Humans of Harker: Music and mentorship

Kavita Murthy finds joy in teaching and mentoring


Irene Yuan

“I like to see someone else fall in love with something that I care about too. [It’s] that feeling of giving back with what I know. And then, I grow as a violin player, I grow as a tennis player, I grow as a person, so I’m getting a lot back in return,” Kavita Murthy (12) said.

Kavita Murthy (12) recalls the first time she helped out with the lower school orchestra in 2015. Rehearsal had already started, so Kavita, wearing her middle school uniform, entered the room and sat in the back. She remembers not interacting with any kids on that first day and feeling extremely awkward. But as she continued to return to help out, she felt less and less out of place.

Years later, during another session at the lower school, she recalls the kids laughing at her when she played an extremely out-of-tune note. Yet, instead of feeling embarrassed like she would have when she first started volunteering, the experience prompted her to look back and see how much she has grown over the years.

According to Kavita, lower school orchestra director Louis Hoffman encouraged his students to come back and help out “because the kids will look up to you.” Inspired by her own experience being mentored by an older violinist in lower school, Kavita and a group of others used to go back to the lower school in sixth grade. The following year, when she turned 14, she started getting paid for the time she spent interacting with students.

“That’s why I got some of my love for working because I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can do something that I like and learn and earn money,’” she said. “Especially [working] with little kids and getting to play music and have fun myself … It’s nice to see something entertaining and get paid for it.”

While Kavita might look at ease playing the violin at the annual Big Assembly Day (BAD) performance or the upper school orchestra’s winter concert, performing used to be one of her fears. She remembers joining the lower school string ensemble and being afraid to the extent of making her dad send an email to her teacher when the teacher mentioned that individuals would have to play by themselves during the next class period.

Over time, with the help of mentors such as orchestra director Dr. David Hart, Kavita changed her mindset, helping her overcome her fear of performing alone.

“[You get less nervous] once you feel more comfortable and realize that it’s all about telling a story and … it’s okay to make mistakes,” Kavita said. “Dr. Hart has been a really big influence in that part of it. He would always say, ‘Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Make the mistake and learn from it,’ and that’s a message that I try to carry out in all parts of my life but in music especially.”

In addition to telling a story through music, Kavita also appreciates the group aspect of the ensembles she plays with, whether that be the lower school string ensemble or the upper school orchestra.

“In lower school, all I can remember is feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m working with such great people,’” she said. “Getting to play with people that I was able to learn from is really amazing. And I still feel that same way now when I hear people play.”

Just as she loves working with the lower school instrumental music groups, Kavita also helps out within the tennis community by coaching the sport. When Kavita was in eighth grade, her coach asked her to work with another student of hers. After that one-on-one experience with another student, her instructor proposed that Kavita try coaching at a tennis club. Kavita agreed and started out with the younger age groups.

“A lot of kids were really nervous, and that was something I saw in music too,” Kavita said. “One girl was so afraid to play with other kids because she was afraid of judgment, so I would work on it with her one on one … Getting to the point where she felt good playing and she enjoyed it … was really special for me to see.”

Although Kavita found joy in the teaching aspect of coaching tennis, she initially struggled with fitting in with the other tennis coaches. She started the job at 16, while the rest of the assistant coaches were high school seniors, and this age difference made her doubt her abilities.

“When you don’t know people, it’s super intimidating at first because you always assume the worst in that case of ‘Oh, they won’t like me. Oh, I’m not going to be good enough,’” Kavita said. “[It’s] realizing that everybody started from somewhere. And maybe you started a little high. Maybe you’re a little behind. But you can get there. That was really important for me to know.”

Whether it be coaching tennis, playing with lower school instrumental groups or heading mentorship programs in the various organizations she is part of, Kavita remains enthusiastic about any method of giving.

“What sticks out to me about her in advisory is that whenever there’s a charitable opportunity, she’s the first one to be like, ‘Well, of course we’re going to do that’ and ‘Can we do more of it?’” Dr. Julie Turchin, upper school history and social science teacher and Kavita’s adviser, said. “Even this year, we’re like, ‘So how many of the little [Family Giving Tree] tags should we get?’ and she was like, ‘Oh, 12.’”

Sometimes, specific elements of teaching, such as getting students to be more comfortable with their abilities, can take months. Kavita remains patient and sees things through until the end, which she finds rewarding. This persistence allows Kavita to thrive academically as well.

“She’s very hardworking … one of the most dedicated people I know,” friend Anoushka Khatri (12) said. “In the mornings, I’ll get to school early and I’m like, ‘Where are you?’ [and she’ll respond] ‘I’m in [upper school physics and research teacher Chris] Spenner’s office hours working.’ She does spend as much time as she can dedicated to things she wants to improve in, and that’s really inspiring.”

Despite challenges such as a fear of performing and self-doubt in coaching, Kavita was able to push through and continue on with the activities she committed herself to.

“Kavita has an unwavering positive energy that you can feel when she walks into a room,” upper school chemistry teacher Andrew Irvine said. “She has grit and perseverance and is able to quickly move through obstacles and setbacks, to see the deeper lesson, which she is able to use for her future.”

To Kavita, teaching is not only about helping others. She finds that through instruction, both she and her students grow in multiple ways.

“I like to see someone else fall in love with something that I care about too,” Kavita said. “[It’s] that feeling of giving back with what I know. And then, I grow as a violin player, I grow as a tennis player, I grow as a person, so I’m getting a lot back in return.”

Even with the various organizations Kavita dedicates herself to, she still finds time to be there for her friends.

“She’s really motivated and has a ton going on,” friend Natasha Matta (12) said. “But despite having all of that, she’s always there to help you out if you need anything.”

Kavita intentionally decides how she contributes to her community. Despite the fact that she is involved in a range of activities with different purposes, she finds an aspect of teaching or helping that she is able to focus on and pursue.

“In every club I do, mentorship programs are really big for me, whether that be in [Women in STEM] or Research Club,” Kavita said. “That’s been something that … I always gravitated toward. A lot of things that I do … is doing something where I know that I’m helping other people, and that’s always been something that’s given me a lot of gratitude.”