Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dear Friends,

Here are program notes which I wrote for the first of two Carpet Concerts at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles. Both programs were presented in an overall effort to bring some understanding to Western audiences about the sadly misunderstood culture of Iran.

Our friend and Carpet Angel Dr Khosrow Sobhe has added some photos from
this Carpet Concert and a brief report on his weblog, with the heading:
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Carpet Concert and Persian Rugs in Los Angeles:


Khosrow Sobhe
SOBCO International Ltd.

Photos will be added to this post as soon as possible.


21 February 2009
Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles, California


Neil Siegel ~ Persian tar
Robyn Friend ~ dance
Faraz Minooei ~ santur
Rowan Storm ~ vocal, dayereh, daff, dohol

in conjunction with the photography exhibit:

by international photojournalist Iason Athanasiadis

Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM)
5814 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles . California 90036

Saturday 21 February 2009
1:30 pm

'Strangers in a new culture see only what they know ...'
- quote from Maryna Hrushetska,
director of CAFAM, source unknown

Dearest Friends,

We of the Silk Road Music and Dance Ensemble warmly welcome you, and express our deep thanks to the Craft and Folk Art Museum for the opportunity to share our deep love for Iran and her most hospitable people and vibrant culture. Since the gifts bestowed on the world by the legacy of Iranian culture are vast and innumerable, our presentation could offer a mere glimpse of the craft, folk and classical art traditions of Iran, as well as ancient scientific contributions which in many ways facilitated the emergence of 'Western' culture. Between the magnificent photographs on display, sumptuous carpets on which we are sitting, delicious Persian treats during intermission, and our music and dance program, we hope that you will leave here today with a different idea about the humanity of this remarkable culture.

We invite you to sit back, relax, and fly with us on our magic Carpet Concert journey!

ba eshgh (with love),

Rowan Storm


The name 'Carpet Concert' could have come only to the mind of someone who did not grow up in 'Eastern culture', since for thousands of years the implicit context for music and life in general has been distinguished by sitting on a carpeted floor. Without another frame of reference, the things we accept in our native environment are 'just the way things are'. Being creatures of habit, we cannot see the forest from the trees.

Regardless of the weather outside, in Eastern cultures people remove their shoes at the door before entering the living space. This gesture is such an integral part of their culture that its deeper significance is most often overshadowed by habit; it would simply be unthinkable to cross the threshold before removing one's shoes.

The most practical reasons for the no-shoes policy are cleanliness, respect, and care for the floor, since in many parts of the world today the floor is where people sit and sleep. While floor coverings range from the simplest to the luxurious, for untold ages the most essential and treasured household furnishings have been the carpets, woven by hand primarily by women. Carpets are so highly prized that a woman's rank in traditional society is associated with her skill as a carpet weaver.

In simpler dwellings most activities are conducted within the same space, unlike our modern households whose rooms are designated and furnished for specific uses. While tables, chairs and other seating elements have become fashionable today in urban centers throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and the Balkans, even the previous urban generation slept and sat - by choice - primarily on the carpeted floor in all phases of day-to-day living. In rural areas this tradition is still widely maintained, not only by nomadic tribes but also settled populations.

During my travels to Iranian Kurdistan in 2006, irrespective of the means of the household, most of the homes I visited were furnished solely with carpets covering the entire floor and large pillows leaning against the walls. (Please see photographs below ...) At mealtimes a large cloth is spread on the carpeted floor, and families come together to share their meals picnic style. At night, the same area becomes a bedroom, with mattresses or simple blankets spread out. Families and friends gather for celebrations including poetry and music, colleagues meet for business arrangements, food is prepared, children play; all manner of activities take place in the same multipurpose space while all are sitting on the carpeted floor.

Sitting directly on a carpet brings information to the eyes and tactile sensation to the hands and feet, which are missed while feet are trapped in shoes, perched on a chair over that same carpet. While the body discovers new ways to find comfort, the lower line of sight promotes a dramatically shifted perspective on the world.

For untold generations throughout Iran and surrounding areas, the home environment has been sustained by close contact with the patterns, textures, colours, tales and mysteries woven into the carpets. It might be said that traditional Persian music is the very sound of the carpets themselves, and that the carpets compose a picture of the music.


