July 4th, Tehran International Fairgrounds concert with Homayoun Khorram-violin, Saman Ehtashami-piano, Omran Foruzash-tonbak, Amirhossein Reza-tar, Jaleh Sadeghian-declame.
Tonight, on my 53rd week in Tehran, I was last-minute-invited to a concert. (Does this mean that we were last minute choices after someone else bailed? Whatever.) I had just been to the dentist, my best friend had come to hold my hand, and after we were on the way to visit the person who introduced me to this dentist, when the dentist called us all and last-minute-invited us to a concert.
So we went.
It is the full moon, or near it, and the eve of Mohammad’s birthday, one of the few happy holidays and Tehran traffic was at its busiest and I was stressing about being late, of the four of us, the only one stressing, and we got there an hour late but they started the concert an hour late because of the traffic anyway, and once again I was taught a lesson in this city of lessons, when you’re up to your neck in reasons to make you stress out, don’t stress out. We still had no idea who was playing in the concert, I was secretly wishing it would be Hossein Alizadeh, the tar virtuoso, an old family friend who I haven’t seen since back stage at a Berkeley concert in the ‘80s and was hoping for a repeat of the back-stage visit (How American! Back-stage visit! My 50% American blood is so much heavier the 50% Iranian.) Well, it was exciting not to know and the stage was set; a grand piano, a violin, a tar, and a tonbak.
A man came out, announced that Iranian classical violin giant Homayoun Khorram and friends were playing and they entered stage. I love Iranian classical music and this was classical with a tad of pop, but I am probably insulting , so lets say it was classical Iranian folk music. I am intrigued by the amount of non-beat time in Iranian music, by this I mean the drummer stops and the musicians just go free beat, sometimes it’s about 50/50, free beat to beated (with drum. In western music I have not seen this at all, there is always a drum beat going to get your foot a-tapping.)
Well, I was enjoying the sounds when suddenly the music softens and I hear a woman recite Hafez. I searched the stage for her to no avail. There is no woman on stage, so I asked my friend what was going on. She says that in the Qoran there is a whole verse about a woman’s voice leading men astray, so women for this reason are not allowed to sing! I guess they now get around this strict law by having a woman recite, instead of sing the lyrics, and from behind stage at that! And I don’t get it! It’s just one more little thing to get inside my head and cause chaos amongst the synapses aggravating my schizophrenia! Is it real? Can it be real? If a woman’s voice is going to lead me astray so she can’t be on stage so when her voice is amplified while she is hidden double covered behind stage meaning she is all wrapped up anyway and then inside some kind of sound proof lead-lined booth and then I am not supposed to be led astray?!?! Actually, my friend didn’t say “lead men astray” she said “get the men excited” in a very graphic way.
So, once again in this city of lessons, I shut up and listen, to this gorgeous voice that is leading me astray because the woman is putting as much woman into her voice as possible, and the verses they have chosen are about love and mistresses and bartenders and taverns “Why have you closed the tavern doors?” she asked between violin and tar call and response. It was a good concert! The musicians were great! The piano played like it was a santoor (hammered dulcimer), the drummer/tonbak came in and out as required, the tar (Iranian 3 double steel stringed lambskin covered walnut usually lead instrument) played well yet gave the stage to the master of the evening, Homayoun Khorram’s violin (which traditionally should have been a Kamanche –google image search) which he played with as much affectations as the woman used to recite, now imagine, these rhythms and non rhythms that want to make you get up and dance but you can’t get up and dance because you are not allowed to dance…! I felt the chains around my wrists and ankles, my shoulders ached to break free, enough to make you cry, but I didn’t. Well, I did, later, but not because of that.
At the end of a three hour concert; one hour music, one hour intermission (smoking allowed by the prayer rooms) and another hour of music there was a standing ovation! Enthusiastic European type synchronized clapping (I couldn’t help but clap offbeat flamenco style) brought them back for an encore and even the WOMAN came on stage, all wrapped up in layers of cloth to protect us men from our lack of bself control, and they played a beautiful song that I remembered from the earlier days of the revolution 30 years ago. The tar took the lead and it was beautiful, yet I kept wondering what the woman was doing still on stage, I mean how were we to listen to the music with her there leading us astray! Well, all of a sudden she started and for a second I thought she was going to sing!! But, even better, she started her declamation of the lyrics to this song as womanly as possible:
Tonight inside my head I have delight
Tonight inside my heart there is a light
Once again I am in the highest sky
Where we have a secret, the stars and I
Tonight my joy I cannot convey
From this world I seem so far away
Tonight inside my head I have delight
Tonight inside my head I have delight*
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