For the latest edition of Oberlin and Beyond, I had the opportunity to interview the talented Rituparna Mukherjee. Mukherjee is a double-degree major who plays the viola in the conservatory and studies psychology at the college.
In our interview, we discuss Mukherjee’s love for music, her development as a person at Oberlin, and her plans for the future. I hope you enjoy.
TM: How did your musical career begin and what led you to play the viola?
RM: My mother always had music playing. I remember I would wake up on weekends and there would be Indian ragas playing while my mum made us breakfast. My dad loved classic rock—my family just loved music. Naturally, my older brother started playing piano and I was still about three at the time. He needed a metronome for practicing, so we went to a music store and at this particular music store, they gave violin lessons. So as I was wandering around, I heard someone playing violin (it was Vivaldi’s violin concerto in a minor) and I was enraptured and enchanted by it. I begged and begged my mother to let me play the violin and take lessons and she did. As I turned four, I started the violin. I later switched to viola when I was eight because the teacher in Houston convinced me that we needed more violists in the world and I loved the sound of the viola, so I switched.
TM: After developing your passion for music from a young age, were you specifically looking for a college with a conservatory coming out of high school? What sold you on Oberlin?
RM: Definitely the dual-degree program and my viola teacher; it was the best of both worlds. In my opinion, there is no other school that I can feasibly do a dual degree at the level I am doing it at Oberlin.
And my viola professor is incredible. He knows how to nurture our musical ideas while still pushing us to do our best.
TM: Seeing that Oberlin has pushed you to new heights as a musician, how has it simultaneously pushed you to new heights as a person?
RM: Oberlin has definitely expanded my thought process and how I see people. I thought I was an open-minded person before coming to Oberlin, but I’ve come to realize that it’s more than just being open-minded because that’s really passive. It’s about checking one’s own privilege and standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. It’s more than just being passively open-minded even though that is the biggest first step.
TM: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? How do you see Oberlin helping you get there?
RM: I see myself doing a multitude of things: playing in a chamber group, playing in an orchestra and teaching in prisons. I teach viola/violin at Grafton Correctional Facility and it is the most gratifying and beautiful experience.
I want music to be accessible to everyone because I see how much it can help heal. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing in ten years, but one thing I know I want to do is be able to contribute to making society a bit better with music.