K. Sridhar by Camilla Hale

This Friday at Lansdown Hall local sarod player K. Sridhar will be accompanied on tabla by Sanjay Jhalla for what promises to be a mellow evening of pure classical North Indian music. Camilla Hale caught up with Sridhar prior to the concert to delve further into the life of the world renowned musician and the music of India...

Sridhar, tell me a little about your life.

I was born in Mumbai in India nearly 70 years ago to a family steeped in generations of music. My two elder brothers both started music lessons early and by five it had been decided for me that I would play the sarod. Mother sang bhajans, played sitar and taught singing and she sang for the great masters in the first half of the 20th century with her father. She gave us tremendous knowledge in music especially south Indian music. My sarod teacher was a Muslim teacher from an old family of Rajastani court musicians and once I started my training was really 8 hours a day minimum.

I was also introduced to yoga and breathing from a very young age and my sufi guru taught me over many years to incorporate yoga and music together. He was not a musician but he understood sound and how to work on sound which comes from the Anahata chakra – ‘the unstruck note of the heart’. He encouraged me to listen to, work with and learn with others from all disciplines and faiths.

Both teachers insisted on intense and rigorous training – hour and hours a day throughout my youth. A great musician told me – ‘5 minutes of learning, 15 hours a day practice and 50 years of listening will make you a good student’.

Who else were inspirations for you?

In India I was so lucky to play with Ravi Shankar in his orchestra from when I was eleven and with Ali Akhbar Khan, the greatest sarod player. I also toured with a south Indian bhajan singer, Haridas,  and I listened to western music; flamenco, jazz and classical.  

Has your music changed as you have grown older?

When I first came to Europe in my early 30’s I was keen to play with all kinds of musicians. I love jazz and I also played with Middle Eastern musicians who share many of the roots of my classical Indian music. But as I have become older I want more and more to concentrate on that early teaching – on the purity of the style of classical music that I play and on the aspects of Naada Yoga which is so important to the way that I play.

And Naada Yoga is?

The Sanskrit word “naada” can be translated as tone or vibration.  Naada Yoga is the yoga of sound.  Tones are produced in order to yoke the mind towards the Divine.  This can be done in combination with breath and posture by the sound maker but listening is equally a part of Naada Yoga.  A struck tuning fork emits not only its own tone but a vibration that causes other nearby forks to emit their tone.  In the same manner, listening to music will create a sympathetic resonation in one’s own being.  A concert involving Naada Yoga works in the same way.

Music really is food for the soul – – Naada Yoga incorporates chanting, postures and mantras and breathing for the audience to have an understanding of the soul and consciousness through sound.

In the beginning there is the musician, the instrument, and audience.  In the end, all three merge into the ocean of sound.

You often perform with your eyes closed, how do you connect with the audience in this way?

I concentrate very deeply before a concert and decide on which raga to play and focus on that raga and its colours, its time of day, the individual sounds within it. I play the instrument but the music, the raga is somehow played through me and allows me to act as a conduit for the raga and all its meanings and interpretations and improvisations. If I had my eyes open I would be distracted from that inspiration. However I can feel the audience, I can hear it and I am very aware of how the audience is reacting to the music.

What are Ragas?

Ragas are structures of notes through which I can improvise with an understood grammar – like words being put together in sentences and paragraphs and chapters. Ragas have colours, are related to times of day or night or phases of the moon, have emotions. The first part goes through creation, preservation and dissolution and then the rhythm section comes in and the dialogue between rhythm and melody runs to the end.

Could you tell us a bit about the sarod and the tabla?

The sarod has 25 strings, 4 playing strings, 2 rhythm strings and the others tuned to the dominant (tonic) note that the raga starts and ends with. There are no frets on the metal fingerboard and the notes are slid into and can contain many notes within one action. The tabla is made up of two drums, one wooden and one metal and both with skins stretched across them. The wooden drum is the main rhythmic drum with a sharp sound and the metal drum gives a wonderful, deeper sliding sound. The rhythm can be in 8 beats or 16 beats or many other variations and there are many different qualities of sounds that are made.

Finally - how to be a good audience?

Before entering the hall leave your ego and intellect outside, like leaving your shoes outside a mosque or temple. Listen with the heart not the mind. Try to surrender to the music and let it take you where it goes. People will have different experiences according to their own lives. Afterwards the melody won’t stay with you but like incense the fragrance of the music will stay for some time. If you listen from the heart you gain experience. If you listen from the head you gain knowledge...

K.Sridhar's concert takes place this Friday 23rd Sept at the Lansdown Hall at 7:15pm. Tickets are available on the door for £12/£10concs, with delicious samosas and chai being served in the interval. Visit www.sridhar.org for further information and tour dates.

Camilla Hale has worked for a lot of local charities, both as volunteer and project manager; run tours to India and brought three Indian artists to the Museum in the Park in 2010 for a month long textile exhibition. she is currently a Stroud Town Councillor.