Hitting the perfect octave

Meet Shashank Subramanyam, the Grammy-nominated flute maestro who was in the city for a concert

Published: 23rd August 2017 09:44 PM  |   Last Updated: 24th August 2017 09:03 AM   |  A+A-

Shashank Subramanyam, Flute maestro  Manu R Mavelil

Express News Service

KOCHI: As Shashank Subramanyam sits cross-legged, coaxing melody out of an empty bamboo piece, you don’t know what to expect. He glides through raga after delicate raga with sheer clarity, building onto an intense crescendo. And when the light, wafting notes swell into  an intricate rain of rhythm, you feel entranced. Apart from the depth and dynamics, it’s the incomparable allure that defines his music, a style so brilliant and consummate. From the child prodigy with an uncanny gift to a  Grammy-nominated  musician, he has definitely come a long way in a career spanning more than three decades. “I don’t consider myself a master, learning is a never-ending process for any true artist,” says the flute maestro.                        
It was his father who initiated him into the world of wind instruments and by the time he was three. “He says he spotted my talent as a nine-month-old when I went missing at a wedding. My parents found me near the nadaswaram player, quite vigorously enjoying the music,” he says. Shashank is often praised for his signature style, a unique technique that’s nearly impossible to emulate. Ask him about the method and he says, “You cannot explain any style, it has to be felt.” He adds that style is not something an artist acquires by intent, but part of an impromptu progression.

“But the one person responsible for my style is celebrated flautist T R Mahalingam. My father took me to him when I was five, he heard me for 15 days and at the end of it he advised my father that I shouldn’t listen to any contemporary flute recordings. He even asked my father to stop playing flute at home so that I can develop a style free of influences,” he says. After that young Shashank was only exposed to vocal music of the highest order and was never taken to any flute recitals. “At six I made my public debut and during my childhood I used to play flute for 10 to 12 hours every day,” he adds.   

A self-taught flute player, who has never trained under any instrumentalists, he asks his students to go off their guru and carve a niche for themselves. “I have trained with great vocalists like Palghat K V  Narayanaswami and Pandit Jasraj. Whatever I learned from them vocally, I found a way to translate it to flute. I didn’t seek any advice or help from the experts and now when I think, it was integral in developing my own style,” he says.      

He has done hundreds of concerts in a range of varied environments, collaborating with Hindusthani masters, jazz players and symphony orchestras. He says every type of music teaches you something.He doesn’t think the classical streams of Carnatic and Hindusthani are mutually exclusive, rather two symbiotic systems that sharpen the artist in you. “It’s very important that Carnatic musicians should have an exposure to Hindusthani and vice-versa. It’s very beneficial as both have some unique features.”


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