S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Generation Next

By KS Kalidas

Shanthala Subramanyam

She is her own person. Her famous brother, flautist Shashank is looked upto with awe and admiration, but when 28-year old Shanthala performs, it is a different kind of music she presents. Yes, she has absorbed much of the blowing technique of Shashank, but there the similarity ends.

Shashank is an exceptional prodigy who performed in a prime-time slot in the Music Academy, Chennai, exactly twenty years ago when he was just twelve-something. This was unknown in Academy history. He is given to flights of fancy that often defy traditional idioms and anyone who tries to imitate him will often end up parodying him. Aware of this pitfall, Shanthala wants to project music that is her own. It is subtle, smooth, unhurried, and traditional but suffused with manodharma or imagination. Without this last attribute, conventional and traditional music can become dull and unedifying. She is strong in laya – she is capable of building into the swara or sahitya part of a varnam two speeds each of chatusra and tisra nadai-s and end her swaraprastara in kriti-s with well constructed korvai-s. Such laya excercises do not damage the main body of her music but meld seamlessly into it. Her music is not flamboyant or exotic but it holds the listeners’ attention without flagging for a moment.

Her musical career has had a very late and sedate start. Her father Subramanyam took it on himself to promote son Shashank’s career wholetime, leaving Shanthala in the background, but she was absorbing the intricacies of music in her own way and at her own pace. This talented musician had her first public performance only in April 2008. Since then, she has presented about twenty to thirty concerts a year in various parts of India. There are still many who ask, “Shanthala who?”

Although her solo concerts are limited, she has ‘accompanied’ Shashank – playing the second flute. This way, she has travelled all over the world several times. She no longer dons this role.

Like her brother (whose main guru was vidwan K.V. Narayanaswamy), Shanthala has mainly learnt from vocalists – first from the late Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan and later from O.S. Thyagarajan. Whenever multi-dimensional Sriram Parasuram can spare the time, Shanthala also learns from him. Of course, she has learnt fingering and blowing techniques from her father and brother. Although capable of giving full-fledged vocal concerts, she has chosen not to do so. With intensive coaching in aspects of laya from mridanga vidwans Trissoor Narendran, Patri Satish Kumar and Parupalli Phalgun, she can recite sollukattu-s effortlessly and has taught them to several students – many of them foreigners. She has also held a two-week workshop in Sweden and Denmark in teaching sollukattu-s.

Although Shanthala hails from Bengaluru, she is determined to make Chennai – the thriving centre of Carnatic music – her home.

(Reproduced from Sruti 318, March 2011)

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