Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Promises in the Dark

Between darkness and light is twilight. It is in this twilight, I think, that most of us reside. We inhabit it because we are not ready for fame. Some, content with this world in-between, stay there for the rest of their lives. But there are others who, in a quest for popularity, try to get out. Still others, taking this quest too far, regress into the back-shadows. The person I wish to write on in this article, however, fits into none of these categories. She is neither hell-bent on becoming popular, nor content in where she is right now. Progress comes in small steps. Big steps indicate pride, and pride comes, as we all know, before a fall. Kate Shine has no need for big steps; no chance of a fall for her, then.

I am not a musically inclined person. My tribute to Kate Shine, however, has very little to do with her musical ability. For the benefit of those who don’t know, she is a cellist from Russia. That’s the shortest thing to a description I can come up with, but it hardly catches all what she stands on and stands for. In what she has done so far, has achieved, and is planning on, I see reason for hope. For this Russian cellist is well on her way up: not to crass superstardom, but to gradual, painstaking success. As I read her story, I can do nothing else but believe this to be true. But I’m letting myself get a little too ahead here.

Shine was born in Moscow to a very musical family. “Our parents were both musicians. We were surrounded by music right from the start,” she tells me. As is usual in such cases, Kate drew herself to music as time passed by. She was three when she joined her first music-school. At an age when most kids would normally be content with connecting two words together, she was learning to play the cello, an instrument that flanks her to this date. Doubtless, just as the aspiring writer finds joy in finding the “bon mot” (right word), so she would have been happy as a little child finding the right note to blend in with her rendition of a piece. Music had entranced her at a tender age. This was just the beginning.

At age five, she performed at a school function. “That was the first time I had to alight on a stage. It was funny because the cello, which was naturally taller than I was at that age, had to be carried by another person for me.” She is quite sure she looked ridiculously funny then, and is also sure that she felt so then and there. Instead of breaking apart under the usual strain of stage fright, however, the experience decided her: “That was when I decided to become a musician, come what may.”

Memory is pristine in Kate, so more reminiscences are to follow. Her education, at this stage, consisted only of classical music – a limited education. At age 12, however, things began to change. “I remember hearing the song ‘Barcelona’, performed by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat CaballĂ©,” she explains to me, “The experience was riveting, fabulous… I was enflamed. Rock music allied with classical strains – how amazing that idea sounded to me! And that was what I had heard on radio.” The experience decided her further: she felt the need to explore the world, and with it to dabble in new musical forms.

With this in mind and at heart, Kate left for Hamburg. The city, she remembers, brought for her a third career-defining turnaround. Having performed at several orchestras, she would get to feel “totally comfortable” with the hustle and bustle she had got herself into. That was when she discovered a new instrument – the electric cello. Kate’s ecstasy knew no bounds at this, as is evident from her own words: “I finally saw a way to develop my career as a soloist, and to mix up various musical styles together: the idea I had always longed for.”

That was the past. “All that has brought me here today,” she remarks.

Admittedly, fame hasn’t smiled at her as much as her talents would ordinarily demand. Coming from a deeply musical family, however, seems to have inculcated in her none of that crass sensationalism and thirst for popularity so typical of our time. Put in another way, she’s lying low, taking it easy. For the better, I should think. Not that it should deter her from finding her place in the sun. But a rather conservative and progressive climb up the ladder is her way of reaching what lies beyond. Perhaps this is the sort of approach our singers and musicians should take to heart today.

Kate Shine has visited Sri Lanka. That was a month back. She remembers our hospitality, our gentleness, and that goodwill so typical of our countrymen. She has nothing but praise for them. But most of all, she remembers how Sri Lanka inspired her. “You’re asking through which path an international audience best can get to know about me,” she replies to a question of mine, “One definite path should be through your country. I know that for sure.” Vaguely, but optimistically, she hints that her international career may begin here.

We can never know for sure whether this will turn out the way she wants, however. All we can do is sit back and wait. “Every single step led me to where I am right now,” she tells me with perfect honesty. It is difficult at times to look back and think ahead. The past is another era, and one can never know how it can aid our future. I think Kate can, though. If the past is anything to go by, Kate’s has the promise of a lustrous future. In her, we may well see the matinee artist the world can validly demand of her talent.

Looking back at my conversation with her, I am reminded of what Susan Sarandon once told an interviewer: “(With) the world as it is today, there are no guarantees. So you might as well follow your heart.” Kate Shine may well know that this world holds no guarantees. And, being deeply engaged to her work and passion, I believe she is following her heart. Let us pray for that day when she will end her long trek upward. Let us pray it comes soon. Until then, however, my countrymen and I can only wait, watch, and applaud. Kate Shine is, as yet, full of promises in the dark.