Fourteen-year-old Martina, a violin prodigy from Kerala, has earned the unique honour of being the youngest person from India and the first musician from the state to earn a fellowship from Trinity College London.
However, it was a very difficult journey for the youngster, who hails from Peravoor in Kannur district, to achieve this feat. The efforts of her father Charles, a keyboardist who is a constant presence on the stage while Martina performs, to enable his daughter to reach great heights in music too have been extraordinary.
Kallamplackal Charles Devasia had dreamed of becoming a musician in life. However, difficult circumstances at home forced him to take up the role of a keyboard artist. He was a regular keyboardist at the musical programmes in the Malabar area of Kerala and in the choir of the churches under the Peravoor Forane Church administered by the Thalassery diocese. Charles also had to drive an auto-rickshaw to earn sufficient income.
Spotting Martina’s talent
When Martina started displaying an interest in violin from a very young age, Charles initiated measures to turn her into an eminent violinist. At age seven, Martina was enrolled at ‘Ragam School of Music’ run by violinist Philip Fernandez, who is also the father of noted singer Sayanora Philip.
Martina studied at Ragam School till she achieved the eighth grade in music. As exams from fifth grade needed the accompaniment of piano, Martina was supported in this regard by students of Chetana Music Academy in Thrissur. From these students, Fr. Thomas Chakkalamattathu, director of Chetana Academy, heard about Martina’s exceptional talent. Fr Thomas soon arrived at Martina’s house to personally hear Martina’s violin recital and invited her to join Chetana Academy.
Subsequently, Martina took a transfer certificate from Navajyothi Senior Secondary School at Edathotty in Kannur, where she was undergoing regular studies, and joined Devamatha CMI Public School in Thrissur.
Shifting to Thrissur
However, the relocation to Thrissur from Peravoor was not easy for Charles and his family. While Charles wished for a bright future for his daughter in music, financial woes and uncertainty troubled him. Martina needed an expensive violin worth lakhs to continue her training. Similarly, Charles always had to accompany her on the keyboard. The family wanted a house in Thrissur with facilities for Martina to practice. To meet all these requirements, Charles decided to sell the auto-rickshaw which was his sole source of income. He also planned to dispose of his own house and property in Peravoor.
Charles felt that the money received from all these transactions would help him find a house on rent in Thrissur. However, all his relatives and friends opposed the idea. Finally, Charles decided to go ahead with the plan after receiving full support from his wife Shiny.
It was in 2019 that Charles, Martina and Shiny shifted to Thrissur. Every day in the morning, Martina practiced from 5 am till it was time to go to school. In the evening, she practiced after her studies. Martina went to bed at 10 pm sharp every day. But, neighbours were not pleased with this routine and they complained about the sound of violin and keyboard, forcing Charles to search for a convenient house.
Training continues smoothly
Currently, Martina is studying music under Fr. Thomas Chakkalamattathu and is being trained in violin by Carol George of Kochi, who is among the top exponents of the instrument in the country.
Martina soon began to earn one diploma after another and she required a most-modern violin. Fr. Paul Edayakondat of the Mananthavady diocese, who is a family friend, fulfilled this wish of Martina by gifting her with a German violin.
By this time, Martina realized the sacrifices made by her parents for her and engaged in non-stop practice. Sometimes, her small fingers could not meet the high demands for dexterity demanded by the higher grades and blood trickled out. Martina also developed a callus in the area of her neck where the violin is placed. She also began reciting the violin during musical events on holidays to support the family.
Martina now is the youngest violinist in South Asian Symphony, an orchestra having musicians from 11 nations. She has also identified a tune by herself. Her other major achievements include the first prize in the All-India Con Brio Violin Contest of 2022 and the All-India Con Brio Senior Violin Competition of 2023. Over 100 musicians from various parts of the country took part in these events. Martina became the winner after clearing the semi-final round which had six contestants and the final with four competitors. She also appeared on various television channels and stage shows with her violin.
“I love playing Western Classical compositions,” says the youngster. Her favourites are the concerts and symphonies of Mendelssohn, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Paganini.
At present, Martina is also receiving master-classes from Nick Pendlebury, head professor of the String Department at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Prof. Jan Schmolck.
Asked about her future plans, Martina replies, “When I grow up, I wish to conduct advanced studies in violin abroad.”