Santoor maestro Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma talks about the need to create awareness about Indian classical music
He firmly placed the spotlight on the santoor, by playing it at the Sur Singar Samsad’s Swami Haridas Sammelan in Bombay for the first time in 1955. Later, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma modified it to suit the musical requirements of the Indian classical system, and went on to record more than a 100 albums. A pioneer among musicians, he is blessed with the gift of being versatile and innovative. Consider his experimental albums like Feelings, Music of the Mountains on one hand, and memorable compositions for commercial films like Silsila, Chandni, Lamhe and Darr as well. The Padma Vibhushan recipient was recently in town for the ITC Sangeet Sammelan, where we caught up with him.
Excerpts… Tell us about your association with Kolkata. How do you feel about the city?
The first time I came to Kolkata was in 1956. There used to be a very big concert called the All India Music Conference in 1956 and that started my association with this culturally rich city. Kolkata is a place for artistes and musicians. Any musician — right from back in the day — their greatest aim was to come and perform in Kolkata, because of its knowledgeable and loving audience, which you don’t get anywhere else.
What are the milestones that you are looking forward to, at this stage of your career?
I have been performing and touring all my life. Now I am teaching my students and participating in seminars to create awareness about music. Our younger generation needs to know the beauty and importance of Indian classical music. I am focusing on creating awareness among youngsters, so that they at least listen to this kind of music. Indian music is a tonic which we need today.
Tell us about your journey with Indian classical music...
I started learning santoor from my father, Pandit Uma Dutt Sharma, who belonged to the Benares School of Music— the Benares Gharana. It was his idea that I learn the santoor but at that time, it was restricted to the valley of Kashmir, where it was used in Sufiana music.
What insights would you like to share with aspiring musicians?
Every musician needs discipline, patience, dedication and focus. It’s a very long journey and there are no shortcuts. The most important point is when a musician starts gaining popularity— it is the most difficult period in their career, because being able to digest the praise is very difficult. When you see success, many people lose balance. That is the period when one needs the guidance of a guru, and the seniors.
What other kinds of music do you like listening to?
I have always listened to all kinds of music, right from childhood, whether it is Western classical, folk music from any part of the world — even jazz, blues and pop. I am very fond of Hindi film music from the 1960s and ’70s too... ghazals or qawwalis. I am open to any music that has got feeling or melody, and I learn a lot by listening to different kinds of music.
How would you define the connection between music and spirituality?
They are the two sides of the same coin. I have experienced and realised it myself, that in order to learn Indian classical music or any music that appeals to the soul, one needs to have knowledge of the self, which is very significant. After all, music is an expression of yourself.
(Photographs courtesy ITC Sangeet Research Academy)