Pandit Sharda Sahai 1935-2011
Sharda Sahai was born in Benares in 1935, a direct descendent of Pandit Ram Sahai, the founder of the Benares style (“Gharana”) of Tabla playing. With the inherent gift in his blood of the finest traits of the Benares Baaj, he began at an early age to learn tabla from his father, the late Pandit Bhagvati Sahai. Following his father’s demise in 1946, he became a disciple of the inimitable Pandit Kanthe Maharaj, himself a disciple of Sharda Sahai’s grandfather, Pandit Baldeo Sahai.
Sharda Sahai started his professional career at the age of nine, performing both as a soloist and as an accompanist. He made his major public debut when he was sixteen, appearing at the Italee Music Conference in Calcutta with the sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan.
His professional activities in India have included appearances as soloist and accompanist at all of the important music conferences and festivals as well as performances with every major artist of North Indian classical music. He was awarded “A Grade Artist” status by All India Radio in 1965. Also in 1965 he founded the Pandit Ram Sahai Sangit Vidyalaya, an institute for training in classical music and dance, located in Benares.
Sharda Sahai has performed over one thousand concerts worldwide. His solo performances have been broadcast on All India Radio’s prestigious National Program. His accompaniment experience includes every major artist of North Indian classical music- among others: sitarists Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, and Nikhil Banerjee; sarodists Ali Akbar Khan and Amjad Ali Khan; violist V.G. Jog; and dancers Gopi Krishna, Birju Maharaj, and Sitara Devi. In February, 1970 Sharda Sahai made a highly successful tour of Europe, the United States, and Canada with Sarodist Amjad Ali Khan.
His tabla playing made a powerful impression everywhere he played, and in September, 1970 he returned to the United States to accept an appointment as Artist in Residence with the World Music Program at Wesleyan University. He remained with Wesleyan University for five years, during which time he was also a visiting professor at Brown University and Berklee School of Music. Sharda Sahai’s superb ability as a performer is matched by his ability as a teacher. Few Indian musicians of his calibre have held as many teaching positions at such prestigious western universities.
Frances Shepherd is an ethnomusicologist who has specialised in the performing arts of the Indian sub-continent. Her particular interest is oral traditions and the development of culturally diverse arts education programmes for schools. She has written syllabuses for different music and dance cultures and acted as a consultant for several music services.
After having trained as a Western musician at Dartington College of Arts (Devon, UK), she studied various Indian musical instruments and dance forms and did a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University in the US in 1970. Her study of the tabla under Pandit Sharda Sahai took her to Benares where she ran the Pandit Ram Sahai Sangit Vidyalaya from 1976 to 1979.
In 1980 she was awarded a Churchill Fellowship and spent several months travelling to the various centres of music education and performance in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to research how music was taught and examined. On her return to the UK she co-founded PRSSV, a charitable trust which through its different departments provides access to accredited qualifications, trains students and runs heritage projects.
Having been Senior Lecturer in music at Dartington College of Arts and then Kingston University, Dr Shepherd’s career is dedicated full-time to music scholarship, field research, documentation and community advocacy, integrating her Western classical music training with non-Western music.