Pallavi Mahidhara first learned piano at 3 years old, and played in front of more than 10,000 people when she was 10 years old. Yet home schooling was never a serious option for the piano prodigy, who graduated from Walt Whitman High School this month.
“My parents wanted me to live as normal a life as possible,” said Mahidhara. “I’ve never liked the idea of home schooling. … You’ve got to have a life.”
That’s why Mahidhara, who has performed on television and in national select youth orchestras, treasures the memory of playing in Whitman’s talent show last year, amid impersonations of “Punk’d” and “Beavis and Butt-Head” for the talent show’s MTV theme. “It was tons of fun,” she said. “I had a really, really good experience, and got to make some really great friends from that.”
MAHIDHARA WILL ATTEND the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, an institution with 158 students, and there were fewer than five openings for pianists. Mahidhara auditioned in early March, and received a telephone call from Curtis the next day informing her she’d been accepted. “I was so excited, so happy,” Mahidhara said.
With parents who are mathematically inclined, Mahidhara has grown to love literature, especially “The Great Gatsby.”
“It’s really great for music. … It’s so important to be a well-rounded musician,” Mahidhara said.
TWO YEARS after starting musical classes at 3, she started private piano lessons. She played the violin and sang in her early elementary school years, until an experience at 10 years old that Mahidhara describes as “the turning point in my life.”
Mahidhara was in Disney’s Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra in Chicago as a violinist when a piano soloist slipped and broke his hand. Mahidhara won an audition they held for a replacement pianist, and she had to learn her piece in two days. Several days later, she performed in the Ravinia Festival before more than 10,000 people.
“It was the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done,” she said.
Since then, Mahidhara has performed in China, Spain and Canada to perform, as well as India, where many of her relatives live. “I have such strong patriotic feelings [for India],” she said. “Going to India is like taking a huge, long vacation. … Even if I’m only there for a few days.”
In October, Mahidhara will return to India to perform in the Bombay Chamber Orchestra. “I think the rest of India will need more time to embrace classical music,” Mahidhara said, but she believes that music is part of Western culture that grows more and more influential on India.
WHITMAN TEACHERS were helpful and understanding about a rehearsing and traveling schedule that sometimes meant Mahidhara left Whitman for two to three weeks at a time. This year, she went to New York on weekends to practice under her teacher, Julian Martin. “I basically haven’t been here my senior year,” Mahidhara said.
Beyond the Curtis Institute, Mahidhara dreams of playing Carnegie Hall in New York.
“I have so much to learn, and there’s so much I haven’t done yet,” Mahidhara said. “I would like to achieve a level of musicianship that I’m comfortable with [and] achieve a level of individuality. … We’ll see if that ever happens.”