The Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts (SaPa) is run by singer-songwriter Bindu Subramaniam and violinist Ambi Subramaniam – built on the vision of their parents by India’s violin icon Dr. L. Subramaniam and Bollywood legend Kavita Krishnamurti Subramaniam. SaPa is a home for great music and musicians, and since 2007, has operated with a vision to make quality music accessible to every learner. SaPa’s teaching method is dynamic, research-driven, and designed to help students chart a long and fulfilling musical path. Everything at SaPa – right from its in-house developed curriculum to its stuffed toy tamburas and baby Dikshitar illustrations for the younger learners – revolves around making music enjoyable. Its goal is to ensure that music is an integral part of the student’s day and that they have fun while growing into professional musicians. 

Here we present an interaction with the dynamic co-founders of the academy Bindu Subramaniam and Ambi Subramaniam on a musical mission –

Sa Pa – The Unravelling of the Musical Journey

Ambi: We started SaPa in 2007 with the idea to create the next generation of musicians. In 2014 we initiated SaPa in schools to extend access to quality music education to all. We work a lot with kids and with young amazing musicians who go on to become music educators with engineering, medical and law degrees who are able to devote their time completely to music which we are very happy about. We have been working towards building an ecosystem for music education. Apart from teaching, we have created a music curriculum and partnered with a Norwegian Academy for Curriculum building and teacher training. 

SaPa is a place for everybody who is interested in music, regardless of skill can come and join. Whether you are an absolute beginner fantastic performing musician we have a place for you. One thing that we’ve been able to do is to create a music ecosystem which is very dear to our hearts and work on the problem from different angles

Bindu: Our aim through SaPa and SaPa in Schools is to make music accessible.  We have our own syllabus, learning methodology, teacher training and assessment.  We operate in two models, where we teach students directly through our Academy and online, and the second model where we partner with schools to make music a meaningful part of school education. We currently work with about 30,000 students. 

Entrepreneurial journey and Challenges

Bindu: I started my entrepreneurial journey when I set up Subramaniam Entertainment, a partnership firm, to bring together the various music business interests of an artist. From there, we started SaPa in 2007 and SaPa in Schools in 2014.  It’s been an incredible journey of learning and adapting along the way.  When you set out with an idea, you need the conviction to see it through, but also the flexibility to adapt when things don’t go the way you expect. 

Ambi: I have always been a musician first which fascinates me and love teaching. My MBA has helped me to bring this together and optimize the efforts to create maximum impact for SaPa and SaPa in Schools, which started organically and now it’s nice to see the impact growing in a meaningful way. There have been several Challenges, music industry being fragmented. Trying to bring musicians, gurus and different styles of music together was a challenge initially. On the ‘SaPa in Schools’ front getting the message across that music and art are an integral part of a child’s learning took us some time.

Millepreneurs versus Other Generation Entrepreneurs

Bindu: I think there is more excitement around entrepreneurship in our generation, and less pressure to be in a conventional job.  People are more aware of being an entrepreneur or business owner as an option.  That doesn’t necessarily make it easier to be an entrepreneur.  The hard work is still the same.  

Ambi: The general attitude of parents and society is kinder to entrepreneurs of our age also there is an economic safety net that our parents did not have, so when you have that it is a lot easier to take that plunge and become an entrepreneur

Pandemic Impact and Road Ahead

Ambi: During the pandemic we redesigned our program, essentially working in schools and our centres where we have in-person classes. It was exciting in its own way to see how we can deliver a program that we are proud of in completely different circumstances.  The post-pandemic world is going to be a hybrid model. Taking our online learnings to blend it with physical classes and using the tech to take SaPa to the next level.

Bindu: The pandemic allowed us to see things from a different perspective.  We always thought that our teaching was most meaningful in person, but the pandemic encouraged us to explore online music education in a serious way.  We build new programs, an online learning platform and reached students in 18 different territories.  We fully relooked at our learning goals, and wanted to make online education meaningful, not just a poor excuse for not in person.  

