Song of Surrender

Friday, 24 July 2015

T. Sashidhar

Musicians in classical dance

By Anjana Anand

Kalaimamani T. Sashidhar chanced upon the flute as a youngster and his growing interest in music took him to Kalakshetra in the 1980s. Today he is a versatile flautist and a stickler for the classical tradition. An “A” grade artiste in AIR, Sashidaran has made Kalakshetra his home as a lecturer. His busy schedule as a sought-after flautist in the Bharatanatyam world is testimony to his talent and years of hard work. He spoke to Sruti about his life in music. Excerpts from the conversation: 

Do you come from a family of musicians?

Not at all! No one in my family is a professional musician. They are however interested in music to a certain extent and encouraged me to pursue music. 

How did your interest in music begin?

I remember that when I was young I used to listen to a lot of music and sing film songs. Perhaps hearing me sing, my parents felt that I had a future in this field. As a student of the Little Flower School for the Blind, I learnt classical music under S. Rajasekhar. Gradually, I was drawn to classical music. My first gurus were P Viswanath Rao, S. Raghu and T.N Shivakumar.

When did you switch from being a vocalist to a flautist?

I remember my uncle giving me a flute when I was a student. I used to try out melodies on the flute with no formal training. P. Viswanath Rao, my vocal guru, encouraged me to try out ragas on the flute though he was not trained in the instrument.

How did you come to Kalakshetra?

When I finished my tenth standard, I decided I wanted to play the flute. A well - wisher of the family, S. Subramaniam suggested that I join either the Tirupati college of music or Kalakshetra as these were the only two places offering courses in the flute. My parents were keen that I enrol in a degree course but I opted for Kalakshetra.

Who was your guru in Kalakshetra and what was your experience there as a student?

The late H Ramachandra Sastri was my guru. He was 74 then. He was a traditionalist and very focussed in his teaching. When I came to Kalakshetra my knowledge in music was very basic. There were a few students who were learning the flute along with me - Ludwig Pesch and G.S. Rajan to name a couple. Initially, Sir must have been wary of having me in the class as he had to figure out a way to teach me the fingering and correct me. However he never voiced his apprehensions and very quickly learnt how to instruct me. He would always make us sing the compositions we played. My earlier vocal training came in handy here. I wrote the entire notation for the compositions in Braille.

Did you continue your vocal training?

Yes. It is important for instrumentalists to be able to sing the compositions even if it is not to concert level. Even today, I follow his training with my students. My allied subject in Kalakshetra was vocal music, in which I trained under Balasaraswathy, M.D Ramanathan, Puducode Krishnamurthy, S. Rajaram and Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan.

We had a Sangeeta Shiromani course affiliated to the Madras University. I completed the four-year diploma course and continued with my Post Graduate Diploma in Kalakshetra. I also received a scholarship to further my music training for two years after that.

Please tell us about your teaching experience in Kalakshetra.

I became a staff member in 1989. Initially, I helped my vaadyar with theory classes and teaching students for whom vocal or flute was an allied subject. 

When did you start playing for Bharatanatyam?

When I was a student, I used to play for variety shows organized by Kalakshetra. Some years later, I began playing regularly for Krishnaveni Lakshmanan. The first dance drama I played for was Bhakta Jayadeva (1987). It was a new work. S. Rajaram composed the music and I sat and listened while he composed and taught the music.

Was it a challenge to play for dance dramas? 

Yes, I found it difficult in the beginning. Even though I had the notation for the songs, it was not enough to just follow the notation. Playing for a dance drama requires much more involvement than that. It took me many years to figure out the knack to play comfortably. I realized that I first needed to listen to the whole production and be very familiar with all the compositions. It was only when I did that, that I was aware of the natural flow in the music and the production itself. Once that was done, I focussed on the time required to move from one raga to the next. In a production, each composition is linked to the other and the transition has to be smooth. I would wait for the cue for each change. I also learnt to follow the music very closely. This adds to the musicality as an accompanist in a dance drama.

Do you find it difficult to balance your career as a mainstream flautist and Bharatanatyam accompanist?

It is not difficult once your foundation is strong. I have to take care to keep my practice going even if my schedule is hectic. I feel that listening to good music regularly is important. That is the only way we can continuously upgrade ourselves. It is every musician’s individual responsibility to the art form.

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