Episode 257. Phoebe Hunt – Violinist
On the seventh day of a ten-day retreat at a Vipassana meditation center outside the historic Indian city of Kolhapur, Phoebe Hunt intrinsically felt the life leave her namesake’s body on the other side of the world.
The story of how she came to be known as Phoebe — a tale woven subtly into the whimsical threads and spiritual contradictions of Shanti’s Shadow, her new record — has the humor and richness of a Vedic myth. Her parents met at a yoga ashram in the Lower West Side of Manhattan in the Seventies, where they spent seven years as disciples of Guru Swami Satchidananda, famous in America for having been the opening speaker at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Years later, near the end of her pregnancy with Phoebe, her mother felt a strong compulsion to name her child Shanti, a Hindi word meaning peace. There was only one minor complication — she had already promised the child’s paternal grandmother, Phoebe, that she would be named after her. In a compromise, Hunt’s parents named their child Shanti Phoebe Hunt, but out of deference to the grandmother, she would grow up being called Phoebe.
Years later, on the 2016 trip that would inspire the creation of Shanti’s Shadow, Hunt and her husband (and mandolin-playing bandmate) Dominick Leslie entered the meditation retreat in India, surrendered their possessions, and, with only a wool blanket given to them upon arrival, committed to a sequestered ten-day vow of silence. It was during that stint at the retreat that Grandma Phoebe passed away. Hunt remained in India with Leslie and a team of musicians who had joined the couple to study with master violinist and vocalist Kala Ramnath at an ashram outside the city of Pune. While there they found themselves spending as many as ten hours a day honing ragas, melodic structures that, in the Indian classical tradition, are believed to have the capacity to color the mind of an audience. The entire experience, ripe with creative efflorescence, formed the core of a bittersweet irony for Hunt. While in pursuit of her spiritual namesake — the Shanti of peace, tranquility, creativity, and bliss — her familial namesake passed away.