The spiritual foundation of Classical Persian music - and to a great extent of all Persian culture - is poetry. It is difficult for those of us who grew up in Western culture to grasp the profound, majestic position of honour which is occupied by poetry in Iranian society.

This passion for poetry is not confined to the highly educated; even less-educated and illiterate Iranians can often recite lengthy works of favourite poets from memory. A traditional gathering of Iranians most often includes the joyful narration of their evocative, beloved poetry.

A primary reason for the ultimate significance of poetry in Iranian culture is that its rhythm and content provide nourishment for every moment of every day. For any circumstance in which an Iranian might find him or herself, an appropriate line of poetry can soothe, enlighten, teach, guide, encourage, inspire, stimulate or motivate.

The basic nature of Classical Persian poetry is profoundly humanitarian and spiritual. Intimately associated with Sufism, poetry in the Iranian sphere can be described as a means for spiritual sustenance and growth. Believed to be much older than Islam's conquest of Iran in the 7th century AD, Sufism is recognized as the embodiment of its mystical dimension. The essence of the Sufi path, and a primary theme of Persian poetry, is the struggle to transcend attachment to the material world and the individual selfhood, in order to reach the direct experience of Unity with the Divine. Sufism leads the way beyond outer appearances, and strives to purify the heart of everything other than Divine Love, known in Persian poetry as the Friend or the Beloved.

Love stories within the realm of human experience set the stage for the Love Affair with the Divine. Persian mystical poetry attempts to express the inexpressible through the use of allegory. A fundamental theme is the pain of separation from the Beloved, and longing for reunion. The seeker of Truth calls on the giver of wine to bring a deep cup, and to fill it with the means to ease this pain. In Persian poetry the Winebearer is another metaphor for Divine Love, and Wine represents spiritual understanding. Drinking deeply of this Wine not only soothes the sadness of disconnection, but makes possible the selfless, enraptured state of Reunion with the Divine.


While the mysticism of Persian Classical music is rooted in the poetry, the foundational theory of the music itself is known as the radif, a complex system which was organized and codified in the second half of the 19th century, collected from much older musical repertory throughout Iran by two brothers, Mirza Abdollah and Mirza Hossein Gholi. The radif is composed of approximately 400 brief, mostly non-metrical melodic phrases known as gusheh (a word meaning 'corner'), each with a name and an average duration of one or two minutes. These gushehs are classified into 12 modal affinities, and together as the integrated whole of the radif, share some characteristics with the modal art music of India, Turkey and the Arab world.

Since music in these areas has a direct relationship with ancient musical practices whose intervals are more closely related to the proportions of the natural harmonic series, none of these related families of music can be played accurately on the piano.

The establishment of the 12-equal-step tempered scale in 18th century Europe was a brilliant innovation which introduced many significant benefits, including a standard for tuning which made it possible for musicians and orchestras from different areas to play together, as well as the creation of various forms of harmony. Singers with varying vocal ranges could be accommodated, as pitches in the tempered scale can be easily transposed. Along with such conveniences, however, it is notable that a great deal of the essential, archetypal geometry which determines patterns of growth in nature, and which to a large degree is still maintained in Eastern music, has been lost in most of Western music.

In contrast to the Western approach to art which typically promotes the expression of the 'self' of the artist, within Persian and Eastern cultures generally, the artist strives to become a vessel through which the elements of the ancient art form are manifested. Within these parameters, individual expression emerges.

The ancient manner of music education in Iran involves a one-to-one apprenticeship and transmission between Master and student. While the first music lesson for most instruments in Western culture usually involves learning to read music, the emphasis in Persian music - and in Persian culture generally - is memorization. The Master plays a phrase, or gusheh, and the student attempts to internalize and duplicate it until it is mastered. While in recent years the music education system in Iran has become increasingly dependent on written music, the goal remains to commit the repertory of the radif to memory.

Memorization promotes a deeply personal attitude and performance of music. While musicians in the Western symphony orchestra rely on exterior music notation during performances, Persian musicians rely on their own integration of the substance of the music.

