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Discernment. Online














'I started playing the tabla when I was five. I got curious about the santoor when I came to know that there was only one santoor player. In technique, I am self-taught'







'Some teach you what not to play'  

Ulhas Bapat has invented a new way of playing the santoor, worked with R D Burman, and just released a theme album called 'Desire'

The santoor may be the background music you hear every time you see a snowy valley in Hindi films, but it's much more than that. For Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, it's an instrument capable of tackling the most complex of ragas, and for Pandit Ulhas Bapat, it's a passion that sets his innovative spirit soaring.

Ulhas, who has invented a new way of tuning the instrument, has eight albums to his credit, released by labels like Magnasound, Rhythm House, Crescendo, Milestone and T-Series. He has just launched his home site.

Ulhas's site, called SantoorUlhas, contains a dozen pages giving details about the santoor, his innovations, and a photogallery and a discography.

"In technique, I am self-taught," he tells The Music Magazine in an exclusive interview:

The santoor is considered a 'folk' instrument. How good it is to play classical music, especially when Indian music depends so much on meends and microtones? What are the techniques you use to achieve these?

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma introduced this instrument to Indian classical music 50 years ago. Since then, it has become popular as a concert instrument. Meends and microtones are not the only features of Indian music. There are many other features like the alap, jod, jhala, bandish, and taal. That is the reason we can listen to classical music on the harmonium and jaltarang, both of which play staccato notes, without meends or microtones.

How did you come to play the santoor? Where did you learn? Was there always a lot of music around?

I started playing the tabla when I was five. I got curious about the santoor when I came to know that there was only one santoor player. In technique, I am self-taught. My gurus are my father, who is a retired assistant commissioner of police, and then Pandit Ramakant Mhapsekar who taught me the tabla. For the tantakari anga, my guru is the famous sarod player Zarin Daroowala-Sharma, and for gayaki rendering, Pandit K G Ginde and Wamanrao Sadolikar.

What are the innovations you have brought to the santoor? How different is your tuning technique from Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma's?

I tune my instrument in the chromatic structure, which means all 12 notes are available. I can play any raga without changing the tuning. This is rather difficult because one has to avoid notes that are not allowed in a raga. The tuning is fixed, only the playing changes. I don't change the key note either. You will be happy to know that I am the only santoor player who follows this system.

As for meend, I have invented the technique of playing it by redesigning the sticks. I create meend by striking one stick and sliding the other. I don't press the strings, nor is the meend produced as if during the tuning, as you have said in your review. To get a clearer idea, you should attend my concert or listen to my Prabhat Sagar composition of five ragas on T-Series. With this technique, meend is possible on any note, in any octave.

Where do you live and how good is the concert circuit to someone who plays a rare instrument like yours? Are you called to play in the movies too?

I live in Mahim, Mumbai. Yes, I have played select recordings with music directors like the late R D Burman.

Who are the musicians you look up to? In what way have you learnt from them, directly or indirectly?

All my gurus, and also Pandit Ravishankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. They taught me directly or indirectly what should I play. But there are many musicians who teach me what not to play. You listen to anybody and you learn what to do, and what not to do. And I like any good music composed or presented with a definite concept in mind, and discipline.

How did you come to know about 'The Music Magazine'?

I was surfing the net and read your review of my album Colours of Romance.

S Suchitra Lata

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