India’s top flautist to perform at Aga Khan Museum

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By Bala Menon

TORONTO: The Aga Khan Museum is hosting a unique “Four Skies, Four Seasons” series for patrons to enjoy the inventive and innovative beats of Constantinople and India-based maestro Shashank Subramanyam. Shashank will appear on Friday, February 16: “Under the Indian Musical Sky.”

Collaborating with international artists, Canadian ensemble Constantinople presents music with an otherworldly qualityt. Named after and drawing inspiration from the trailblazing city that sat at the junction of Europe and Asia, Constantinople juxtapose contemporary music with medieval and living traditions of the Middle East.

Here is a question-and-answer session with Shashank:

1. Where do your flutes come from? Who makes them? How many do you have in your collections?

My Flutes are made by couple of Flute makers in New Delhi and it is a special variety of flute in terms of its design and has been named “Shashank’s Style of Carnatic Flute”. I do have more than a hundred of them in my collection.

2. What is the approximate value of your favourite flute? 

Each costs between $200-300.

3. How many flutes do you use during a concert?

I chose my instruments many a times depending on the venue and the sound setup available.  Each Flute offers its own unique tone and I always carry with me many Flutes that offer different sound options. For a concert, I carry around 10 different flutes from the deep bass to the picolos.

4. Do you play any other musical instruments? Do you sing?

My main lessons in Music was always been in singing and Flute as an instrument was mostly self taught. I do sing to teach my students and may be for demonstration purposes. I have always played on one instrument and that has been the Flute.

Shashank With Pandit Jasraj

5. Do your children play the flute, sing, dance?

My children have varied interests  within Music – my older one is pursuing the Classcal Guitar, Konnakol (Voice percussion of India) and singing. My younger one is more interested in Guitar and Drums. He still has some time to make up his mind!

6. Do you teach music as part of efforts to popularize Carnatic music? Please elaborate…

I teach Music to pass on what I have learnt and mastered to the next generation. I have also presented more than 1000 concerts in remote parts of India and in many countries across Europe in schools and colleges to present Carnatic Music to children with the hope that one day they may take up this artform as a passion of career.

7. Cross over/fusion projects? Can you tell us something about what you have done? Does that dilute the originality of Classical music?

I have been a part of several collaborative projects involving Classical Quartets, Jazz Ensembles and Philharmonic orchestras as well. My upcoming  visit to Canada is with Constatinople which presents Music from Iran – something that I am very much looking forward to blending Carnatic Music with the Music of Iran. Collaborations always  excite me as it helps me not only to take Carnatic Music to other parts of the Globe but also learn about other music genres,Instruments,  their practises and so on. As a student, one has to master one Genre of Music that he or she wishes to make a career out of and then when they are proficient enough it is always interesting it to collaborate.

8. How would you describe your flute-playing style?

Over the years, I have developed a Flute playing style of my own involving many unique blowing and fingering techniques that have so far solved many age old problems related to Flute playing in Indian Music. It was mostly developed based on my own training in North and South Indian systems of Music, exposure to other genres of Music and also due to my own collaborations with Musicians from across the Globe. For any musician who wishes to make a good career out of Music, having a style of his or her own is most important.

9. What does the future hold for Classical music?

The future of Classical Music of South India is always something that has been often discussed. As always, Classical Music will continue to grow in its own pace and have its niche audience, though realistically, it is far behind in patronage compared to some of the popular genres of Music in the world. The going is tough, especially for South Indian Classical Music which needs more and more people in the world to support this art form and propagate it. I am always optimistic.