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'Music is an expression of human emotions'

Pt Shivkumar Sharma

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma admitted that he had never surfed the Net, but that didn't stop him from enjoying the chat session. He studied all the questions carefully and gave detailed answers to several queries. Before leaving, he promised to be back and we have no doubt he will be.

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 3:47 IST)
Welcome everybody. I'm very happy to interact with music lovers all around and looking to have a good chat with them.

Hasan (Fri Aug 20 1999 3:30 IST)
Hello Panditji! Sir why did you choose the santoor as your instrument to play? What are the qualities of santoor that appeal to you most?

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 3:52 IST)
Hasan: You know to decide which instrument to play -- it was the decision of my father Pandit Uma Dutt Sharma who was my guru. In fact, I had never thought that one day I would be choosing this instrument when I started learning music. My father was a vocalist and he started teaching me vocals when I was five, and also started teaching me tabla side by side. In those days, santoor was used only in Kashmiri music and my father did extensive research about this instrument and decided that I should be the first musician to play classical music on santoor. That is how I became a santoor player. I was 13 years old at that time and I started learning from my father.

Shruti (Fri Aug 20 1999 3:52 IST)
What was it like performing with Rahul for the first time? What do you have to say about Santoor Virasat?

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 3:58 IST)
Shruti: It was a great feeling for me and I was very nostalgic because this was a dream of my father that one day I should become the first santoor player in Indian classical music and establish this instrument on the Indian classical platform. And the day I played for the first time with Rahul, I missed my father very much because now santoor was being passed on to the third generation in our family. At the same time it was a very risky proposal to bring Rahul on the stage to play with me, sharing the platform and participating equally in the performance. Because that could have created immediate comparison with my playing standard and his standard of playing. Now after three years of playing together, my listeners all around the world and whosoever has heard us together, enjoy us playing. Two santoors playing in unison. Santoor Virasat is a live concert recording of our concert, Rahul and I played in Bombay along with Zakir Hussain on the tabla. I think people have liked its music and it's doing very well.

Ragu (Fri Aug 20 1999 3:55 IST)
Dear Mr Kumar, what I don't like about you is that you are giving concerts for foreigners more than Indians. Why so?

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:0 IST)
Ragu: I think I'm playing more in India rather than foreign countries and I would like to inform you that sometimes I go to remote places in India like Satara, Kolhapur, Patiala or Ajmer to play. Of course, I do travel abroad also, but I have never left India and settled abroad. My base has always been India.

Gayak (Fri Aug 20 1999 3:54 IST)
Hello come you are not doing music for films anymore? I liked your music in the Yash Chopra films...

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:3 IST)
Gayak: The reason we are not doing any films right now is that our priority is Indian classical music. If we can find time which doesn't clash with our concert schedule, then only we'll accept film music direction. And thanks for appreciating our music in the Yash Chopra films. If time permits, we might compose for a feature film again.

Ramesh (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:2 IST)
Panditji, you literally sing through the santoor. Looks like no other santoor player has mastered the instrument as much. What makes your style so uniquely identified with you?

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:6 IST)
Ramesh: Before I started playing santoor, I was trained as a vocalist and a tabla player and I feel that has helped me a lot to express my music through a singing santoor. I tried to balance melody with rhythm. What I mean is that the intricacies of melody should not be at the expense of rhythm or vice versa. I feel music is not only grammar or technical, but is an expression of human emotions through raga and taal. And the aesthetic balancing of emotions makes this music different.

Naria (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:6 IST)
Panditji: Like Sonia Gandhi wants to have a dynasty rule, why are you promoting your son Rahul? Couldn't he do something else?

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:11 IST)
Naria: I would like to tell you about the tradition of Indian classical music which has got nothing in common with the politicians and the political scene. Our music has been passed on from one generation to another in a system which is known as the guru-shishya parampara, a tradition from master to disciple. This system has not only preserved this music but helped evolve it into the very sophisticated art form of what it is today. It's not necessary that a great musician's child will be a great musician. One needs an inborn gift of God and then the right kind of guru, total dedication and surrender to become a worthwhile musician. And then finally in a very democratic system, the listeners decide whether the shisya, the disciple is the right inheritor or not. I have got two sons, but why is only Rahul playing santoor? Because I felt Rahul has got the gift of God.

