My advice to students is that they must develop the art of listening to music first: Ajay Prasanna

Three Times Grammy nominated and top-grade artist from Akashvani Doordarshan flautist Pt. Ajay Shankar Prasanna, is the youngest and only flautist to play both gayaki and tantrakari styles of flute playing. In a candid conversation with The Daily Guardian he gave insights about his journey in the field of music. Excerpts:
Q. You belong to a musical family with the legendary Bhola Nath ji as your father. How much did he influence you initially when you started learning music and later when you grew up?
A. I would say my father and guru of Bansuri Pt. Bhola Nath’s influence on me began when I was inside my mother’s womb. The sound of flute seemed so familiar when I stepped into this world. I would sit quietly on my room’s window listening for hours to the practice happening in the Bansuri classes run by my father in our house in Prayagraj. His disciples like Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia would play the flute for the whole day. My father had a deep understanding of ragas. He would have rich discussions with scholars from the music department of Prayagraj University. Scholars like Pt. Ramashray Jha “Ramrang“ or stalwarts like Pt. Ravi Shankar would come over or Ustad Bismillah khan would come and stay for few days. Sometimes Baithak and discussions happened with Girija Devi ji; sometimes Pt. Kishan Maharaj would spend days at our house. Pt. Samta Prasad would often visit my father; apart from this, traveling with my father for concerts had a deep impact on my personality, my musicality, my raagdari and my approach towards flute playing. I religiously follow my father and Guru and even today, I feel he guides me. I learnt everything about music by simply observing him, as he was an institution in himself.
Q. How many hours did you practice every day during school years?
A. Like a little Krishna, I would tuck a flute inside my pocket and whenever, wherever possible, I would play the flute. It has been my companion for the longest time. I remember I would quietly go inside our kitchen and play the flute in my mother’s ear, disturbing or teasing her. She would get annoyed and ask me to leave but with a loving smile. My mother Guru Maa Smt. Chandrawati Prasanna was mother to all the disciples and ensured no one was hungry in the house. She would ensure that all the disciples practiced well while my father was away.
Q. You studied under the Guru-Shishya Parampara – please share a story about that experience.
A. I have been extremely fortunate to have learned classical music under the Guru- Shishya Parampara with my father and Guru Pt. Bhola Nath. This age old tradition is the only way to attain true music knowledge. Staying and learning with the Guru, one becomes a true Saadhak and learns life skills as well. There are many memorable mystical experiences while learning under my father. But if I have to mention one, then I recall that day when Guru Pita ji was playing his flute and doing riyaaz and suddenly a snake slithered by into his room and stood still right in front of him. But pitaji stayed unperturbed and continued playing his divine music. The snake did not harm him, it stayed for a while and then simply moved out of the room. It was as if Lord Mahadev had appeared in the form of a snake, to listen to my father’s rendition and bless him. This incident taught me how to focus on riyaaz, perseverance, devotion and how to bravely face life’s challenges!
Q. What are your advice students who want to pursue music?
A. My advice to students of music is that they must develop the art of listening to music first. Listening is an important part of riyaaz. Apart from spending hours on practicing, they must listen to different forms of music including vocal and instrumental. They must also be curious enough to know about various ragas, how one raga is different from the other etc. For this students need to have extreme dedication, perseverance and sincerity.

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