Listening to different artists and attending their live performances contributes a lot to the understanding of music of any artist or even student of music. After I came to Pune in 2008, for pursuing my engineering education, I attended most of the concerts taking place in the city. Eventually, attending concerts became like a routine. Within four years, I had heard most of the well known and most respected artists. I was under impression that these concerts had introduced me to the music of the best artists in India. How wrong I was! And, how unfortunate I was….
It took some time to realize that there are many hidden gems in the world of Hindustani classical music which one rarely gets to listen to in the typical concerts and music festivals. Listening to some such ‘gems’ completely undermined my understanding of and taste for Indian classical music. Pt. Sharad Sathe is one of those gems.
He has been living in Pune for past many years and I never heard of his concert being arranged somewhere in Pune. I got to listen to his magical music first time during the promo shoot for First Edition Art’s Secret Masters Session in a studio at Wagholi, near Pune. On that very day, I had decided not to miss the concert, which finally happened on 26th of March at Ravindra Natya Mandir.
There is so much to learn from Pt. Sharad Sathe’s personality and his music. It was without doubt the most fruitful concert I ever attended. Sharad Ji’s wisdom, developed and refined over many decades, teaches us a lot. Attending his concert was a very refreshing experience and his concert was different from the other typical performances in many ways.
To establish my point well, I would like to begin with his different approaches toward different Ragas. He started the concert with Raga Prabhat Bhairav followed by Todi, Yamani Bilawal, Miya Ki Sarang and Bhairavi. His methods of improvising each of these Ragas were strikingly different. For example, while singing Miya Ki Sarang, he did exceptionally brilliant MeendKam (glides), something that our generation has rarely heard. Whereas while singing Todi or Yamani Bilawal, his approach was totally different, suited for the nature and mood of that particular Raga. Many times, even while listening to some of the most acclaimed artists, one can see that they use same patterns and styles in different Ragas. So ultimately, as the Raga changes, only notes change; patterns remain the same. In case of Pt. Sharad Sathe’s performance, as the Ragas changed, the entire structure and aesthetic approach also changed. Something very rare and unique!
Second thing worth noticing was the way he handled the lyrics of the compositions he sang. Gwalior Gayaki is famous for rhythmic patterns which make use of lyrics of the composition being sung (layakari). Commonly it can be observed that when artists start with layakari, they break the words of the composition in parts and most of the times, these parts do not convey any meaning. Pt. Sharad Sathe, even while singing some of the most complex rhythmic patterns ensured that he did not break the words in between. His attention to words and their meaning did not wither even when he was singing a complex Tappa in Bhairavi.
Third distinguishing point was his ease while performing. While improvising a Raga, to come up with distinctive phrases and patterns, the artist has to be at ease. He or she has to be fully ‘present’. It can be observed that most of the artists, while performing are hardly at ease. Even while they are performing, they are constantly engrossed in something – gauging the audience, acclimatizing with sound system etc. Sadly, with the time, everyone including artists are losing the ability to be at ease. As the art becomes more competitive and commercial in nature, this problem is going to be more severe. During the entire performance, Pt. Sharad Sathe was at ease. His practice, his devotion to his art, guidance under some of the finest Gurus and mostly, the contentedness that he has, keeps him in a very unique position where he can manage to be in ease while performing.
Singing at the age of 86 is not a joke. Even young artists are always under tension if their voice will co-operate or not. At the beginning, when just for a moment, audience felt that Pandit Ji was facing some difficulty while singing Pancham, he surprised and delighted everyone by singing Tar Shadja with ease and grace. As you grow older, your vocal cords tire, reflexes slow down, hearing might get compromised. Sharad Ji’s performance did not even give a hint of any of these problems. Most interestingly, he was constantly innovating on stage. One could feel that it was not a ‘set’ performance; rather it was co-creation arising out of his own wisdom and skills, his understanding of audience and their aesthetic sense and also the responses of the accompanists.
Listening to Sharad Ji and interacting with him re-emphasized my belief that artist and his art are not separate. The personality of artist percolates in his art. Sharad Ji’s unique personality makes a big impact on his music. His attention to details, graceful and humble attitude, love for everyone around him, desire to not only share his knowledge but also to constantly observe and learn from people and situations around him certainly put his music on a very different plane.
Listening to his concert filled me with gratefulness along with a tinge of sadness. Why there was not a single of his concerts arranged in the cultural capital of India in last ten years? In spite of all this sadness, I feel I am very fortunate that I could experience his music; better late than never…