Raagini (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:9 IST)
Namaskar Ustadji! I have just logged on...I love the peace and tranquility that descends upon us when the santoor is played...however, is there a particular raag that is your personal favourite? Which one?

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:13 IST)
Raagini: There are many ragas which create a serene atmosphere, but here one that comes to my mind is raga antardhwani on Music Today label. Which I have specially created on the request of my listeners who use it for meditation.

Hem (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:12 IST)
Respected Panditji, please accept a humble music lover's greetings. Would you kindly comment on the creation of new ragas by musicians? And what would you say about raga antardhwani, the raga made by you. Have you made any others as well?

Pt Shivkumar Sharma

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:22 IST)
Hem: Basically I'm not against creating new ragas. At the same time I also feel that we have got hundreds of existing ragas which one finds very difficult to master in one's lifetime. We got these hundreds of ragas because muscians in the past have discovered them. Time is the only test whether a newly composed raga remains only with the creator of that raga or becomes a part and parcel of the repertoire of Indian classical ragas. Coming to antardhwani, I had not planned to create a new raga. I was getting this feedback from my listeners around the world to make a CD of alaap only because they felt santoor, specially in alaap form creates a very meditative mood. And many people around the world have been using my santoor music for meditation. I discussed this idea with Music Today and they were interested to make such a CD. Then I started thinking what shall I play for this special CD and then one day while I was tuning my instrument, I came across a combination of notes which were totally different from any existing or heard raga. And they were sounding very good. I worked on this combination of notes for a couple of weeks and felt the effect of this melody is very soothing and meditative. That is how I discovered this raga and named it antardhwani.

Ramesh (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:12 IST)
I was reading about how you invented the 'plucking' and 'palming' techniques in santoor. How come you don't create the meends like Tarunji did?

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:33 IST)
Ramesh: Talking about the plucking and palming technique and what Tarun is doing with santoor, first let me put the record straight: that Tarun learnt santoor for a few years before he came to learn from me. He was listening to my records and trying to play on his own and also learning from a Calcutta-based santoor player, Shri Dulor Roy. Here I would like to mention that as everybody knows santoor was never used in Indian classical music until I introduced it on the Indian classical platform in the early '50s. Later on, many musicians around the country got interested in this new sound and wanted to play it. Some of them would come to me and learn it systematically, directly under my guidance. Others like Shri Dulor Roy and Tarun Bhatacharya started playing just by listening to my music. When Tarun came to learn from me, he had already been playing santoor for five-six years and had been playing in a style, which according to my system, was not the right technique. Initially, for two years I tried to correct his technique, and one day, he came to me and said it is impossible to change what he has already practised. So, I gave up trying to correct his technique and started to teach him whatever was possible. Now it's a different story that Tarun started learning from Pandit Ravi Shankar and stopped even acknowledging that he had ever learned from me.

Now coming back to your point about the meend technique which Tarun and some other santoor players attempt. When I started modifying santoor, I experimented with different techniques, but then I realised if I had to establish santoor as an instrument different from others, I'd have to create a different character of santoor in the tonal quality, in playing technique including playing meend, and the style of music. I do play meend on santoor which I would call as the santoor technique which is played with the side of the striker and not in imitation of the sitar or sarod. I feel because of these techniques, santoor achieved its own character and acceptablity among the listeners. Had I attempted otherwise, it would have remained only a poor imitation of those instruments.

Raagpremi (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:23 IST)
Panditji, what do you think of the 'pop-isation' of classical music? And then classical musicians singing pop?

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:38 IST)
Raagpremi: I think people are trying to experiment with different kinds of music whether it is fusion or classical musicians trying pop music. Let me ask you one question: why haven't you heard of any pop singer trying to sing classical vocals or play classical music? The reason is that classical music needs a different type of training, discipline, hard work, total dedication and experience of many years to achieve a little bit in this great ocean of music. I think the reason people try to do fusion and these things are the following: first, creative urge to do something different and not to follow the old path of tradition. Second, to reach out to a different kind of listeners to achieve quick fame and popularity.

