The keys to success

Updated: 21 November, 2020 09:12 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Meet a 16-year-old pianist who is creating ripples in the world of classical music with a new track that features international collaborators

There is a point in our phone call with Shivank Menon when the conversation veers almost into the domain of cosmology. We ask him how being a musician is helping him evolve as a person. He tells us that the art form has allowed him to grasp the value of time. It's made him understand how important fleeting moments in life are since — unlike a painting that you can stare at for 30 minutes before coming back to it again — a live musical performance lasts only for a transient period. "That makes you mindful not just about the passage of time, but also about its qualitative nature. It's easy to say, 'Oh, I have wasted these many hours.' But that creates an idea of time as a quantity. Music made me realise that time doesn't get wasted — time just passes," he says, adding that we thus have to appreciate all that's happening around as our hours — even if spent idly — flow by like a cotton bud floating in the air without ever resting on the ground.

Menon is 16 years old. These are inferences that belie his age, as does his self-realisation about the perils of being overconfident. The Malad resident tells us that his journey into music started initially with the guitar, and then with the drums when he was hardly 10 years old. But he quickly grew tired of these instruments and — with encouragement from his parents — took to the piano that his family had at home. This was also the same time that he first heard Western classical music by the likes of Frédéric Chopin and Claude Debussy, and something clicked. "When I started playing the piano, it was just an obligation. But when I first heard Western classical music, I fell in love with it and that injected the passion [to play the piano] in me. The two things went hand in hand," Menon tells us.

So, he started taking formal lessons. But within two years, his teacher threw his hands up and said that he had taught his student all that he could. That's when the teenager's overconfidence — "but not arrogance" — kicked in. And it's only when he enlisted for five lessons at the London Contemporary School of Piano (LCSP) while on holiday in the UK that he realised that his musical armour still had chinks in it. "I was put in my place. And the other thing is that I learnt how to play
in a more analytical way. I learnt how to be more critical of myself."

Menon consequently pursued his education at LCSP online even after returning to India, which laid the seeds of his new song, Flamenco sketches, that has already crossed the two-million-views mark on YouTube. It sees him collaborate with clarinet player Mark Buckingham from the UK institution, and with Brazilian drummer Uirá Nogueira. The foundation of the composition, the youngster says, is based on a 1957 track called Peace piece by Bill Evans, where the jazz pianist used his left hand to play just two notes on repeat, while the right hand created magic across the rest of the keys.

Menon himself has used his left hand to play four continuous notes, while the right one creates a melody that Buckingham and Nogueira — decades his senior — conjure up an atmospheric effect for. And his maturity is again in evidence when he explains the sort of equivalence that this right-left duality entails. Menon says, "The stability of one hand is opposed to the dynamism of the other, which creates a sense of peace in movement, a mobile sense of peace."

That is the inference that the teenager has drawn from his own composition at the age of 16. The mind boggles to think what level of understanding he'll reach about
his craft when he is, say, 36 years old.

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First Published: 21 November, 2020 09:08 IST

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