Fellowship Award Speeches

On 11th November 1997, Pt. Sharda Sahai was awarded the Fellowship by Leeds University in recognition of his contribution to Music. Shardaji held a special affinity for the city of Leeds, having travelled to teach there regularly for a number of years and helping foster a generation of tabla players and music lovers.
To his left – Principal of Leeds College of Music. To the right -Dean of Music, Leeds University.

In recognition of his lifelong contribution to music, Pandit Sharda Sahai was made a Fellow at Leeds College of Music, Leeds University on 11th November 1997.

Below you will find the presentation speech by Dr. Santokh Matharu at the Conferment of Degrees and Awards in The Great Hall, University of Leeds, UK, on conferment of the Fellowship by Chairman of the Governing Body , Mr R M Tebb on 11th November 1997.

And the acceptance speech by Pandit Sharda Sahai on receiving the Fellowship.

Presentation speech by Dr. Santokh Matharu MbCHB, ACLS, ECFMG at the Conferment of Degrees and Awards in The Great Hall, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK, on conferment of the Fellowship to Pandit Sharda Sahai by Chairman of the Governing Body , Mr R M Tebb on 11th November 1997.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all this evening to be part of a ceremony to honour one of India’s greatest living musicians. The award of the Fellowship of the City of Leeds College of Music is rarely given and I can say without hesitation that it goes this evening to a man who richly deserves it – Mr Sharda Sahai.

Mr Sahai is an internationally renowned figure and a man who has made a significant contribution to Indian music. He was a pupil of Pandit Kanthe Maharaj and began his professional career at nine years of age. He made his major public debut at sixteen. He has the distinction of being able to claim that he has accompanied every major artist of North Indian classical music and has performed over a thousand concerts worldwide. He has played, and still regularly plays all over India. He made his first international appearance over a quarter of a century ago and since then has performed and taught across Europe, and in the United States, Canada and Australia. He has held concerts in the Carnegie Hall and the Philharmonic Hall in New York City and been seen and heard on Canadian and American radio and television. In 1965 he founded the Pandit Ram Sahai Sangit Vidyalaya, an institute for training in classical music and dance in Benares. He has taught in universities like the Wesleyan University in Connecticut and Brown University in Rhode Island. He is at present an examiner of the Benares Hindu University, as he has been for almost twenty years. He has produced various publications and his solo album, the Art of Benares Baj, is the first full-length LP recording of an uninterrupted tabla solo performance.

He follows in the footsteps of one of his forebears, Pandit Rarn Sahai who was the founder of the Benares style of tabla playing. It is thanks to Mr. Dharambir Singh that Mr Sahai was brought to Leeds, where he has made a major contribution to the Centre for Indian Music in this college. The centre has been established not only to teach Indian music but to enable students from different ethnic backgrounds to participate together and learn to appreciate and enjoy each others cultures.

Mr Sahai is not only an expert performer of the tabla, he is also an excellent teacher. Not all good performers are good teachers and not all good teachers are good performers, but Mr Sahai excels in both. His modern, you might almost say westernised style of teaching, is extremely successful with students who come from such a wide range of backgrounds. He is able to establish a close working relationship with each individual. He succeeds because he is able to generate in his students a passion, an enthusiasm and a dedication to their music. They in turn respect and admire the expertise and understanding he brings to their studies and realise just how fortunate they are in having such a teacher.

I have personally seen just how effective his teaching is, my own son, Daljit is one of his pupils.

And so It gives me great pleasure to commend to you a man of exceptional ability. He is a man whose talents and tireless pursuit of excellence, has educated and entertained numerous generations over the years. He has also brought to various communities across the world an insight into Indian classical music they would never otherwise have enjoyed. Mr Sharda Sahai, we would deem it an honour If you would accept the Fellowship of the City of Leeds College of Music.

Speech delivered by Sharda Sahai in acceptance of the Fellowship of Leeds College of Music, at the 1997 Convocation Ceremony of Leeds University in The Great Hall, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK.

I am very happy to accept this award of Fellowship of Leeds College of Music.

I am Gharanedar, Head of the tradition of tabla playing of my home town Benares. My great-great-grandfather founded this style of tabla playing which has been handed down five generations to me. Hence I would also like to thank my own teachers, my father, Bhagwati Sahai and Kanthe Maharaj. This is because I have been brought up in the culture of teaching called Guru Shishya Parampara where teachers have an enormous influence over their students’ development. We don’t ever forget them.

I may have been unusual in that I lost my father at an early age and have had to earn my own living since the age of eight. However, it was my father who set my hand on the tabia, by which I mean he gave me the correct technique on which I could build my career. After his death it was Kanthe Maharaj who gave me many compositions.

In the same way, because of our tradition, I need to thank God. Practising Tabla – we call it Riaz -is really a kind of worship. We need good health, patience, energy, strength and single-mindedness. We also need faith. People these days may say they had good luck and they had faith in themselves. When I was growing up we put our faith in God – Siva or Ganesh. Ganesh is actually the god of Tabla.

I am very proud of everyone here at Leeds College of Music and what they have done for

Indian Music. There have been courses in Indian Music there since 1991. These have been started by Dharambir Singh, sitarist and lecturer in Indian Music. He saw a big gap in the heart of the country, Yorkshire, where many people in Leeds and other towns wanted to learn Indian music but could find no structure for learning. Leeds College of Music has now offered that structure which is a blessing for everyone wanting to learn Indian music in the north.

Dharambir’s structure also allows for one to one teaching, which is the traditional learning method. I have attended two Indian Music Conferences here in the College of Music at which the question of how Indian Music is taught in schools and colleges was very much on the agenda.

In 1995 many people complained that through the education system no aspiring musician ever gained international performing standard. Also that there was a lack of modem text books written in English. This year much of the discussion was about the Guru Shishya Parampara method of teaching and how good musicians cannot be produced without it being incorporated into the educational system. Good musicians cannot be manufactured.

My school of music in India, called Gharana, has been going on for 200 years. This Gharana knows how to produce good musicians otherwise it would not have lasted so long. I try to teach according to the original method of Guru Shishya Parampara and make no difference between students and disciples. I always feel a duty towards the students and any time they need to know anything I am there to answer their questions.

Because of the pioneering work of the College here in Leeds I have been given an opportunity to pass on my heritage to students in the traditional way. Now there is a very important development, that of the new Leeds Centre for Indian Music and Dance, shortly to be established by the College with its partners in the City. This College has already become the focus for Indian music in the North so it is natural for this Centre to be set up here.

I have been involved in education throughout my career. It has also been a serious hobby because I have seen so many students unable to grasp the technique of tabia playing solely because of bad teaching. That is why I founded Pandit Ram Sahai Sangit Vidyalaya – an institute of Indian music and dance in the UK with Dr Frances Shepherd. Through various projects we provide examinations of Prayag Sangit Samiti (the music university in Allahabad), training by an experienced vocal teacher from India, and many more. I am very happy that we are able to work together with Leeds College of Music for the cause of Indian music.

I have just come from a performance in which I improvised with a Jazz saxophonist, and drummers from Malaysia and Singapore. Music is a universal language and has given me opportunities to communicate with musicians and audiences from all nationalities and cultures. Because I don’t speak their language doesn’t stop my music from being appreciated.

I look forward to my continued connection with the College of Music and more opportunities to contribute to its work to develop Indian classical music as an important area of study in the college, and as a centre for Indian arts in the UK. The work of the College is very important for future generations.

Today is a very special day for me as it means that all the efforts I have made in my life, the tradition of which I am head, as well as the pioneering work in Indian music by Leeds College of Music are given recognition.

Thank you.

11 November 1997

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