AR Rahman might not be as well known in the United States as other musical geniuses such as John Williams, Howard Shore or Hans Zimmer, but worldwide, he is in a class of his own. Rahman made a surprise visit to the campus of Miami University Thursday to take some time to listen to performances by the Symphony Orchestra, Jazz Ensemble, Choarliers and Collegiate Chorale in preparation for this weekend's Global Rhythms performances.
Word spread around quickly throughout the music department and campus that Rahman would be visiting for a brief amount of time. His visit only lasted around five hours, but included multiple performances and many pictures.
How significant is his appearance at Miami? Charlie Poe, the Miami University Symphony Orchestra president put it simply.
"It's huge," Poe said. "Somebody that is recognized around the world to come visit Oxford is amazing."
Junior Andrew Moore, a music performance minor, agreed with Poe.
"I'm really excited," Moore said. "I don't think we have ever had a world renowned composer come to Oxford to listen to his own music."
This is not Rahman's first visit to Oxford. His ties to Miami are deep, stemming from his friendship with alumnus and Global Rhythms director Srinivas Krishnan. Former Collegiate Chorale and Men's Glee Club director Ethan Sperry arranged numerous selections by Rahman for the choral world. Pieces such as "Zikr," "Jai-Ho" and "Wedding Qawwali" have all been sung at concerts at Miami and elsewhere. This past summer, Miami students had the opportunity to visit and perform in Chennai at Rahman's KM Conservatory.
Senior Sean O'Neill was one of the students who was able to perform at the conservatory.
"[Rahman] has a really crazy schedule," O'Neill said. "Trying to meet with him is really difficult. His visit here is something special."
Rahman is perhaps best known in the US for his Academy Award winning soundtrack for the widely popular film Slumdog Millionaire. While his name may have gained significant popularity for composing songs such as "Jai Ho" and "O… Saya," he continues to fascinate audiences worldwide.
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TIME Magazine has listed Rahman as one of the world's most influential people and described him as the "Mozart of Madras." He is only 45 years old and has produced over 100 film scores, 200 commercials in India and two big production musicals. The popular Broadway musical Bombay Dreams features original music by Rahman.
How can one man produce this much music?
When asked, Rahman said his music evolves primarily from emotion.
"I write it and then listen to it a few days later," he said. "If I think it is good, I share it with others."
Rahman said his biggest musical influences include John Williams, Queen and Bach. What does this composer listen to in his free time?
"Classical music," he said "Not Lady Gaga."
In addition to his music, Rahman is a true humanitarian. He is associated with the "Save the Children" charity in India and operates the KM Music Conservatory in Chennai, bringing music to many who otherwise might not ever have the chance to embrace it.
Rahman has one message that he lives by and would like to share with everyone: "Be open, understand different things and embrace them."
To embrace some of Rahman's music, this weekend's Global Rhythms concerts in Hall Auditorium feature multiple pieces of his and a wide variety of global music.