The first major accomplishment in attaining mastery of Classical Persian music is the memorization of the entire radif, which depending on the mood of the musician, could occupy between five and six hours to play in its entirety. Over the many years required to memorize the exact melodies and cadence of each gusheh, emotions begin to emerge in personal interpretation and improvisation, within the parameters of the radif.

The practice of internalizing poetry as well as the radif bestows the Persian musician with a profound, impersonal resource from which to draw for personal expression. Traditionally, the Master of Classical Persian music does not know in advance what he or she will perform in a concert. In a flash of inspiration, a poem comes to mind and heart, and related elements of the radif emerge. At the heart of the music is the mysticism of the poetry, which drives the improvisation in response to the circumstances of the moment, including the emotion and idea of the performer, mood of the audience, the weather, time of day, etc. All of the members of the Silk Road Music and Dance Ensemble have received training in this approach to music from Masters of Classical Persian music.


- Iran
The name 'Iran' means 'land of the Aryans', and not to be confused with Arabs or Turks, Iranians are an Aryan race. 'Persia' is the name given to the more than 5,000 year old culture of Iran by the ancient Greeks, and 'Iran' became the official name of the country in 1932. Both names 'Persia' and 'Iran' are for the most part interchangeable, as are the names 'America' and 'the United Sates'.

- Language
While sharing the same alphabet with Arabic with the addition of several letters, Persian language, or Farsi, is a member of the Indo-European family of languages, along with Spanish, Italian, French, German, English, Russian, Greek and Armenian. Speakers of Hebrew and Arabic, which are Semitic languages, have racial and historical backgrounds which are entirely different from Iranians, and Turkish people have yet another heritage and language. While there are many words and cultural elements which are shared by all these groups, each one is deeply distinct from the other. Many languages and ethnic groups are present in Iran, primarily forms of Turkish, several members of the Iranian linguistic family including Kurdish, and Persian dialects.

- Religion
A monotheistic religion called Zoroastrianism existed in Iran for possibly thousands of years before the introduction of Christianity. From the book of Matthew in the New Testament, we hear of the earliest visitors to the cradle of the infant Jesus, the three Wise Men from the East who had seen his star and came to worship him. The Greek word translated 'Wise Men' is magoi, which enables us to identify these dignified travelers as Zoroastrian priests. This same Greek word is the root of the words 'magic' and 'magician'.

While Zoroastrians still live in Iran today, the majority of Iranians are Shiite Muslims, and other religious groups with the most active presence are Jews, Christians, and Sunni Muslims.

- Persian Empire
The Achaemenid Persian Empire (550–330 BC) was the largest empire of the ancient world, reaching from northern Greece to India, from the Caucasus to Pakistan and into North Africa.

The first known declaration of human rights was written in 539 BC by Cyrus the Great, when he freed the Jewish slaves of Babylon and helped them return to Jerusalem. A copy of this declaration is mounted over the door of one of the most important auditoriums at the United Nations in New York City.

"Greece did not begin civilization - it inherited far more civilization than it began; it was the heir of three millennia of arts and sciences brought to its cities from the Near East by the fortunes of trade and war. In studying and honoring the Near East, we shall be acknowledging a debt long due to the real founders of European and American civilization."
- Will Durant, world historian, The Story of Civilization
Vol. 1, Our Oriental Heritage, 1935, Book One, p. 116.

- Mail system
Invented by the ancient Persians, the first mail system was supported by a road which stretched approximately 1,000 miles from the center of government in what is today southwest Iran to the Mediterranean Sea.

