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Monday, October 3, 2016

Call of the Valley

Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma says that the number of claps should not be the criterion for a successful concert of classical music In the classical music scenario these days, a nicely packaged recital seems to have become the norm. More often than not, virtuosity sways high but emotions lie low and the grey matter starves for hearty hues in predictable compositions. Artistes like Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, in contrast are rare, who prefer soulful sophistication with their supreme control coupled with majestic artistry exploring the unknown.

Edited excerpts from a conversation:
Tell us about the instrument and its journey to the classical status along with you.

You may call it destiny. My father Pandit Uma Dutt Sharma, the Raj Pandit of Raja Pratap Singh of Jammu, was a vocalist of Banaras Gharana and the disciple of Bade Ramdas ji. He initiated me into vocal music and tabla from an early age. He was a music supervisor at the All India Radio (AIR), and got transferred to Srinagar for two three years. There he came in contact with great Sufi singers like Mohammed Tibet Baqal, who played this folk instrument called santoor for their Sufiana mausiqi (Sufi music). My father recognised the potentials of classical music in this unknown folk instrument of Kashmir. He did intensive research, developed it and encouraged me to learn and play it to establish it as a classical musical instrument. I call it a destined incident, because it was just by luck or chance, that my father got transferred to Srinagar and got acquainted and deeply involved with this instrument, which was hardly seen by people even in Kashmir by then, not to talk of all over India and abroad. In Kashmir, this folk instrument was played with Sufiana mausiqi but the fact of the matter is that this is an ancient instrument that was known as shat tantri veena in olden days. As you all know that in those days all the string instruments were called veena, so the name meant or referred to an instrument with hundred strings. Santoor is played not only in India, but you may find it in different parts of the world with different names.

You were already an AIR broadcaster by the age of thirteen, and a good tabla player in demand by then?

Yes, but my father had worked hard doing extensive research and developing this instrument for classical music. He dreamt of his son becoming the first musician to play Indian classical music on it. I took it upon myself to fulfil my father’s dream. I started a new journey with this instrument committed with full dedication and determination. I still remember my father’s friends, the great musicians and Ustads of those times, who advised me in good faith to leave this. They would suggest, ‘You are a hardworking intelligent boy with good training, take up another instrument like sitar or sarod and you will shoot up to the skies of popularity in no time. But I pursued it wholeheartedly and after a few years those very people praised me and said never leave this instrument, you shall reach the top.

When did you give your first public performance?

It was in Swami Haridas Sangeet Sammelan, Mumbai in 1955. Soon after I was invited to perform at the All India Music Conference, Kolkata in 1956 and started performing all over the country. Pandit Ravi Shankar took me along for the Festival of India in 1968, and I gave solo concerts in forty cities in the U.S. and Canada. From then on, people started recognising this instrument across the globe. My first solo album was released in 1960. In 1976 came the concept album "Call of the Valley", where I teamed up with Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia (flute) and Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra (guitar) that broke all records of popularity. The album turned out to be one of the greatest hits in Indian Classical music and the rest is history.

Tell us about the evolution of santoor.

This was not a cakewalk. I carried out experiments with santoor for many years to make it more suitable for my classical technique. The modified santoor which I play now has got 31 bridges with a total of 91 strings. It has got a range of full three octaves with a chromatic tuning. I also created a technique for smoother gliding between music notes in order to get the quality of human voice and improvised a new technique of playing that could sustain notes and maintain sound continuity.

What is your notion about laya or rhythm?

It is not necessary that a person who has learnt tabla would have better sense of rhythm or understanding of it. Laya or rhythm is not just mathematics. It also carries emotion or bhava. Think of the thumri "Piya ke milan ki aas". (He hums this thumri immortalised by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and then sings the same line in a faster pace and shows how the whole rasa-bhava is vanished in the faster speed.) Like the musical or tuneful voice, a real feel for laya is also God’s gift.

You have been performing for more than six decades but you are also a devoted guru, who charges not a single penny for Vidya-Daan. When did you start teaching?

I have been teaching for more than forty years now. I never said no to anyone who came to me for learning santoor because I wanted to popularise the instrument. I have taught numerous students and here I want to say that there is no credit of mine. I am just a medium, destined by some divine power, to spread this vidya. My personal experience is that there are four categories of my disciples. First are those who have studied under me and are playing my music. The second categories are not playing my music because they could not understand it. The third type include those who would touch my feet and address me as Guruji. When I ask them I do not remember I have seen or met them earlier. They would acknowledge that they have learnt it by listening to my music and the fourth category is of those who have learnt and play my music but don’t confess and say this is my own gharana. I bless them also to do well.

How do you feel at this juncture of your life after achieving so much love from your audiences of classical as well as film music?

These days I am trying to educate the classical listeners because I realise that it is our responsibility. We should not tamper or dilute our music according to what they want and relish. There are performers who take the claps to be the criterion of a successful concert but I tell my audience not to clap because it disturbs my concentration.

I have started a new campaign ‘Music Beyond Entertainment’ both at home and abroad. When I start playing, I tell my audience, forget about Shiv Kumar Sharma or santoor. Just close your eyes and concentrate on sound. When your attention moves astray, try to bring it back to the sound. This is our age old technique of meditation. There is a popular music festival in the US called Womad Festival. It was started by pop star Peter Gabriel. It is held in a big park with variety of musical styles offered. Somewhere you would listen to the fusion music going on, at another rock or pop or jazz music is going on. There I did this experiment with people who had come to my recital just after some pop or rock music. They confessed that my music gave them solace. In a concert hall 95 percent people do not understand raga-tala. I do tell them the name of the raga and tala but now I want to connect them with the spiritual aspect of music. Music has been called, ‘Rooh Ki Ghiza’, the food for soul here. I’m trying to reach my music to their soul. Just like there were four stages of life marked in olden days namely Brahmacharya, Grihasth, Vanprasth and Sanyas, we artistes also pass through different stages. There was a time when I loved claps but after having too much of it, now I have reached the stage where I look for peace and tranquility in my music and want to communicate the same to my listeners. I carried out experiments with santoor for many years to make it more suitable for my classical technique.


Forwarded by :- Shri. Jainendra Nigam PB News Desk ,prasarbharati.newsdesk@gmail.com

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