Bond with 'bansuri'

Bond with 'bansuri'
Sameer Rao, a flautist par excellence from Mysuru, is a disciple of one of the greatest flautists of India, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. He has learnt the nuances of playing the flute directly from the maestro, and today, Sameer has over 100 solo performances, several jugalbandis and music collaborations to his credit. He has accompanied his guru on several occasions for performances.

Sameer comes across as a shy and reticent person at first. But when we move the subject to music, he talks passionately. His reverence and admiration for his guru is easy to discern from his lit-up eyes. He says, “The years that I spent with Panditji were the golden years in my life! He not only taught me classical Hindustani music but also how to appreciate the nuances of playing the flute. Accompanying him on his concerts, I got the best practical lessons. I loved his spontaneity and picked up useful lessons just by watching him play.” No wonder, Sameer’s style of playing the flute has been influenced by his guru. He says, “Every concert I play today is a tribute to my guruji. If I were to attain even one per cent of his prowess, I would consider it a blessing.”

Visit to the past
Sameer was born in Shivamogga, but his parents moved to Mysuru when he was still very young. His father was an English professor and usually listened to Hindustani music on his old gramophone, which influenced young Sameer. At 11, he played around with a toy flute, sitting for hours on the terrace of his house and imitating bird calls and car honks. It’s interesting to know that Sameer was more interested in music than in academics, which meant “even on the day of my Maths exam, I would spend hours practising the flute, not sums.” His father realised his passion for music and was “generous enough to let me pursue music.” Sameer is “forever thankful to him.”

He learnt to play a few tunes on his own over the course of time. It was Sameer’s father who then took him to Pandit Veerabhadraiah Hiremath, a noted musician in Mysuru, for lessons. Thus began Sameer’s bansuri journey.

When Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia was visiting Mangaluru, a family friend named Aralikatte Babu introduced Sameer to the guru, who asked him to see him in Mumbai. The maestro was impressed by young Sameer’s dedication and took him under his tutelage — in the traditional guru-shishya parampara. Musical horizons expanded for Sameer and he practised his way to perfection.

As we talk, it becomes clear that Sameer loves and adores his flute. He treats it like a loving friend... “Just like one needs to spend time to understand a friend, one needs to spend hours playing the flute to become friends with it. Similarly, we need to spend a lot of time with a particular raga. Only then will it open itself and reveal its various moods to us.”

He explains that a particular raga can change with a slight alteration of a single note. So, a deep understanding of the raga can come only through rigorous practice. Also, within the framework of the notes-scale of a raga, a musician can improvise by bringing his creativity to a raga and offering it as his rendition of the particular raga. His conviction is heard when he says that “there are so many unheard melodies in every raga; my aim is to keep on finding them.”

Sameer’s jugalbandis include performances with flautist Chandan Kumar, the great-grandson of violinist T Chowdiah, and with Matthew Sharp, a noted cello player, at the Alchemy Festival in London. While Matthew played Bach compositions, Sameer played compatible ragas (khamas) on his flute. Sameer has scored for classical dance productions.

His philosophical take on music is that playing the flute is like meditation and doing an aalaap is like pranayama. “This enriches me both at the physical and metaphysical levels, and uplifts my soul,” he says.

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