According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus: "There is nothing in the world which travels faster than these Persian couriers. The whole idea is a Persian invention, and works like this: riders are stationed along the road, equal in number to the number of days the journey takes - a man and a horse for each day. Nothing stops these couriers from covering their allotted range in the quickest possible time. Neither snow, rain, heat nor darkness."
- Herodotus (5th century BC), The Histories, Book VIII.98

This system and these very words were adopted during the early days of the United States mail system, in particular the 'Pony Express' of the late 19th century. A translation from Herodotus may sound familiar to some of you: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
- George Palmer, Harvard University

- Science
The earliest 'green builders' were the Iranians, who have made countless contributions to the world through scientific advancements. To mention only a few of their early innovations:

- batteries
Dating from 250 BC, the earliest batteries to be found were unearthed near Ctesiphon, an early capital of Iran near Baghdad in what is now Iraq. They were small enough to fit into a human hand, made from clay, and with the use of citric acid and vinegar were able to generate up to 2.0 volts of power.
- David Down, biblical archaeologist, Creation, March 1994, p.10

- windmill
"Most modern authors on the history of technology agree on the Persian origin of the windmill."
- Hans Wulff, The Traditional Crafts of Persia, 1966 p. 284

It is believed that windmills made their way from Persia to Europe between the 7th and 11th centuries.

- qanat
Meaning roughly 'underground water channel', qanats are a truly extraordinary development in the history of human civilization. While there are many kinds of terrain and weather conditions in Iran, the largest areas are desert. These underground channels are constructed in such a way that water from faraway mountain areas can support settlements and lush walled gardens in the middle of the desert. In order to thrive in such a harsh and dry climate, "Persian imagination and ingenuity is unrivalled in making the best use of water in the desert and in this the country's contribution to the world's technology is unique."
Ronald W Ferrier, The Arts of Persia, 1989, p.115

"The qanat works of Iran were built on a scale that rivaled the great aqueducts of the Roman Empire. Whereas the Roman Aqueducts now are only a historical curiosity, the Iranian system is still in use after 3,000 years and has continually been expanded. There are 22,000 qanat units in Iran, comprising more than 170,000 miles of underground channels.
"Other regions of the world with so little rainfall are barren of attempts at agriculture. Yet Iran is a farming country that not only grows crops for its own food but also manages to produce crops for export ... It has achieved this remarkable accomplishment by developing an ingenious system for tapping underground water."
Hans Wulff, Scientific American, April 1968, p. 94 - 95

Qanats have been introduced in surrounding regions, including Europe during the Islamic period of Spain from the 8th to the 16th centuries. It is remarkable that of the four early great civilizations in the vicinity, each of them except for Iran was supported with ample water supply from large rivers; Egypt on the Nile, Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates, and the Indus Valley Civilization on the River Sind. Iran's great civilization has been supported by the genius of Iranians.

- gardens
Qanat technology made possible the establishment of stunning garden environments in the middle of deserts. Iranians have always held a special reverence for nature, and especially flower gardens. Typically lined with cypress and other trees and arranged with flowers and fountains, pools and running water, the English word 'paradise' most likely is derived from the Persian word for these gardens, pardis.

- badgir
The earliest air conditioning system was also invented by Iranians thousands of years ago in order to cool home interiors and make life in the desert tolerable. Badgir, a word meaning 'catch wind', is an ingeniously simple idea which has attractive possibilities for our current era. A badgir resembles a chimney, but rather than channeling smoke up and out, air is cooled as it is funneled from the top of the badgir down into the living quarters. The most effective use of the badgir is to locate a pool of water with a fountain beneath it, which cools the air to an even more significant degree.

- yakhchal ....
Yet another astounding strategy for living in a desert climate which was engineered by the ancient Persians is the earliest refrigeration system. Often built as a whole system together with qanats and badgirs, yakhchal means 'ice pit'. By 400 BC Iranians were able to produce ice in the most brutal heat of the summer. The yakhchal is typically built as a conical structure above ground over a subterranean storage space. In the winter ice would be carried from the mountains and stored in the underground pit, insulated to withstand high temperatures with the circular wall at least 6 ½ feet thick at the base. These walls are not only resistant to heat transfer, but also completely impervious to water. The material used to build them is made of a mixture of ash, goat hair, lime, egg whites, clay, and sand in specific proportions.


