Before writing about Shabana Tajwar, I had not known about any Bangladeshi opera singer, in fact I didn't know any opera singer at all. Up, close and personal, I have known some Western singers, but they are not opera singers. However, I have heard about opera training, that it is very extensive like Eastern classical music and to be an opera singer of repute you have to train for many years.
I had met Shabana in Toronto. It must have been in 1981-82 when I was a student in Ottawa, Canada. She was very young and I had no knowledge of her musical pursuits. Then in 2012, I visited her parents in Toronto and they showed me a video of Shabana's program in NY. What a surprise that was for me! The following story unfolded for me when I asked how did all this happen?
Shabana Tajwar, lives in New York and works in an environmental consulting job. Her first degree is in chemical engineering from Waterloo University, Canada.
She had moved to NY twenty three years back and decided to join a music class to relieve stress from work. The class was called “Singing for people who think they can't”. The teacher of that class was an opera singer who heard classical singing potential in her voice. She led Shabana into the direction of opera, a world about which she had no knowledge of or exposure to. Shabana started seeing operas at the New York Metropolitan Opera multiple times a week and learning everything she could about the composers, styles, roles, etc. She started working with different teachers and coaches and doing opera workshops weekly until one day she was encouraged to audition for an opera program in Austria!
She was accepted to the program and it changed her life. She was singing with singers who were ten years younger and who were all pursuing careers in the field and she was accepted by them as an equal, even though she was only doing it for pleasure.
After returning to New York, the coach from the program in Austria recommended a legendary coach from the Metropolitan Opera for her and she generously took Shabana as her student, knowing that it was all for the pleasure of making music, which took a lot of pressure off of both.
After working together for a while, the coach put together a concert for Shabana's family and friends. It was such an honor that she bestowed on Shabana! She continued to work with her and performed in subsequent concerts.
Shortly after, she met Brent, got married and had Adeleh. Priorities changed quickly and her singing life was temporarily stalled. After a few years of concentrating on raising Adeleh, and moving to a house in New Jersey, Shabana decided to start an annual Musical Salon in her house to restart her singing.
She and Brent (also an artist) love showcasing the talents of friends from beginners to professionals in all genre of music (jazz, blues, classical, pop, etc). Their goal is to be supportive, provide a safe space for artists to perform and shine, no matter where they are on their musical journey. The kids watch the adults, the amateurs learn from professionals, creating a beautiful chain of inspiration.
Shabana certainly never imagined that any of this would be a part of her life when she first joined the class called “Singing for people who think they can't!”
Nashid Kamal is an academic, Nazrul exponent and translator