Scaling the depths of Persian music

By Ken Clarke

Music lovers are in for a rare treat. The Aava Group is set to perform a traditional Persian music concert this Saturday at the Rosza Centre. This show is an opportunity for listeners to expand their musical horizons and gain respect for an art form that dates back centuries.

Persian music is based in the long-held concept of reuniting man with God. The belief that living beings resonate with the sound of the heavenly orbs and creation is personified in the music. It represents moral characteristics, social and political events, which reflect on a celestial plane.

"We play very traditional music," says santurist Ali Mehraban. "Our music relates to God, happiness, victory, sadness, defeat, love and life. We have seven different scales in Persian music and those scales talk about different things."

Some of the music is composed with a morning or evening mood, reflecting a person’s biological clock.

As with most musicians who chose the non-commercial path, The Aava Group’s driving force is a love of the music.

"We don’t have any support," continues Mehraban. "We support each other. There is nothing involved except love. That’s the main thing that’s pushing us. "

While there will be a set list, there is plenty of space available for improvisation.

"Every musician may play it different, but there is a frame for it and we play around that frame."

The Aava Group consists of four Canadian musicians who were all born in Iran, including Calgarians Mehraban and Navid Ghomi.

Mehraban plays the santur (best described as a dulcimer), an instrument he’s been playing since he was nine years old. This trapezoid shaped instrument has 72 strings which create 27 unique sounds with a three octave range.

Ghomi, who moved to Canada in 1999, plays the principal percussion instrument in Persian classical music–the tombak. This drum is challice-shaped with a case carved from a single piece of wood.

Flying in for the gig from Montreal are Behrooz Afshari and Mandana Roushan, who complete the line-up, but have not yet actually played with their Calgarian counterparts.

Afshari will be playing the kamanch-eh, a long-necked spike fiddle with three or four strings. Afshari currently works as a performer, composer, teacher and researcher.

Roushan is the vocalist (avaz), who has been trained in the techniques of Morakabkhani, the valuable art of switching instantly from one scale to another.

On the day of the concert, the Aava Group is offering a free workshop on Persian music from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. in Craigie Hall E 215. The focus will be on aesthetics, techniques and the instruments themselves. Open to all members of the public, this workshop is a unique opportunity to meet with the musicians, learn more about their music, and study their instruments up close.

"This will be beneficial to a lot of people actually, maybe as much as the concert, as it’s one way of really going into some details."

Billed as "Sounds of Love," The Aava Group’s concert takes place at the University of Calgary Rosza Centre on Saturday, July 27 at 8 p.m.

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