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Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Master of the Santoor, Dies at 84


Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, an Indian musician and composer who was the foremost exponent of the santoor, a 100-string instrument just like the hammered dulcimer, died on Tuesday at his home in Mumbai. He was 84.

Indian news reports said the cause was cardiac arrest.

Over a profession spanning nearly seven a long time, Mr. Sharma became the primary musician to propel the santoor onto the world stage, at live shows and recitals in India and elsewhere.

Before Mr. Sharma began playing the santoor, it was little known outside Kashmir. Even there it was used only to play Sufiana Mausiqi, a genre of Kashmiri classical music with Persian, Central Asian and Indian roots.

The santoor, a trapezoidal wood instrument whose strings stretch over 25 wood bridges, is played with slim wood mallets. On the santoor, in contrast with the sitar, sarod or sarangi, the string instruments traditionally utilized in Hindustani classical music, it’s difficult to sustain notes and perform the meends, or glides from one note to a different, essential to the Hindustani musical tradition.

That could be one reason it took Mr. Sharma so a few years to be recognized for his artistry.

Firstly of his profession, purists and critics derided the santoor’s staccato sound, and lots of urged Mr. Sharma to modify to a different instrument. As a substitute he spent years redesigning the santoor to enable it to play more notes per octave, making it more suitable for the complex ragas, the melodic framework of Hindustani music.

“My story is different from that of other classical musicians,” Mr. Sharma told The Times of India in 2002. “While they’d to prove their mettle, their talent, their caliber, I needed to prove the value of my instrument. I needed to fight for it.”

He released several albums, starting with “Call of the Valley” (1967), a collaboration with the acclaimed flutist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and the guitarist Brij Bhushan Kabra.

Mr. Chaurasia and Mr. Sharma were close friends and frequent collaborators. Together they composed music for several successful Bollywood movies within the Nineteen Eighties and ’90s including “Silsila” (1981), “Chandni” (1989), “Lamhe” (1991) and “Darr” (1993). Mr. Sharma was considered one of the few Indian musicians who straddled the worlds of classical and popular music.

In 1974, Mr. Sharma performed across North America with the sitar virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar as a part of the previous Beatle George Harrison’s 45-show “Dark Horse” concert tour, bringing Indian classical music to audiences beyond South Asia alongside a few of the finest classical musicians from India — Alla Rakha on tabla, Sultan Khan on sarangi, L. Subramaniam on violin, T.V. Gopalakrishnan on mridangam and vocals, Mr. Chaurasia on flute, Gopal Krishan on vichitra veena and Lakshmi Shankar on vocals.

Mr. Sharma was awarded a few 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 rendered Shivkumar) Sharma was born on Jan. 13, 1938, in Jammu, India, to Pandit Uma Devi Sharma, a classical musician who belonged to the family of royal priests of the maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir, and Kesar Devi. He began singing and tabla lessons in together with his father on the age of 5, showing great promise. 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 rationale I lived.”

By age 12 he was an completed tabla player, usually acting on Radio Jammu and accompanying leading musicians who visited the town. When he was 14, his father returned from Srinagar, where he had been working, with a gift: a santoor.

Mr. Sharma was not comfortable about learning a latest, unfamiliar instrument. But his father was adamant. “Mark my words, son,” he recalled his father saying. “Shiv Kumar Sharma and the santoor will grow to be synonymous in years to come back. Have the courage to start out something from scratch. You might be recognized as a pioneer.”

In 1955, Mr. Sharma gave his first major public performance on the santoor, on the Haridas Sangeet Sammelan festival in Bombay (now Mumbai). The youngest participant at 17, he persuaded the organizers to permit him to play each the santoor and the tabla. He was reluctantly given half-hour to play the instrument of his selection, but on the day of the recital he played the santoor for a full hour — to rapturous applause. The organizers called him back for an additional recital the subsequent day.

He soon received offers to play and act in Hindi movies, but after one film, the 1955 hit “Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje,” he was determined to deal with classical music. He performed across the country in an effort to ascertain the santoor as a classical instrument.

He moved to Bombay at 22; to make ends meet, he played the santoor on sessions for dozens of popular Hindi film songs while continuing to construct his classical repute.

He’s survived by his wife, Manorama; his sons, Rahul, a well known santoor player and composer, and Rohit; and two grandchildren.

After Mr. Sharma’s death, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was amongst 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 worldwide level. His music will proceed to enthrall the approaching generations.”

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