Mastering the world’s largest flute

Pravin worked hard to bring elements of Indian music to the contrabass flute. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy  

Pravin Godkhindi, among Karnataka’s most best-known flautists, has achieved another feat: He is the only Indian to play the world’s largest flute, the contrabass. He will perform on it at a concert on January 9 in Bengaluru. “A major part of the performance will be based on the contrabass flute. The idea is to present Indian ragas on it. I have also showed some fusion aspects to it. Primarily, I am going to present the contrabass as an instrument that can be used for different genres of music.”

Pravin first came across the flute at a world flute festival, where he represented India. “I happened to see an orchestra of 10 people, all of who were flautists. I saw one person playing a large flute that gave a bass sound. I was fascinated by it.”

Pravin eventually met a flautist from Amsterdam, Ned. “He has been playing the contrabass for some time. He was using one of these PVC pipe flutes. I had once enquired from a manufacturer in Japan about steel flutes. He told me they cost $ 20,000 (US). I knew that was out of the question. Ned and I did some jugalbandi and trio performances. I played the bamboo flute, he played the contrabass. I eventually told him I wanted a contrabass flute, whatever it costs. He agreed. And that’s how I got the PVC pipe flute.”

Pravin worked for two-and-a-half years to bring elements of Indian music to the contrabass flute. “It’s very difficult because you have to stand and play. It requires a lot of energy and a lot of air, at least five times more than a normal flute. There was another major problem I faced. I am a left-handed flautist. But the flute is designed to have the left hand on top and the right hand below. I had to change my technique. I had to devise new techniques to produce the glides and dhamak which are an integral part of Indian classical music. Now, at least, I can present a raga in a decent way.”

Pravin may well have been trained in Hindustani Classical Music, but he likes to incorporate other forms of music to add to his style. “Of late, I have been propagating that I play Indian music. I have also been learning Carnatic music. I take the rhythm of Carnatic music into Hindustani music. I am not the only who believes in this. There are many, like me, who are of the same opinion. Many Carnatic musicians are now inculcating the niceties of Hindustani music, as far as the melody is concerned.”

How honest is fusion music, particularly when it comes to combining western and Indian styles of music? Pravin says there is some common ground, but contends: “I personally believe that 70 per cent of that should have Indian Classical music and the rest 30 per cent you need to add other styles to beautify it. In my performance, ragas are an integral part, I will never let go of ragas. Just by having distortion effects on stage and loud sound doesn’t make for fusion music. It has to have the right proportion of all the styles of music. The music which has Indian ragas as its base will stand apart and will stay with the audience. It is melody that stays with the audience, not sound.”

Among Pravin’s most memorable concerts is the one where he opened for Zakir Hussain. “During the concert, I happened to look towards the side wings, and I saw Ustadji standing. I didn’t know what to do. I wondered if I should continue in the same pace or change my course to impress him. He then gave me a message to continue with my performance and not to acknowledge him. I continued to perform. And that turned out to be one of the best concerts. Ustadji hugged me after the concert and said bansuri mein pehli baar kisi ko gaatein suna hain.

Pravin says the flute is an extension of his voice. My father told me, ‘whatever you play on the flute, you should also sing it.’ The flute is one instrument which is completely natural. There are no strings attached. It completely depends on the musician, how the melody comes out. There’s nothing like a 100 per cent perfect flute, and that’s what sets a flute apart from other instruments. A guru can tune a sitar and give it to a shishya and have him play it. But a flautist has to constantly adjust his breath and his position. The way I play is different from other flautists because I play phrases which are hummable. I have always laid emphasis on beautiful melodies. ”

Pravin owes his training to his father, Venkatesh Godkhindi, who is a renowned flautist as well. “My father was initially a singer. He then played the harmonium for many years and accompanied many stalwarts. Somewhere down the lane, he decided to become a main artiste. He chose the flute and picked up the flute the other way, on the left hand side. That’s also how I got the wrong way of holding the flute. All the Krishna idols, and most flautists hold the flute on the right hand side. During my childhood, I used to see him practice day and night. He worked hard for 40 years and handed that down to me. Whatever struggle my father went through, I have reaped the benefits,” says Pravin, who is brand ambassador for AKG.

The concert will be held at Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Malleswaram, from 7 pm. Tickets are available at, and

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Printable version | Jun 9, 2021 12:17:19 AM |

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