Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dearest Friends,

Writing this now from the magnificent city of Istanbul, Turkey. The mixture of cultures here is truly dazzling and it is a great honour to find myself here again and to be preparing for some music programs coming up.

Here are program notes which I wrote for the second 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.

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

wishing all the best to all, Rowan


26 March 2009
Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles, California

CARPET CONCERT in celebration of NOROOZ, the Iranian New Year

Morteza Yadollahi - tar
Faraz Minooei - santour
Rowan Storm - vocal, dayereh, daff

in conjunction with
by international photojournalist Iason Athanasiadis

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

Thursday 21 February 2009
9:00 pm

'Strangers in a new culture see only what they know ... '
Maryna Hrushetska, Director of CAFAM, source unknown

Dearest Friends,

We warmly welcome you to this evening's Norooz Carpet Concert, and wish you all a glorious New Year! We express our deep thanks to the Craft and Folk Art Museum for the opportunity to share our music and love for the traditional culture of Iran, and also to so many supporters who have enabled these events to take place.

As we in the northern hemisphere witness delicious changes of renewal all around us, it is with great joy that we share in the ancient Iranian celebration of the New Year with great numbers of people throughout the world. As the exact moment of the March Equinox proceeds around the globe and marks the beginning of the New Year, we can sense being part of a much larger whole as the light returns, bringing promise and possibility. For this New Opportunity, may we take to heart the basic three-fold teaching of the ancient Zoroastrians, and to hold those thoughts, speak those words, and do those actions which promote harmony and happiness for all.

Our music ensemble this evening was formed through our study with the great Master of classical Persian music, Mohammad Reza Lotfi. While each of us has learned from many musicians and sources, we are deeply grateful for the understanding we each have been privileged to gain from association with this singular talent. Mr Lotfi continues to make vital contributions to the continuity and purity of the magnificent ancient art form of Persian music, while giving of his knowledge tirelessly to his music students in his school in Tehran. It is my profound honour to have studied and performed many concerts with Mr Lotfi from 2000 to 2006, and I wish to convey my love and appreciation for the patience and care with which he has supported and guided me.

We trust that you will discover a new perspective on the world through sitting shoelessly on the carpeted floor with us this evening, and that the bags so kindly donated for your shoes will continue to be useful. We invite you to sit back, relax, and fly with us on our Carpet Concert journey!

ba eshgh (with love),

Rowan Storm


Santour and Dayereh

compositions by Faraz Minooei:

- Pishdaramad in Abu Ata

- Chaharmezrab in Bayate Kord

- Tasnif:
Na An Shiram ~ Rumi (13th century)
I am not that lion who can fight with the enemy
For me it is enough to overcome myself
I am a child, whose Master is Love
... who keeps me from growing up uninformed

Dayereh solo, Rowan Storm

Tar and Dayereh, featuring Morteza Yadollahi, tar

- Improvisation in Rast Panjgah in various time signatures


Ensemble, Shur and Esfahan

- Pishdaramad ~ Ali-Akbar Shahnazi (1897 – 1985)
Shahnazi was a master of the tar and the son of Mirza Hossein Gholi, one of the two brothers who classified the Radif in the mid-19th century. With frequent modulations between modal pathways, this is a classic composition for students of Persian music theory.

- Tasnif ~ set to music by Faraz Minooei:
Gedayeh Bakhshesh ~ Rumi (13th century)
If this life inside me stops, the One who is
running the world will turn it on again ...
If the Winter destroys my garden, the Spring will bring new life
Since I cannot find myself, how can I find the Truth?

- Tar solo, Morteza Yadollahi

- Two gushehs from the Vocal Radif of Mahmud Karimi:

- Bozorg ~ Hafez (14th century)
The regretful pious man who stopped Drinking
again has a strong desire for Wine ...
O wise person! Take care to avoid choices which bring regret

- Dobeyti ~ Saadi (13th century)
In the night I am weeping that I am separated from my Love,
With the softest of voices so that no one will know my secret ...
But still the sound reaches the ear of every human in the world ...

- Tasnif ~ set to music by Derviş Köçek Mustafa Dede (17th century)
Part of a music suite for the Turkish Whirling Dervish ritual, this composition has a rhythmic cycle of 28 beats to the measure known as Devri Kebir, or 'big cycle'. Rumi relocated to Turkey from Iran in the 13th century; this composition dates from 400 years later and was first recorded in the mid-20th century. Over the centuries, the original Persian language of Rumi's poetry became unrecognizable for Iranians due to its Turkish accent. An intention of this evening's interpretation is to bring the pronunciation back to its original form, possibly for the first time in hundreds of years.

