Music (week 8)

In week 8, we discussed Sufi music and dance, but in this blog post, I will focus on the music aspect.  To begin with, Sufism is considered to be the mystical aspect of Islam, and Sufis can be found among both Sunni and Shia Muslims.  We learned that in the Sufi tradition, among most groups music is taken seriously, considered to be sacred.  Sufis do not listen to music for the sake of aesthetic pleasure, but instead use music as another avenue to reach and connect with God.  A term used by Sufis that is relevant to our discussion is sama’, which literally means listening.  In this context, it refers to the listening of chanted or recited poetry that could be accompanied by musical instruments.  Thus the emphasis was on the act of listening, not so much the act of performing itself. To me, it appears that Sufism is based entirely on experience, i.e., that it is an experiential religion. It involves developing and enhancing your connection to God through intimate experiences shared by and known to only you and God.  In my own way, I wanted to experience this myself, if not directly, than at least understand analogously.  In order to listen to music, however, I had to first produce it. For my music selection, I decided to play some classical Persian music on the santoor, a traditional, old, Persian stringed instrument.

My santoor teacher, M. Abtahi, accompanied on the tonbak a Persian hand drum. Images for both instruments  are below:

Scales in Persian music are called dastgah, and I played in the first dastgah, called shur.  The first segment was an example of chahr mizrab, a classic, rhythmic piece that is generally accompanied by the tonbak. The second segment, which directly followed and continued the music, was an example of avaz, which literally means “song”, improvisation music. However, I disagree with the idea that the act of performance is unimportant.  It is important.  When you listen to what you produce, you truly appreciate the music, since you know how much effort and time and dedication is required.  You understand the music, and thus feel it moving through your body, moving you, freeing your mind so that it can focus on the more important task of attaining the high level of spirituality that is possible in a trance-like state.  I feel that this experience is not dissimilar to that felt by Sufis when they listen to music.  When I play, I search for the visceral moment that my heart takes control of the instrument, guiding me on a transcendental journey into the unknown.

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