Today's santour has 72 strings with a range of three octaves. The santour is constructed most often from walnut in the form of a shallow trapezoidal box. Special lightweight mallets held between the index and middle fingers are used to strike the strings. An ancient instrument, the santour makes its first appearance in Assyrian and Babylonian inscriptions in the 5th century BC. Variations of the santour have been played for centuries throughout Iran, Iraq, India, Armenia, Turkey and Greece. More recent descendants of the santour are found in other areas of Asia, throughout Europe and also in American folk music in the form known as hammered dulcimer. The santour is one of the ancestors of the clavichord, harpsichord and the piano.

The târ is a stringed instrument carved out of mulberry wood with a thin animal skin membrane for its face, producing a remarkable sonority. With six strings grouped in pairs, the târ is played using a metal or ox-horn pick, and is considered one of the most difficult instruments to master, requiring a very high level of dexterity. While variations are found in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the târ is a uniquely Iranian instrument, evolving into its present form towards the end of the nineteenth century from much older instruments. The word târ means 'string' in Persian language, and the names for both the instruments 'guitar' and 'sitar' are derived from the Persian word târ.

Dayereh, Daff
With at least 5,000 years of history, according to the records frame drums were played in ancient times primarily by women. The dayereh and daff are members of this large family of hand drums, of which the tambourine is also a member. Both the dayereh and daff have metal rings mounted along the interior of their frames, and traditionally have animal skins as their membranes, while today plastic skins are also used. The dayereh is traditionally a woman's instrument with many variations found throughout Iran, Azerbaijan and Central Asia. The dayerehs which are played in today's performance are new designs by Rowan Storm and are now in production by Cooperman Drum Company in Vermont.

The form of daff being played in today's performance developed in the context of the spiritual ceremonies of Kurdish dervishes in Iran and Iraq. Due to the similarity of sounds produced by the metal rings while the instruments are shaken, it is likely that both the dayereh and daff evolved in parallel with the grain sieve.

Another percussion instrument with a lengthy eastern lineage, believed to derive originally from India, the dohol is a large drum suspended with a strap from the player's shoulder and struck with a pair of sticks, one heavy and one light. The dohol is the ancestor of drums used not only in marching bands, but also several percussion instruments in today's western symphony orchestras.

Dance ~ by Robyn Friend
Dance in the Iranian cultural sphere has deep and ancient roots. Evidence from pottery shards of the Elamite civilization seem to indicate that dance at that time had a ritual, in addition to a celebratory, function. Due in large part to the influence of the Safivid rulers who took control of Iran at the beginning of the 16th century, dance in Iran proper has lost its position as a revered art. Yet in the larger area of Iranian cultural influence (which includes Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Northern India, Azerbaijan, and other near-by areas), dance still has an important role in happy occasions such as weddings, and, in certain areas, in sad occasions as well.


Robyn Friend is the premier performer of Iranian classical Qajarieh-style dance in Southern California. She earned a Ph.D. in Iranian linguistics from UCLA, and has since continued her studies of Iranian culture, poetry, and dance. Her choreographies of traditional Iranian dance and her many performances of Iranian classical dance and singing, accompanied by Neil Siegel, have earned her rave reviews around the world, and won the respect and affection of the Iranian Diaspora community of Southern California.

In today's performance, Neil Siegel plays the târ, the long-necked lute of Iran and Central Asia. He studied the repertoire of Persian classical music with the late Ostâd Mortezâ Varzi, and Turkish classical music with Ergun Tamer and Fuat Turkelman. As 'Siegel and Friend', Neil and Robyn have for more than 30 years performed in venues ranging from the Edinburgh Festival, to Samarkand’s prestigious “Sharq Taronalari” festival, in New York with the Dalai Lama, in many major cities of Europe and United States, and in Los Angeles’ own Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. A prominent scientist and engineer, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2005, among many other honors and awards.