Nagahan Anbar Feshan ~ Rumi (13th century)
This special morning, suddenly the wind of Love
scattered the aroma of amber and musk
Flower-colours bloom against the vast green of fields
Hundreds of nightingales and their sound ...
Since Shams of Tabriz declared the Morning of Love,
Now the Seekers of Truth can reach the essence of the Heart of hearts!


- Santour solo, Faraz Minooei

- Tasnif:
Seh Kas Ley Donya, Kurdish traditional
There are three things in this world that never change:
Love, the river, and the sound of the heart ...
You are the tree of tangerine, I am a lemon tree

- Robab solo, Morteza Yadollahi

- Tasnif:
Al Menneto Lelah ~ Hafez (14th century)
Thank God that the door of the Wine Tavern is open!
This time the Wine is True Love, not just imaginary
Let us celebrate this Divine Love that inspires the
King to kiss the foot of the servant!


The translations above are intended to provide a basic idea for the Persian poetry of the songs

Pishdaramad ~ 'pre-introduction': an instrumental ensemble piece, either improvised or composed, most often with a slow tempo of two, four or six beats to the measure.

Chaharmezrab ~ 'four strokes': either improvised or composed, with a rhythmic theme repeated many times. Most often the chaharmezrab is performed with a fast tempo of six beats to the measure, demonstrating technical virtuosity.

Tasnif ~ song

Gusheh ~ 'corner': mostly non-metrical melodic phrases with an average duration of one or two minutes, codified into twelve modal affinities which together form the repertory and theory of Persian classical music, known as the Radif.

Abu Ata, Bayate Kord, Rast Panjgah, Shur, Esfahan: names of some of the twelve modal affinities from the theory and repertory of Persian classical music known as the Radif.

(Please see section below, Persian Classical Music.)


As the Winter surrenders to Spring's fresh green shoots of new life, this period is among the happiest of times not only for Iranians, but also for people throughout the entire Middle East, reaching from the Balkans to Northwestern China, Lebanon to Central Asia. While 21 March is recognized everywhere as the first day of Spring, for many all over the world it is also the first day of the New Year, known as Norooz.

While the Norooz tradition is rooted in the Iranian psyche for untold ages and is associated with the Zoroastrian religion, today it is a cherished holiday for people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds who are united through Iranian traditions. With its universal appeal, and also since both occasions are also the most important times for family gatherings, Norooz is similar to our Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. Jewish, Zoroastrian, Armenian and Turkish Iranians, Kurds, Afghanis and Central Asians celebrate the Norooz holiday with the same enthusiasm and sense of belonging.

While there are many rituals and celebrations associated with Norooz, the most integral part of every household during the two-week celebration is the Haftseen table. 'Haft' means 'seven' and 'seen' is a name for the 's' sound in Persian language. The Haftseen table displays seven symbols whose names begin with the 's' sound, and which are believed to usher in prosperity and good luck for the coming year. Three of these symbols represent the earthly world, three for the conceptual world, and one forges the connection between both worlds.

Symbols for the material world are grass, egg, and stone (or a coin); for the heavenly world, candle, mirror, and fish in water. Although contemporary Haftseen tables substitute vinegar, the original symbol for unity between both worlds is wine. Prevalent in classical Persian poetry, the metaphor of wine has several meanings, including actual wine, spiritual understanding, and Love, whether it be human or Divine.

The chance for renewal that comes with Spring and the turning of the earth is an opportunity to balance our relationship with both the material world and the world of the spirit. We at the human level can steady our feet on the ground (stone) while reaching the energy of light (candle), through being fully present in the moment and drinking deeply of the Wine of Understanding.


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 elements of our native environment are 'just the way things are'. Being creatures of habit, we cannot see the forest from the trees. As visitors in a foreign culture, we recognize some distinctions which are invisible for the locals, while other elements pass us by completely.

A 'Carpet Concert' could be defined simply as a musical event where people leave their shoes at the door and sit on the carpeted floor. Consistent with a lifestyle distinction functioning since the 'dawn of civilization' more than 5,000 years ago, a clear line is drawn between the external world, and the interior, private world.

