A post graduate in tabla (Hindustani music) from Rotterdam Conservatoire, German Florian Schiertz went on to study the intricacies of the tabla under the guru-shishya system style from Udai Mazumdar and Pandit Sumantra Guha. A freelance artiste, he has given performances in various renowned music festivals. The artiste was in Thiruvananthapuram recently in connection with a programme organised by Goethe Zentrum-Trivandrum. Excerpts from an interview…
Tryst with music
Our family was gifted a keyboard. As a child I would plonk on the keys and soon started playing the keyboard by ear. My parents, noting my interest and talent, decided to enrol me for piano classes at the age of seven. At 14, I discovered drums.
One day, my family and I attended a fusion concert. The concert was by Trilok Gurtu on the tabla and other percussion instruments and jazz music by Don Jerry. Trilok's performance on the tabla impressed me. After the concert, Trilok gave me a paper containing a traditional tabla composition Kaida. As we do not have the syllable ‘Dha' in German, I started pronouncing it as ‘Deha.' With constant practise, I finally managed to get the word right.
From Western music to Indian
I knew music would be my career. However, the transition from the drums to the tabla just happened one fine day; I knew the tabla was something I had to pursue. I happened to attend a concert by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan on the sarod and Pandit Swapan Chowdhuri on the tabla and that strengthened my resolve.
In search of a guru
Hailing from Singen (which in German means to sing), a small town in Germany, it was obviously difficult to find a guru. Never in my wildest imagination could I have imagined myself, a small town boy, learning something as exotic as the tabla. Finally, I found a teacher (Peter Vonessen) in Freiburg, a nearby town. I then went on to learn to play the tabla from Jatinder Thakur in Basel, Switzerland. I met my first real guru there, Udai Mazumdar. I had my first guru-shishya relation with him. I even travelled with him to Delhi. I then did my graduation and post graduation in tabla (Hindustani music) at Rotterdam Conservatoire. I was trained on the tabla under Ted de Jong and Ustad Fayaz Khan there. I then moved on to Kolkata to study from Pandit Sumantra Guha. He has been my guru for the last 10 years and has been teaching me the art of Farukkabad Gharana. He is my main guru.
With Guru Udai Mazumdar it took a bit of adjusting as I was staying with him. I wasn't used to the food, culture …but soon adapted. It was like staying with a foster family. An incident that touched my heart was when I visited his parents in Allahabad. I accidently stepped on his mother's feet and quickly bent down to touch them. I had never done it before. She was touched; she hugged me and called me her son. I felt at home. A good thing about the guru-shishya parampara is that it helps develop a bond between teacher and student; there is also trust. This is important for the guru teaches the student all he knows. Without trust, there is a chance of the teacher holding back tips on how to improve your performances. In the North Indian system of classical music, the guru-shishya parampara helps one to become a professional musician. It's not like in the West, where classical musicians train in colleges to become professionals.
As a German tabla artiste
There is a preconceived notion that as a foreigner you can't play the tabla as well as an Indian can. I have found that there are two types of audiences, one that is open to anything – they appreciate good music, and the other, who only appreciates concerts if there are big names. However, there are more people now who are open to new things. In Germany, for instance, most people would never have heard the tabla before and so when I play, either as part of a group or as a solo performer, there are chances of listeners not understanding the music; they come back though, to learn. And that is what I want to do, promote the tabla and Indian classical music. I want them to learn of this small instrument that is capable of producing so many beautiful sounds, a rhythmic instrument that is highly developed because of the tal and bol system. And also for them to hear to various ragas, an ocean of melodies. The soul of music can cross boundaries.
As a performer
I have performed in Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, France…as a soloist and as an accompanist. I've played with various artistes such as Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee (sitar), Ken Zuckerman, Kalyan Mukherjee (sarod), and Surendran Reddy (piano). I am open to performing fusion music, but what matters is the attitude of a musician. For example when fusion music is played for money only, the purity behind it becomes diluted and fusion becomes confusion. I have recorded a couple of demos but they are not out in the market. People who attend my concerts can buy them after the concert is over.