Pandit Shivku Sharma, an Indian composer and musician who was the leading exponents of the santoor (a 100-string instrument that is similar to the hammereddulcimer), died Tuesday at his Mumbai home. He was 84.
According to Indian news reports, the cause of cardiac arrest was reported.
In a nearly seven-decade career, Mr. Sharma was the first musician to take the santoor to the international stage at recitals and concerts in India and other countries.
It was not well-known outside Kashmir before Mr. Sharma began playing the santoor. Even then, it was only used for Sufiana Mausiqi – a Kashmiri style of classical music with Persian and Central Asian roots.
The santoor is a trapezoidal, wooden instrument that has 25 wooden bridges. It is played using slim wooden mallets. Contrary to the sitar, Sarod, or sarangi string instruments, the santoor is not able to sustain notes or perform the meends (or glides between one note and another), which are essential to Hindustani music tradition.
This could be why it took Mr. Sharma so long to be recognized for his artistic talent.
At the beginning of his career, purists and critics derided the santoor’s staccato sound, and many urged Mr. Sharma to switch to another instrument. Instead, he spent many years redesigning the instrument to make it play more notes per note. This made it more suitable to the complex ragas and the melodic framework of Hindustani musical music.
“My story is different from that of other classical musicians,” Mr. Sharma told The Times of India in 2002. “While they had to prove their mettle, their talent, their caliber, I had to prove the worth of my instrument. I had to fight for it.”
He released several albums, beginning with “Call of the Valley” (1967), a collaboration with the acclaimed flutist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and the guitarist Brij Bhushan Kabra.
Mr. Chaurasia was close to Mr. Sharma and they were frequent collaborators. Together they composed music for several successful Bollywood films in the 1980s and ’90s including “Silsila” (1981), “Chandni” (1989), “Lamhe” (1991) and “Darr” (1993). Mr. Sharma was one the few Indian musicians to cross the boundaries between popular and classical music.
In 1974, Mr. Sharma performed across North America with the sitar virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar as part of the former Beatle George Harrison’s 45-show “Dark Horse” concert tour, bringing Indian classical music to audiences beyond South Asia alongside some of the finest classical musicians from India — Alla Rakha on tabla, Sultan Khan on sarangi, L. Subramaniam on violin, T.V. Gopalakrishnan performing mridangam with vocals, Mr. Chaurasia singing on flute, Gopal Krishan playing vichitra Veena and Lakshmi Shankar singing.
Mr. Sharma was awarded some of India’s highest honors, including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1986, the Padma Shri in 1991 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2001.
Shiv Kumar, sometimes called Shivkumar Sharma, was born in Jammu on January 13, 1938 to Pandit Uma Devi Sharma. She was a classical musician and belonged to the royal priests of Jammu and Kashmir and Kesar Devi. At five years old, he started tabla lessons with his father and began to sing. In “Journey With a Hundred Strings” (2002), a biography of Mr. Sharma, Ina Puri wrote that he would spend hours immersed in music, practicing various instruments.
“There was an obsessive element in my attitude to music even then,” she quoted him as saying. “It was the air I breathed, the reason I lived.”
He was 12 years old and an accomplished tabla player. He performed regularly on Radio Jammu, as well as accompanying the top musicians who visited the town. He was 14 when his father brought him back from Srinagar where he had worked, along with a gift: a santoor.
Mr. Sharma was not happy learning a new instrument. But his father was determined. “Mark my words, son,” he recalled his father saying. “Shiv Kumar Sharma and the santoor will become synonymous in years to come. Be bold and start something new. You will be recognized as a pioneer.”
Sharma’s first major performance on the santoor was at the Haridas Sangeet Sammelan festival of Bombay (now Mumbai) where he gave it in 1955. At 17 years old, he convinced organizers to let him play the tabla and the santoor. He was reluctantly given 30 minutes to play the instrument of his choice, but on the day of the recital he played the santoor for a full hour — to rapturous applause. The organizers called him back the next day for another recital.
He soon received offers to play and act in Hindi films, but after one film, the 1955 hit “Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje,” he was determined to focus on classical music. In an effort to make the santoor a classical instrument, he performed all over the country.
At 22 he moved to Bombay. To make ends meet, he was the santoor in sessions for popular Hindi films songs. He also continued to build his classical reputation.
His wife Manorama, his sons Rahul and Rohit, well-known composer and santoor players, are his survivors. He also has two grandchildren.
After Mr. Sharma’s death, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among those paying tribute. “Our cultural world is poorer with the demise of Pandit Shivkumar Sharma Ji,” he wrote on Twitter. “He popularized the santoor at a global level. His music will continue to enthrall the coming generations.”
Source: NY Times