen and asked my mother for an empty wine glass.
I went on YouTube and started to search for videos on Glass Harp but couldn’t find one single artist from India. But I kept on searching and confirmed the absence of one in India. This became my source of inspiration.
The challenge was to make a Glass Harp all by myself. So, then I went up to my kitchen again and grabbed a wine glass. I did some experiments, whatever I could think of at that time. I broke a few glasses in the process of mastering it, but I kept my cool.
As I’m a musician, I had an idea about the notes and the various frequencies at which the sound is produced. With the help of music theory and some experimentation, I finally made a Glass Harp. My parents assisted me during the entire exploration process.
Since we are talking about glass harping already, how would you describe your music created typically?
As it is handcrafted, it can hardly be found in any shop as it is a customized instrument. Since no shop was willing to provide me my instrument of choice, I went to a local shop. I found different shapes and sizes of glasses. I did some experiments in the shop itself, and then I bought a few of them home. Many glasses still lie wasted as I couldn’t find a use for them.
Once I had performed, it took me some time to do the processing and editing. As you may know, I am the only Indian who plays a Glass Harp. So far, around the globe, there are only eight musicians who do so. Hence, it’s a rare yet rewarding experience.
One of the most viral performances by you is a cover of "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion. Is that your favorite song, or did you just imagine it making a connection to the Glass Harp and went for it?
I think the song is a beautiful one, all thanks to its composers. I wanted to go for a classic one as it would bring in people’s attention immediately. That it is one of my favorites is not a secret anymore.
On a keyboard, you can play around with all ten fingers at once, but when it comes to a Glass Harp, I had to work my way up with just two notes at a time. Since there is a limitation on the notes which can be produced on a Glass Harp, I had to choose a soothing track. People loved it, and it paid off.
Gaurav, you're sitting in your living room, sipping on tea/coffee in the morning. Take us through your creative process from there.
Well, my day starts with what I left the previous evening. I start practicing in the evenings, and it goes up until midnight. I feel I can be more creative during the nights as silence takes over gradually. Besides, I have a passion for coffee, workout, and tennis. These activities usually take up my day. I feel it’s very unconventional in this way.
Your music is soothing and never seizes to not dazzle the audience. But you've also covered a lot of Pop songs that seem even more unconventional than people usually presume. How does that work?
When I started doing professional shows, I realized that there are people of all ages and kinds that I have to cater to. I knew I wanted to please everyone with my music.
Whether it be a seven-year old kid or a sixty year old. I wanted to play songs that touched them emotionally. Hence I started playing soothing songs as well as the party-rock ones. Upbeat songs enhance people as well as soothe people’s moods. With different genres come different tastes.
Your TedTalk is extremely inspirational. I was wondering, could you talk more about your passion and how important it is to you?
If you do something without passion, it’s not wholehearted. When you are passionate about something, you can spend an entire lifetime and beyond doing it with no qualms. Passion is something that I personally live for.
This is the one thing I can keep doing for the rest of my life without risking getting bored. If you follow a set of rules and conform to people’s advice all the time, you end up feeling unsatisfied and incomplete. Instead, if you go for something you love, you know it’s the best for you. With practice, you can master it efficiently. To begin with, one needs passion to get into the field. Success comes flowing later.
A lot of young people experience issues related to body image and mental health. Would you like to tell us how you cope when you go through a rough patch in life?
Well, it’s not entirely an area of my expertise where I can keep talking about it, but I would like to think that we always have two choices in life, either to crib about things or take actual efforts to change it. I listen to a lot of music when I feel low. There are few idols in the music industry that I look up to.
Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, Elvis Presley, Metallica, and Jason Mraz, to name a few, are the source of my inspiration. I love watching them perform. I try to note their actions on stage. Listening to these artists instantly cheers me up. I feel that music is the ultimate healer.
What importance does music play into your life, and if you were to describe music in one word, what would that be?
I always find it very tough to describe it in one word. Music is everything for me as it has helped me through my rough times. I find it quite meaningful. It is something that has helped me with a purpose and thus keeps me going. I would fall short of words if I were to describe the importance of music in my life because the role it plays in my life is indescribable.
You are a proficient Guitarist and Pianist, along with being India's first and only Glass Harpist. Share with us your fondest memory of music.
You need to begin with something after which you can develop your style. Glass Harp is something I’ve considered entirely self-taught as there are no tutorials available.
When I was in college, I used to play a lot of Heavy Metal and Rock music on my electric guitar. This helped our band with winning 8 competitions in a row for the Battle of Bands in Mumbai.
Likewise, if it was a Bollywood cover band that we were to be competing with, we would still be grabbing the throne.
A few adjoining factors like being hard and punchy on the outside, having perfect costumes, synchronization, and our guitars being black showed our zeal as a band. Right now, I own seven guitars and they are on display in my room. I feel I can never run out of guitars because of this.
Your journey has been one that very few people can only imagine. You've broken that barrier, very artistically. How do you feel when you look back right now?
I don’t think I have arrived there yet. Whatever achievements that I have accomplished, I will always be grateful for them. This was something I always wanted to do and right now, I’m doing just that. I feel really happy and inspired by the fact that the audience appreciates my craft. It has been an exciting journey so far.
Whether it be appearing on Newspaper, India’s Got Talent, or on the Kapil Sharma Show to perform for Shahrukh Khan, it has been a versatile experience. I am lucky to have achieved this feat and also hope to do a lot more in the future.
Who inspires you, both: in life and music?
In life, my parents are my greatest inspiration. I have seen them working so hard to help me achieve my goal. They provided me with everything for me to be able to focus on music. In the conventional idea of parenting, it is not easy to diverge from studies and go for one’s passion.
Music requires you to have an in-depth and focused mind. Without the support of my family, it would have been very hard. I am fortunate to have them. Then comes the stalwarts of the music industry, and their passion itself can leave anyone in a state of awe.