Singing with the Violin

 (Desi News February 2016)

Why would a student of violin take music lessons from a vocalist?  As teacher Vinay Bhide points out, Indian classical music has its roots in voice, and for the most part, players try to replicate that sound on their instruments.

Singing with violin

“If my students are stuck on playing a phrase correctly, I ask them to hum the part they are having difficulty with. This usually helps them to play the phrase on the instrument.”

This is the “gayaki ang”, or the singing style of playing on an instrument that HarshalChandorkar, Vinayji’s student, is trying to master on the violin.

As an information security specialist, Harshal is responsible for risk management at a technology company in Toronto. However, he is still passionate for Indian classical music, a love that he developed while growing up in India.

“My father was a self-taught musician. I keenly followed his musical interests, starting with the banjo when I was age seven, and then learning the violin when he took up that instrument.”

The “banjo” turns out to be the Japanese “taishogoto”, an instrument that has become less popular in India today. The violin, however, while relatively new (introduced during the colonial times) in India has been accepted into Indian classical music because, as with the sarangi, it can replicate sung phrases, and is thus easily adaptable to shastria sangeet.

When he was nine, Harshal was accepted as a student by his father’s guru, Vasant RamabhauSheolikar, and later trained under his son Praveen Sheolikar (who performed to rave reviews for Raag-Mala Toronto in April 2013).  Young Harshal proved to be a prodigy, performing for All India Radio (AIR) for a number of years.

Since moving to Canada, he has stayed in touch with Praveen Sheolikar, often over Skype.  However he missed the intimacy of face-to-face lessons. When he heard a performance by Vinay Bhide in 2005, he instantly felt that he had found a guru in Canada. “Vinayji’s voice had power that literally ‘synched’ with my soul”, says Harshal.

Vinayji had studied in India for many years with Pandit Eknath Kulkarni, a disciple of Ustad Bade Ghulamali Khan, the doyen of Patiala Gharana. He went to France in 1972, where he lived for ten years as a researcher and earned a PhD in Physics.  While there, he gave recitals and taught Indian music at the Conservatory of Paris. He also travelled to perform in Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland.

Moving to Ottawa in 1996, Vinayji works at Hewlett Packard today and continues to perform and teach music to individuals. At Carleton University, he teaches two courses on Indian classical music.

“When I approached Vinayji to take me on as a student,” says Harshal, “we had to work out the best way to make that happen, given that he was in Ottawa and I am in Toronto.”

Initially Harshal traveled to Ottawa for lessons; however, when other people in Toronto asked for lessons, Vinayji decided to travel to Toronto for one weekend each month.  He stays with Harshal’s family during that time and teaches four to five students, including Harshal’s son Hemant.

“This arrangement works really well for me,” says Harshal.  ”In addition to the one-on-one lessons on the weekend, I get chances to accompany other students during their lessons. This way I get to practice raags that the other students are learning.”

Asked about his son Hemant’s attitude to the music, Harshal says, “He is a typical seven year-old with a very short attention span. But he enjoys the music, and will practice for 15 to 20 minutes, before moving on to something else. Having Vinayji staying with us gets him to listen to much more classical music than he would otherwise.”

Hemant may not perform on CBC, as his father did on AIR, but having a guru in Vinay Bhide and a father who plays Indian classical raags on violin will, at a minimum, create a rasik, an aficionado, of an art form that will bring him enormous joy throughout his life.


Mohamed Khaki