Introducing the santur: Mt. Lebanon audience learns about music of Iran
If you’re looking to learn to play the santur, know that one of the instrument’s foremost practitioners lives in Pittsburgh and gives lessons at Carnegie Mellon University.
First, you probably have one question:
What is it?
“The santur has 72 strings, from the right to the left.” Dr. Dariush Saghafi explained. “The toning is a nightmare.”
The nephrologist and musician drew a round of laughter from an appreciative audience at Mt. Lebanon Public Library during a recent “Global Beats” program focusing on Iran, his native country. His instrument of choice is comparable to a hammered dulcimer, played with a pair of small wooden mallets called mezrāb.
“When we’re playing, you may hear some of the sound that maybe a lot of people haven’t heard before,” Saghafi said prior to performing a classical Persian Dastgāh Čahārgāh.
Dastgāh is a musical modal system representing a melody type that a performer uses as a basis for improvisation, while “cahārgāh” refers to the position of the player’s hands.
For those who would like to learn more and give the santur a try, Saghafi is offering monthly classes at 6 p.m. first Tuesdays at the Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Arts, on behalf of the Center for Iranian Music, also based at the university. The next session is Dec. 6.
Saghafi began learning the santur at age 11 with Abol Hasan Sabā (1902-57), who is considered to be one of Iran’s most influential figures in traditional and instrumental Persian music, and he later studied with noted composer and santur player Farāmarz Pāyvar (1933-2009).
“Years ago, all the teaching was oral, without any notation,” Saghafi recalled.
In both 1966 and 1967, Saghafi was the winner of the gold medal award in santur competitions among students from all Iranian colleges and universities.
He has performed at New York University, Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., along with numerous concerts in the Pittsburgh area. He is the recipient of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts’ 2008 Fellowships in Traditional Arts.
At the opening of the Center for Iranian Music in 2013, Saghafi was honored for his contribution to Iranian music and his dedication and support of the Iranian-American community in Pittsburgh.
The center will host a Persian classical music concert by the Rohab Ensemble from 8 to 10 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Kresge Theatre on the Carnegie Mellon campus, 5000 Forbes Ave.
Featuring vocalist Sepideh Raissadat, the ensemble will perform romantic, melancholic and joyous pieces with lyrics that include poems from classical Persian poetry.
For more information, visit centerforiranianmusic.org.