A legendary vocalist of Benaras gharana spots her at Jalandhar’s Hariballabh Sangeet Sammelan and gets so impressed with her singing skills that she takes this young classical singer under her tutelage. Over the next nine years, the guru, Girija Devi helps the shishya, Sunanda Sharma, evolve musically into an artiste with a perfect blend of shastra and bhav paksh in her gayaki.
During this period at Benaras and Kolkata, Sharma is lucky to get guidance from Pt Kishan Maharaj and Ustad Bismillah Khan among many other legends. So perfect does Sharma gets in the craft that a proud Girija Devi says, “My legacy will be taken forward through the thumris, chaitis and kajris sung by Sunanda. She has an amazing control over her taans.” Born in Dah near Pathankot, Punjab, Sharma, who now lives in Noida, began training under her father, Pt Sudarshan Sharma, at the age of four. She later graduated in music and in her Masters she got a gold medal in Indian Classical Vocal Music from Punjab University.
Though her forte lies in khayal, tappa, thumri, dadra and chaiti, Sharma’s repertoire includes Punjabi and Himachali folk and various devotional styles. She has struck unique jugalbandis with the sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and a wellknown Kathak dancer Shashwati Sen. In 2014, she set up Living Music Society for Arts, which celebrates music in the form of performances and also showcases young and fresh talent.
She has performed all over the world, including at the World Music festivals in Germany and twice in Belgium, moving audiences with her renditions in the UK, the USA, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Sweden. Ahead of her tour to Norway where she is collaborating with the Source band to sing a few Christmas songs, she spoke to us about her life and times.
Learning experience with gurus My father, Pt Sudarshan Sharma, was my first guru.
He started teaching me when I was around four. It started while at play. He taught me both, in a disciplined and relaxed manner. He discussed music with me every day. But he was very strict about riyaaz. I went to Girija Deviji after completing my Masters and stayed with her in Banaras for nine years. She had answers to all the questions I posed to her. It was like living with an ocean of knowledge.
Guru-shishya parampara in modern times.
The patterns of guru-shishya parampara have changed completely now. Technology has stepped in as everyone wants faster results. Earlier, a shishya spent years with the guru to not only learn music but observe the guru’s musical journey and imbibe other traditions – my guru taught me how to cook Banarasi cuisine, speak Banarasi language to perfect Banaras gharana renditions and have full cultural awareness. But, the good thing is the parampara of learning is still alive and students today are as dedicated as they were back then.
Importance of music festivals in bringing common man closer to music.
Music festivals act as a bridge to bring art and common man or art lovers together! These festivals help raise the level of art and artistes – the upcoming and talented ones get inspired and try to be more creative.
Top three cities when it comes to understanding music during a show. Banaras, Pune and Paris, dueto the temperament of the listeners.
If not a classical singer… I would have been a poet or somewhere related with spirituality.
Acceptability of Indian music abroad. Musicians from other countries wish to add elements of Indian music to theirs. They love our approach to the notes. And generally, audiences live different forms of Indian music.
When not singing, I… … love to travel and try out different vegetarian delicacies.