The Incredible Power of Art, an Alumni Essay

Ramakrishnan KumaranFlute player Ramakrishnan Kumaran was 16 when he appeared on Show 281 of NPR’s From the Top with Host Christopher O’Riley, recorded in Costa Mesa, California in January of 2014. He is entering his sophomore year at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. He wrote this personal essay about his tumultuous first year at the University to share with other kids who are pursuing music in college.



Right now, I have no idea what you’re thinking.

In a few years, your life is going to change. Mine definitely did. Just a few months after I performed on NPR’s From the Top with Host Christopher O’Riley, I burst into my first year of college. And boy, I was flying. Classes left and right, jam sessions and late-night conversations, new challenges that put everything to the test.

I’m really not sure when it came crashing down. I was doing OK in all my classes, I had a wonderful friend circle, I was sounding better than ever, but during the nights, my thoughts would go to dark places. During a chamber rehearsal, hysterical laughter turned into tears, and I was crying for no reason in front of my friends. No matter how hard I tried to socialize, to have meaningful conversations with people I cared about, I found myself retreating further and further into my own head. Looking back, my art and my friends were the only things that were keeping me going. Like the sticker says, “Music – it’s powerful stuff.”

When I came home for the summer, I took a month off. I don’t remember anything from that time, and my parents tell me I was a recluse, shutting myself in my room and barely speaking to anyone. Now, I’m heading back to school after a healing break, and I’m getting ready to shine again.

Why am I telling you all this? I certainly don’t want you following my example.

Right now, I have no idea what you’re thinking. But do me a favor: take a second and look inside your own head. What are you FEELING right now? Are you bored? Are you curious? How happy are you? Now look back into your memories. When you found a story in some movie or book that gripped you by the throat and didn’t let go – what were you feeling? What about the last time you tried something new, something kinda scary? How did you feel? Think about it – you had to have been feeling SOMETHING.

Well, here you are, reading this post. You are a gifted artist with the power to change people’s lives. What are you looking forward to, today? This month? In the next few years? OK, I’ll stop asking questions for a second, and tell you why I’m asking them.

1. I had you look backward, because I want you to know that you have a story to tell.
2. I had you look forward, because I want you to know that you have a life to live.
3. I had you look INSIDE, because that’s the life you chose: you became an artist.

I love my profession – every day, I get to look inside my head and find out what’s going on. Eagerness, boredom, vigor, melancholy, peace, pain…it’s all echoing around in the vast spaces behind my eyes. And then, I get to pick up my instrument and hear all those thoughts leap from my lungs and lips and fingers, to bounce off the walls and into other people’s ears. But this didn’t just start happening, one fine day.


I’ve been around for 18 years, and I believe that anyone with a pulse has a story. I just finished my first year studying in Nashville, and I still can’t believe what I put myself through. There were moments when I was flying so high my toes were off the ground, and times that I couldn’t even look ahead to tomorrow, let alone survive ’til the end of the week. But looking back, I wouldn’t take back a day – all that joy, all that pain, all that LIFE goes right back into my art.

And believe it or not, all of this has already happened to you, too. Even if you don’t remember your last life-changing experience, even if you think your story hasn’t waved goodbye to its dry-as-dust preface…believe me: you are more interesting than you could possibly imagine. Each year you live, you have stored up some kind of feeling that you can unleash to change someone’s life. And you have oh-so-many-more years to learn how!

Right now, I have no idea what you’re thinking. But you’re going to realize, one day (if you haven’t realized it already), that your art has incredible power. You’ve been gifted with the ability to touch the deepest parts of the people around you. Remember that saying about “power” and “responsibility”? Well…


Go forth and be the light in someone’s darkness, be the sound in someone’s silence, be the melody that cuts through the noise of dreary existence. You are special, you are loved, and you are powerful. And I can’t wait to hear from you.


If you’re an alumni and have a story you’d like to share with our audience, please let us know! Write with your idea.

Comments are closed.