For Persians, the New Year comes not in the dead of winter, but right at the vernal equinox. As spring renews the earth, people celebrate this fresh beginning as Nowruz, a joyous 12-day festival to celebrate beauty and abundance. We were lucky enough to have a master musician and composer from Iran, Kayhan Kalhor, visit us in time to celebrate with his gorgeous and deeply moving music.
As one of our interns observed during Kalhor's mic check, Kalhor's instrument does the dancing as he kneels with his legs folded beneath him. (This performance actually marks a Tiny Desk Concert first: having a musician perform on top of Bob Boilen's desk, covered for the occasion by a rug, as Persian tradition dictates.) As Kalhor plays, his bowed, four-stringed kamencheh, a spiked fiddle, spins this way and that, swaying gracefully from side to side.
Before Kalhor played for us, I asked him what he was going to perform. He told me that it was to be an improvisation: "I don't know yet where I'll start, or where I'll end up," Kalhor said simply. That humble comment aside, Kalhor is a great master who embodies the core principles of this style of music: the ability to perform, entirely by heart, a huge amount of music composed over centuries — but then to take that tradition to new places through the art of improvisation. For us, he then proceeded to spin out a soulful, contemplative and beautifully moving improvisation in the mode of Nava.
Perhaps, as both spring and the Persian new year begin, improvisation isn't a bad metaphor for the rest of us. Although you have an idea where you're headed when you start something, only in retrospect can you can fully know the ground on which you began — and, as you make your way along new terrain, you strive to create as much beauty and meaning as you can.
- "Improvisation In Dastgah Nava"
Producer: Anastasia Tsioulcas; Editor: Doriane Raiman; Videographers: Michael Katzif and Doriane Raiman; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; photo by Doriane Raiman/NPR