Raagini (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:21 IST)
If I wish to learn to play the santoor, where can I buy one? Have you come up with a teach-yourself-to-play type of manual? I live in Bombay.

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:43 IST)
Raagini: You can get santoor in Bombay itself, either from Haribhau Vishwanath in Dadar or Bhargava Musicals in Bandra, near Linking Road. Unfortunately, there is no manual avialable to learn santoor, you will have to go to a santoor player. Some of them are my disciples, like Satish Vyas, Dr Balchandra Fadnavis...

Nikhil (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:32 IST)
What do you think of the relevance of the guru-shishya parampara in present day?

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:45 IST)
Nikhil: The guru-shishya parampara is as relevant today as it was in the past. If one wants to learn music to become a peforming musician one has to learn through the guru-shishya parampara. But if one wants to learn music as a hobby or to become a better listener, one could go to a music school to achieve that.

Subramaniun (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:3 IST)
Panditji, you and Zakir Hussain make a great pair. Does he recognise the nuances in your play better than others?

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:49 IST)
Subramaniun: Zakir played his first concert with me when he was 15. He has got a very systematic training from his father. That, combined with his extraordinary talent and gift, makes him a very innovative tabla player. He has played the maximum numbers of concerts with me around the world and in India and thus grasped the nuances of my music and has a complete understanding of my temperament. That is why sometimes it sounds as if we have got a telepathic communication while performing together.

Subramaniun (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:17 IST)
Panditji, which audience do you really find appreciating your music the most? Does how well you play depend on the appreciation the audience shows?

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:55 IST)
Subramaniun: An appreciative audience is always an inspiration, but for me my own satisfaction while performing is uppermost. I wouldn't like to change my style of music according to the audience I'm playing for. I feel if my music is not giving satisfaction and happiness to me it cannot satisfy my listeners. So instead of changing my music from place to place or audience to audience, I've always tried to play my music according to my convictions, no matter whether I'm playing to a knowledgeable audience or a totally ignorant audience. It's a matter of great satifaction for me when people come and tell me after the concert that they have no knowledge of Indian classical music and this was their first Indian classical concert and still they enjoyed the music.

Dali (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:21 IST)
Apart from concerts, are you working on any other projects right now?

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 5:0 IST)
Dali: I have just released a composed music called Upanishad Amrut, just got 10 Sanskrit sholkas from different Upanishads. It was a very interesting and challenging composition for me because I have tried to compose each shloka like a song based on a particular raga. This is available on Sony Nad label, Navras in England and other countries. The shlokas have been sung by Shankar Mahadevan and Devki Pandit. Each shloka is followed by a commentary in English and Hindi by Swami Chidanandji of Divine Life Society.

Raagini (Fri Aug 20 1999 4:59 IST)
One question I would really like answered is, can raga Deepak really start a fire... or raga Malhar bring rain...? This has had me wondering ever since I saw Baiju Bawra and Anarkali, as a child. Please tell me the truth, please!

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 5:4 IST)
Raagini: This is a very common question asked by people whether raga Deepak can create fire or raga Malhar bring rain. I personally feel there are two possibilities about this, one is that this is a kind of simile or example -- like if you listen to a particular kind of music you feel so excited and agitated it's kind of creating fire, or if it rains you feel more cool, relaxed, so this is the effect of that music. If we go according to mythology, in olden times musicians were not only musicians they were also very spiritual people or had the blessings of some saints and Sufi gurus. Because of that they acquired certain powers to create miracles through their music. In today's lifestyle, people don't have that much patience, devotion and spiritual inclination to achieve these supernatural powers.

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Fri Aug 20 1999 5:5 IST)
It was really very interesting to have this chat session with different people from different places. I don't know from where all of you were logged in. But it was very interesting to interact with you and I would look forward to come back to this chat show, whenever time permits.

Questions not answered by Pandit Shivkumar Sharma