Born in Tehran, Faraz Minooei began playing the santour at the age nine. While studying with Mr. Behnam Mehrabi he found a deep spiritual desire to study music, an 'unexplainable souvenir from the eternal truth'. A graduate from San Francisco State University, Faraz is a Nagle Scholar, and the only World/Jazz music major in Northern California, with Persian santour as his primary instrument. As a fulltime musician, Faraz is active in the fields of performance, composition, ethnomusicology, and teaching. He has been fortunate to continue his education in music - as a 'never ending project' - with master musicians such as Mohammad Reza Lotfi, Hossein Omoumi, Royal Hartigan, and Hafez Modirzadeh. He is now continuing the path of music in Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology as a graduate student in University of California, Irvine, while receiving the Graduate Diversity Fellowship. In late 2007 and early 2008, he has been invited by UCI, UCLA, and UCSC and the Society of Ethnomusicology to give lectures and demonstrate the Iranian music on santour. Recipient of many scholarships and grants such as the Meet the Composer, he has a passion for understanding the intricacies of the human mind and the world around him and refers to 'thinking' as his hobby. www.farazminooei.com.

Rowan Storm is recognized internationally for her drum workshops, singing in several languages, and performances of traditional percussion instruments with Masters of Middle Eastern music, particularly the dayereh and daff with Mohammad Reza Lotfi. Living in Greece since 1993, Rowan is a leader in the contemporary movement within Greek music and culture to embrace shared Oriental heritage. Her performance venues include San Francisco's Asian Art Museum, New York City's Lincoln Center, European concert halls and music conservatories, ancient amphitheaters throughout Greece and Cyprus, Istanbul's Reshid Rey Concert Hall, Ankara's Middle East Technical University, as well as countless Carpet Concerts throughout Greece, Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan.

Recently Rowan spent three months traveling throughout Iran, deepening her understanding of Persian Classical music, the role of women in ancient, sacred percussion traditions, as well as the evolution of Western culture based on countless elements from the East. While in Iran Rowan traveled to Kurdistan, where she was invited to play daff together with women dervishes in their ceremonies.

Rowan teaches Frame Drum workshops throughout the world with her unique Essential Frame Drum Method, and has designed an updated version of the traditional Iranian dayereh, now in production at Cooperman Drum Company:

Artist Innovation Series by
Cooperman Drum Company:



SoCiArts Productions

Exploring the Other and its programs are sponsored by:
Anonymous Donor, Hamid and Fereshteh Shafipour, Vida Yaghmai and Kourosh Gohar, Amir Angha, Southern California Edison, Moshen Ghazizadeh, Soheila Kolahi, Shari Rezai, and Katy Saei

With additional support from:
DCA, City of Los Angeles, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, The Annenberg Foundation, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services

Carpets and loom provided by
Dr. Khosrow Sobhe of SOBCO International Ltd. and founder and president of RugIdea.com

Persian sweets and tea service provided by
Shari Rezai

Uzbek Suzani silk embroidered panel provided by
The Silk Camel

Shoebags provided by
Accurate Flannel Bag Company, New York

Afshin Zand
Arash Sharifi
Diana Sanandaji
Fred Baron
Ghasem Toulani
Ian Price
Janmohammadi Family of Tehran
Jacquie Theis and the Bridgettes
Khalifeh Rahmeh and the woman dervishes
and their families of Kurdistan Iran
Laale Ghahreman
Maryam Hooshvar
Mehdi Sarreshtedari
Mohammad Reza Lotfi
Razi Family
... and countless additional friends and friendly strangers ...

Rowan Storm's signature Frame Drum:

Artist Innovation Series by
Cooperman Drum Company:


Photography by Chuck Gardner

Graphic design by Ridenour Communications


Blogger Unknown said...

Established in 1997, St. Gregorious Edu-Guidance is a leading education consultancy services providing exemplary service to students all over India. We deal in Admissions to all major professional courses in Premier Institutes across India. We are your one step solution for all career related needs, it may be MD, MBBS BE, BTech (ALL BRANCHES), , MDS, BDS, BPharm, BArch, MBA, MTech, MS, , PhD or any other courses. We provide personalized career solutions on an individual basis keeping in mind the aspirations of our client as well as the affordability factor.
St. Gregorious Edu-Guidance,
#2, 2nd Floor,
J J Complex, Above Chemmannur Jewellers,
Marthahalli - P O,
Bangalore - 560037
e-mail :jojishpaily@gmail.com
Contact: +91 9448516637
+91 9886089896, +91 9449009983
080-32416570, 41719562

WEBSITE: www.stgregoriousedu.com

2:17 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home