In the post-pandemic world, I think people will be comfortable with a hybrid model, which affords them the convenience of logging in and learning from home or anywhere else, and the intensity and connection of learning in person.  Online will support in person, and people will use both meaningfully. As an institution, we want to make sure we are always providing the highest quality of meaningful music education, however that manifests. 

Nuggets of Wisdom for Aspiring Millennial Entrepreneurs

Bindu:I don’t think there is a right or a wrong time to become an entrepreneur.  The markets may respond differently at different times, but entrepreneurship is a long game.  It’s also something you should do only if you are passionate about solving a particular problem, and willing to put in the work.  Also, it’s ok to start small and work hard and build consistently. 

Ambi: The important thing is there is a fine line between sticking to your goals and not giving up and also doubling down on things that turn out to be mistaken. 

Threading a fine line of realising that this project needs a little more time or investment of other kinds to make it happen Vs what is that we should be doing if things are not on track. I believe you should try to fail small and ensure your mistakes don’t cost you much.

About the Sa-Pa Co-Founders

Bindu Subramaniam,  Co-Founder and CEO of SaPa, is a singer, songwriter, and Co-Founder and CEO of SaPa, she cofounded the SaPa in Schools program with her brother Ambi Subramaniam in 2014. 

Bindu strongly believes that music is more than a feel-good element; it is a transformational tool that should be made available to every child. At SaPa in Schools, music education is the primary channel of bringing about large-scale transformation and has impacted over 100,000 children across India. . Bindu is building an ecosystem for music education from the ground up, a first-of-its-kind innovation for the Indian market. This involves designing the curriculum, setting the syllabus, authoring all learning material, training and empowering educators, and also convincing stakeholders of the need. 

She also works with 16 plus government Schools and has provided music education to over 16,000 children free of cost. The impact has been profound; school principals reported a noticeable spike in school attendance on days when the children had SaPa classes. In 2020, SaPa took its entire curriculum online hosting self-paced courses by some of the world’s best musicians – like Dr. L Subramaniam, Kavita Krishnamurti Subramaniam, Anup Jhalota, Russ Miller, and more. SaPa in Schools has partnered with The Norwegian Academy of Music, UNICEF, the Akshaya Patra Foundation, the International Society for Music Education (ISME), Fondation Royaumont, BookASmile, The Infosys Foundation, and Kulturtanken.

Ambi Subramaniam, Co-Founder of Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts (SaPa),has been hailed as “the new king of Indian classical violin” (The Times of India), “India’s Itzhak Pearlmann” (Ozy Magazine), and named among GQ magazine’s 25 most influential Indians, Ambi Subramaniam is trained by his father and guru Dr. L. Subramaniam from the age of three, and gave his first performance at the age of seven. Along with his sister Bindu Subramaniam, Ambi runs SaPa – Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts – which is creating and nurturing the next generation of musicians. In 2014, he co-founded the SaPa in Schools program with Bindu, which helps students develop 21st century skills and a growth mindset using music as a gateway. The program impacts over 30,000 students across India every year. He has received awards and recognitions including the Ritz Icon of the Year Award, the Rotary Youth Award, two Global Indian Music Awards, and received a ‘Golden Violin’ from Sri Jayendra Saraswati when he was 18. Ambi co-hosts The SaPa Show on Sankara TV – to teach global music to young children across the world. He is also a youth delegate at the United Nations for the Sri Chinmoy Peace Meditation group. Ambi plays as part of contemporary world music band SubraMania, which he formed along with Bindu. He also plays as part of The Thayir Sadam Project, which he formed along with Bindu, Carnatic fusion artist Mahesh Raghvan, and percussionist Akshay Anantapadmanabhan. He has toured extensively across Europe, Asia, and the United States. Ambi has a bachelor’s degree in business management, an MBA, and a Ph.D. In 2021.

About the Millepreneur Edition

Millepreneur edition puts a spotlight on the millennial entrepreneurs. Millennial entrepreneurs are a set of new generation entrepreneurs, brave and visionary. Armed with quality professional education and new-age technology tools, they are here to change the world and make it a better place to live. 

Edition curated by – Dr. Debashish Sengupta, Asia Editor of Future of Earth