Returning home after a busy day outside, shoes carry dust and the energy of worldly concerns. By removing shoes before entering the private space, we not only maintain the cleanliness of the household, but also change gears internally. The gesture sends a signal to the human spirit that we are shifting to an attitude of vulnerability and receptivity, enabling deep renewal from the cares of the outer world within the sanctified inner environment.

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 over the years throughout rural Turkey and Iran, irrespective of the means of the household, most of the homes I have visited are furnished solely with carpets covering the entire floor and large pillows leaning against the walls. 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.

For untold generations throughout the Middle East, the home environment has been sustained by close contact with the patterns, textures, colours, tales and mysteries woven into the carpets. 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 line of sight while sitting on the floor results in a world view which is starkly different than the perspective from a chair.


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 and repertory 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. Along with Western classical music, Persian music draws from many sources including music and songs associated with specific occupations.

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 with the tempered scale of 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 consistent with patterns of growth in nature, and which to a large degree is still present 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.

The performers in tonight's concert are brought together through their training in this method with the great Master of classical Persian music, Mohammad Reza Lotfi (please see introductory letter).

The most authoritative version of the Vocal Radif is that of the late Mahmud Karimi, who chose to set excerpts from classical Persian poetry to the gushehs for various reasons, including their philosophical and rhythmic content. In addition, the memorization of the lines of poetry is understood as a tool for anchoring the melodic content of the Radif in the psyche.


Today's santour has 72 strings with a range of three octaves. The santour is constructed in the form of a shallow trapezoidal box, most often from walnut wood. 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, China, 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 tar 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 tar 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 tar is a uniquely Iranian instrument, evolving into its present form towards the end of the nineteenth century from much older instruments. The word tar means 'string' in Persian language, and the names for both the instruments 'guitar' and 'sitar' are derived from the Persian word tar.

A member of the lute family, the type of robab in this evening's performance is found in Afghanistan, Iran, Kurdistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan and India, and dates from the 7th century AD. The robab is made from a single piece of mulberry wood and has a membrane on its face made from goatskin. The robab is played with a pick, and has several types of strings, including three melody, three drone and twelve sympathetic strings.

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 this evening'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.


Morteza Yadollahi
Born in Abadan, Iran, Morteza Yadollahi started playing the Flute at age 8. He migrated to U.S. at age 15 and a few years later met Master M. Varzi and started learning the theory of Persian classical music. In 1990, Morteza started learning Tar under the supervision of Master A. Rahmanipour. Few years later he met the grand Master M.R. Lotfi and continued learning the Radif (Persian modal scales) and advanced Tar techniques. Morteza has performed in UCLA, USC, Shrine Auditorium, and other places in U.S., Canada and Europe. He has composed several songs that have been performed in concerts and one is being used in a movie called “The Coup”. He is the co-founder of both Seda and Najva ensembles. Morteza lives in Irvine and works full time as an Aerospace Engineer.

Faraz Minooei
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
Originally from New York, Rowan Storm is recognized internationally for her drum workshops and performances of traditional Middle Eastern singing and percussion instruments. From 2000 to 2006 Rowan studied and performed dayereh and daff in concert tours with the great Master of Classical Persian music, Mohammad Reza Lotfi. Recently Rowan began studying Persian vocal technique with Maryam Hooshvar, a student of Afsaneh Rasaei. Rowan has been living in Greece since 1993, where she is a leader in the contemporary movement to embrace shared Oriental heritage. Her performance venues include New York City's Lincoln Center, concert halls and conservatories throughout Europe, ancient amphitheaters of Greece and Cyprus, Istanbul's Reshid Rey Concert Hall, as well as countless Carpet Concerts throughout the world. 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 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, including the annual week-long Middle East Music and Dance Camp in the magnificent Redwood forest of Mendocino California:

Rowan's signature frame drum is 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 provided by
Dr. Khosrow Sobhe of SOBCO International Ltd. and founder and president:

Uzbek Souzani silk embroidered panel provided by
The Silk Camel

Persian sweets, tea service and Haftseen table designed and donated by
Akhtar Motamedi

Shoe bags donated by
Accurate Flannel Bag Company, New York,

Rowan Storm's signature Frame Drum:
Artist Innovation Series by
Cooperman Drum Company:

Arash Sharifi
Diana Sanandaji
Fred Baron
Ghasem Toulani
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 ...

Photography by Chuck Gardner
and Arisa Kim

Graphic design by Ridenour Communications


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11:54 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

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