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Bengal's only woman Accordion player strikes new notes

How accordion player Shanoli Sen, learnt to play the ‘masculine instrument’ and is currently teaching about 350 students

Bengals only woman   Accordion player strikes new notes
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V Balsara, whom she called 'Dada', trained Eastern India's only female accordion player Shanoli Sen from when she was a young girl of 17. The association lasted for 40 years till Balsara's death in 2005. Initially a vocalist – since her mother was a singer in Balsara's group, Shanoli started training in the accordion during high school. Parallely, she trained in classical music for 20 years under Mandira Lahiri but chose the accordion as a career since the instrument had a beautiful tonal quality.

Under Balsara's tutelage, Shanoli started playing popular Hindi and Bengali songs as well as Indian classical dhuns on stage. Always a solo accordion player, Shanoli can play four other musical instruments – piano, synthesizer, melodica and harmonica with equal ease. She has performed with most of these instruments on stage, solo.
"Even today, I find it challenging to learn how to play new instruments. Right now, I'm focusing on learning how to play the Ocarina and the recorder which are not commonly used," says Shanoli who teaches about 350 students – young and old – to play the accordion. "I'm also in the process of setting up a studio where I will have a fully computerised set up. I want to conduct experiments like using my accordion to match other kinds of melodies", Shanoli told Millennium Post.

The journey hasn't been easy. Shanoli was treading a male domain when she picked up an accordion – perceived to be a masculine instrument. "That is the reason why there are such few or no female accordion players. After I had a baby it took me a few years to get back to where I was, professionally speaking. Everybody raised their eyebrows, as if asking me if I wanted to play again? But I didn't want to give up!", she said.

Sen has already cut 5 solo albums, including melodies of Tagore songs. The albums are 'Parampara', 'Purano Shei Diner Katha', 'Pratidhwani', 'Aankhon Mei Teri' and 'Raga modes of Tagore'. She is now planning to do an album on old Hindi songs. Being a composer of classical dhuns, she is also a fan of Shantanu Moitra – ace Bollywood composer. She also likes Shankar Ehsan Loy, Jatin Lalit among other composers for the melodiousness of their music. So why didn't Shanoli go for playback? "I dread losing control over what I do, creatively speaking. I like to be my own boss where music is concerned. Till date I haven't even accompanied other musicians on stage since my guru V Balsara wouldn't have wanted me to do that", says the energetic mother of one.

Even during her leisurely hours, Shanoli likes to stay with music. She loves writing and composing songs though not many of these compositions

have been recorded. Interestingly, Shanoli's school in South Kolkata – Musical Fingers –is going to organise its 8th annual concert at Kalamandir on April 8. The whole event is being arranged and conducted by Shanoli. For the first time, the legendary trumpet player Kishore Sodha will be performing with amateurs – students of Musical Fingers.

Thirty two of the students of Musical Fingers, each with their own synthesizer will be performing in the first half, accompanied by 10 musicians. Both Kishore Sodha and Shanoli will be joining them on some songs. This half is going to be conducted by Shanoli. In the second half, Kishore Sodha and Shanoli Sen will play duet for the first time. It will also be Kishore Sodha's first performance of a Rabindra Sangeet tune. Each artist will also perform solo on that evening.
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