A blessed week with Guruji
This month we spent a wonderful week of music with Guruji – Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, in the beautiful town of Gifu in Japan. Our week of workshops were organised by one of Guruji’s senior disciples Setsuo Miyashita (aka Jimmy San) at the Grand Gifu hotel nestled by lush green hills and a watched over by Gifu Castle atop Mount Kinka with the Nagara River running below.
Everyday Jas and I would start at 9am with breakfast in one of the many halls in the hotel, with Takahiro Arai, a Japanese Gurubhai who now lives in Mumbai. As Jas and I are strict vegetarians we were a little worried about the food situation for our stay in Japan! We knew that even if the menu says that it’s a ‘vegetable something’ or ‘vegetarian’ that it will have at least some dashi (fish stock) or bonito flakes (dried fish flakes) in it! We were right to be worried as Taka helped us navigate through the innocent looking soup and vegetables which had in them what we suspected. This lead us to toast, fresh sweet fruit and sometimes a lettuce, onion and tomato sandwich!
Taka speaks fluent Hindi so this trip gave us a chance to brush up our Hindi speaking skills (as our main language is Punjabi). The conversations were always about music and swapping stories about Guruji ☺. Taka is basically one of the luckiest students in the world! Wherever Guruji goes he takes Taka with him, helping him in any way he needs help, it’s such a privilege to spend so much time with such an amazing musician and person, just being around them gives you and your music positive vibrations, which can definitely be seen in Taka and his music. I’m glad to have Taka as a close and longtime friend.
After breakfast the day would be split up in to one session of lessons in the morning and another in the late afternoon. The lessons were held in a simple Japanese style room with both the junior and senior students sitting in each other’s lessons. Guruji asked Jas to play Tabla throughout the lessons, which meant that he played for several hours a day! A serious workout! At least we got to take a break and listen to each other’s lessons, but Jas had to keep going!
Guruji’s attention to detail is what makes his playing great and also is what makes him a great teacher, meticulously explaining why a melodic or rhythmic phrase is played one way and not another, why a specific note in the alap should be stressed or not and why silence is as important as playing. Every second of every lesson was absolutely priceless for us. We were all blessed.
For lunch and dinner Jas and I were part of the privileged few to accompany Guruji. We usually went to one of three places, a small vegan café, an Italian restaurant and an Indian restaurant. Such is the respect and kindness of our host Jimmy San that he and his volunteers visited a list of places that might be able to cater for vegetarians, tasted the food and assessed how flexible they would be to suggestions. If the restaurant passed their strict tests, only then would they take Guruji there. And I must say the food at all the places was excellent! Jimmy San and his volunteers, the wonderfully pleasant Yuki and Takato Ikeda, demonstrated to Jas and I what real ‘Seva’ (selfless service) is. Their attention to detail humbled us. We are forever indebted to all of them.
For the last two days of the workshops we had an unexpected guest who has known Guruji for many years, Ty Burhoe. Ty is Ustad Zakir Hussain’s Tour manager as well as senior disciple. Ty has been fortunate enough to work with many incredible artists over the years (check out his massive list here) but with his humble nature you would never know! We had so many wonderful conversations, riyaaz sessions, and meals with Ty. It was great to get to know him, hear him play and just generally hang out ☺ Jas and I definitely made a new friend in Ty.
The last day culminated with a talk and a question and answer session, which was open to the public. Guruji talked about his life and music as well as answering questions from the attendants, this offered an insight into his many years of personal research into Indian classical music, his music ethos and the spiritual side of music. We also met a visual artist called James Fletcher who presented some of his artwork to Guruji, you can check out some of his work here.
The last couple of days before our flight back, we did some sightseeing and shopping with Guruji. It was great to see Guruji in such a relaxed and joyous mood.
This brought to a close an amazing, blessed week with an amazing person and musician with lessons that will take quite a while to digest, understand and assimilate. I’m still charged from all the positive vibrations that come with spending time with such a down to earth but divine person and thrilled that these vibrations will surely be felt by my growing baby ☺