Profile of Shree Shubhendra Rao Ji
Shubhendra Rao was born on November 26, 1964 in Mysore city in the state of Karnataka in Southern India. From a very young age, Shubhendra showed great talent for music. His father, the late N R Rama Rao (who was one of the earliest and closest disciples of Pandit Ravi Shankar), initiated him into the intricacies of the sitar. His mother, Nagaratna, is a trained Saraswati Veena player. Growing up in a house where there was music all the time, it was natural for him to pick up an instrument. Shubhendra's parents always told him, that even before he could talk, he could sing musical notes.
Shubhendra recalls one of his earliest memories when he was about three and a half: My father's guru Pandit Ravi Shankar (who was to later become my own guru) came to our house along with his son, Shubhendra Shankar (after whom I was named) and Ustad Alla Rakha. I could play the sitar by keeping it on the floor since I was too small to be able to lift it up and hold it as it is normally held. Seeing and hearing what I could play, Guruji was astounded and held up the sitar to its correct stance for me, saying that I should now start playing the sitar holding it in its proper position. The great master would always ensure to check my progress every year he visited Bangalore until I was seven years, when he finally started teaching me directly. My first lesson from him was when he came to Mysore to perform. I still remember the Raga Bhairav that he taught me that day. It remains one of the greatest days in my life to have received guidance from the maestro himself, and that too from the very outset.
After his first lesson from his Guru, Shubhendra continued to visit his Guru in different cities in India to pursue his musical education. He recorded the lessons and then practiced them on his own, trying to imbibe the soul of those teachings – a process that continued for nearly ten years until 1984. It was a milestone year in Shubhendra’s life as it was also the year when he moved to Delhi to live with and learn from his Guru in the true ‘guru-shishya’ tradition. The years that followed were a period of introspective and creative metamorphosis. He tried to build in a discipline within himself, practicing from anything between eight to twelve hours every day. His Guru nurtured his talents, and gave him deep insights into what it entailed to become a complete artist, as only he could.
An important part of learning was accompanying his Guru on stage for solo concerts and orchestras, both within the country and abroad. Shubhendra’s first experience of being on stage with him in this role was on February 20, 1984 at Delhi’s Ashoka Hotel. He was told that he would be accompanying his Guru on stage merely few hours before the concert was to commence. Needless to say he was extremely nervous, but the Guru’s caring approach and comforting words gave him confidence. Between 1984 and 1995, he played with him on numerous occasions all over the country. It was also a great learning experience for Shubhendra to be playing in his various orchestral compositions all over the world. Be it the ‘Uday Utsav’ in New Delhi in 1983, the ‘Live in Kremlin’ shows in Moscow in 1988, or the music-theater ‘Ghanashyam’ in UK and India in 1989, he learnt a lot from being closely associated with him during the composition process.
In 1987 Shubhendra gave his first solo concert in Bangalore, and since then has gone on to establish himself as one of the distinguished instrumentalists of his generation. One of India’s leading artists today, Shubhendra has performed at some of the most prestigious venues like The Carnegie Hall and on Broadway in New York, at the Theatre de la ville in Paris, the WOMAD festival in Guernsey England, the National Arts Festival in South Africa, the Walker Arts Centre in Minneapolis, the Des Moines Arts Centre, the Esplanade in Singapore, among others. Shubhendra has performed at major music festivals in India including the Doverlane Conference, the ITC Music Conference in Kolkata, Baba Harvallabh Sangeet Mahasabha in Jullundhar, Shankarlal Festival and the Gunidas Sammelan in New Delhi, the SAPTAK Festival in Ahmedabad, and the Vasantahabba Festival in Bangalore. Shubhendra’s performances at some of the most prestigious venues of the world has taken him to the USA, Canada, South Africa, England, Ireland, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Hungary, Belgium and many Asian countries. A regular performer on radio and the national television, he holds a ‘Grade A’ status on the All India Radio roster. He has also been invited as a guest teacher to give ‘lecture-demonstrations’ about Indian music by leading universities all over the world. Some universities include: Peabody Conservatory of Music, Duke University, Yale University, University of California, Lewis and Clark College, University of Minneapolis, University of Winona, University of Nebraska, and others.