Persian Music Festival (An International Event)

For one of my international events this year, I attended the Persian Music Workshop, because Dr. Minks, the professor of Music and Culture in Everyday Life, recommended it to me. I did not know quite what to expect from a one hour music workshop wherein the majority of the audience was relatively unfamiliar with the subject music, because the term workshop suggests audience participation. I was slightly nervous. However, I quickly learned that my anxiety was not well-founded. An associate professor of ethnomusicology began the event by introducing the five Iranian musicians who were leading the workshop. The musicians were all Iranian, but they work and study at UC Berkeley. The vocalist from their ensemble was unable to attend the workshop, which is unfortunate, because our class readings for the week had been about verbal art and verbal performance. After their brief introductions, the musicians performed a piece from their repertoire. I was blown away by their performance: it was a piece in a five beat pattern with very striking dynamic changes, and although I could not even name the instruments I saw the performers using, their immense technical skill with them was obvious. After that performance, the workshop took the shape of a lecture, primarily. Each artist introduced the audience to their instruments, which were as follows: the tonbak, a percussive instrument which was reminiscent of a bongo; the kamancheh, a fascinating ancestor to the violin; the oud, ancestor of the guitar; the santur, which resembled a dulcimer, but I was surprised to learn was an early ancestor of the harpsichord and then piano; and the daf, a larger drum. From there, the workshop became focused on the theory of Iranian music and the two important schools of thought which shape it: classical composition and popular folk music composition. I admit that a large amount of the music theory went over my head, but it was still very interesting. My favorite takeaway was that Iranian music contains quarter-steps, denoted by a koron symbol, as opposed to the smallest interval in western music, which is a half-step.
I was reminded several times of my Music and Culture class, because one of the themes of the lecture, if you can call it that, was the important role of the working-class people in defining the music of their area. Each musician explained how the folk-lore and the popular canon of music was just as important in shaping the role of their instrument as classical theory. One of the lessons I learned from my Music and Culture class is that common musical practices can have a profound effect on a musical canon. That’s exactly what these professional musicians were saying. The musician who played the daf concluded the evening with an anecdote and a remark that one can not understand music if he or she does not understand the people who play it. It was a very poetic statement, and it is one that gives me great encouragement to continue studying different cultures.

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