Sufi Music from Iran: Persian National Music Ensemble

The Freer and Sackler Galleries celebrated the 800th anniversary of the birth of the Sufi poet Jalal-a-Din Rumi with a day of concerts, poetry readings, family activities, and gallery tours. The Persian National Music Ensemble, based in Baltimore, told stories of Rumi’s life, reflected on his philosophy, recited selected poems, and performed traditional musical settings of Rumi’s lyrics sung by vocalist Firoozeh Zarrabi, accompanied by santur (hammered zither), tar (lute), and daff and tombak (percussion).

This studio recording presents the same program performed at the Freer Gallery of Art on October 27, 2007.



Saturday, October 27, 2007

Stories and Poems of Jalal-a-Din Rumi

Persian National Music Ensemble
Firoozeh Zarrabi, vocals, daff (frame drum), tombak (goblet drum)
Amir Sohrab, violin
Ali Razavi, bass santur (hammered zither)
Farshad Amir, alto santur
Navid Krabbe, tar (lute)
Ahmad Borhani, narrator, composer, santur, daff, tombak

1. Introduction

Instrument: santur (hammered zither)
Melodic mode: Afshari

An introduction to Rumi and his life by Ahmad Borhani, director of the Persian National Music Ensemble

2. Sufi Music and Dance

Songs: "Matnavi Avaz" and "Mastan ra negar"
Instruments: santur, tar, setar, and daff
Mode: Afshari

Lyrics: "The sound of ney [a flute] is the sound of love. The ney has two talking sides: at one end are God's lips, at the other end are human lips. Through this path the two breaths join."

Lyrics: "Stand up and start a sama (Sufi dance). It is no good if the daff [drum] be hung on a wall, and the ney be imprisoned in its case. The daff dissolves your depression, and the ney heals your wounds."

3. Sufi Wisdom

Song: "Andak Andak"
Instruments: santur, bass santur, tar, violin, tombak, and daff
Mode: Bayat e Tork

Lyrics: "Little by little, drunk people are gathering: those in love, people who want to drink more and more glasses of knowledge, the knowledge of God. Little by little, their souls grow up, and they become alive. Little by little, the spiritual life rises from the physical one."

4. Do Not Lose Your Wisdom

Song: "Man mast o to divaneh"
Instruments: santur, bass santur, tar, violin, tombak, and daff
Mode: Bayat e Tork

Lyrics: "On the way home, I saw this man, drunk with the knowledge of God, full of peace and care. Everybody looked at him and wished to be like him. I asked him, 'Where are you from?' 'Half of me is from Rome, half from Turkistan, half from dirt and water, half from love and care.' That is how he answered me."

5. The Path of Lovers

Song: "Dar mian e pardeh e khoon"
Instruments: santur, bass santur, tar, violin, tombak, and daff
Mode: Bayat e Tork

Lyrics: "Love has the power to bring out flowers of blood shed, like Masur, whose blood made him a symbol to Irafan ideology. Logic says, 'Sometimes life is full of pain and suffering, and there is no way out to happiness.' Love answers, 'There are so many ways out that I have already used, but you do not know them.'"

6. What Is Your Sigh For?

Song:  "Bi hamegan be sar shaved"
Instruments: santur, bass santur, tar, violin, tombak, and daff
Mode: Bayat e Tork

Lyrics: "You are my health, you are my wealth, you are my wine, you are my corruption. The scar of your loss is with my heart for ever. Where did you go, where did you go? I could live with nobody around me, but I cannot live without you."

All translations by Ahmad Borhani. Stories of Rumi drawn from the fourteenth-century biography, The Feats of the Knowers of God [Manaqeb al-'arefin], by Shams al-Din Ahmad-e Aflaki


The Persian National Music Ensemble was established in 1985 to cultivate and perform traditional Iranian music in the United States. Its many performances on the East Coast include two appearances at the American Visionary Art Museum in programs dedicated to the Sufi poet Rumi.

AHMAD BORHANI was born in Kashmar, Iran, and received degrees from the universities of Tehran and Mashhad. He has been a composer, conductor, and music instructor since 1969. He was previously on the staffs of Mashhad University, the Center of the Development of Children and Young Adults, Iranian National T.V. (Mashhad Center), and the Ministry of Art (Mashhad District). After coming to the United States, he established the Persian National Music Ensemble in Baltimore in 1985. Since then, he has led the ensemble in performances throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, including two programs dedicated to Rumi at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Ahmad Borhani is an artist member of Maryland State Arts Council and has received grants and awards from the State of Maryland as a conductor, composer, and soloist.

FIROOZEH ZARRABI was a vocalist for the Ministry of Art in the Mashhad District of Iran. She received her masters degree in education from Towson University. She has been performing with the Persian National Music Ensemble since 1988 and has appeared in concerts throughout the mid-Atlantic region. She is prized and in demand for her traditional Iranian vocal style, a rare talent in the United States. In addition to singing, she also plays daff and tombak. She is currently working on a book of poetry.

AMIR SOHRAB studied violin in Iran from such masters as Yahaghi and Malek and received a doctorate in math from the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently is on the faculty of Towson University. He joined the Persian National Music Ensemble in 1990, and since then he has performed with the group in all of its concerts. He also composes for the group and is an active writer of poetry.

FARSHAD AMIR received his doctorate in chemical engineering. He began his studies on santur (hammered zither) with Ahmad Borhani in 1993 and joined the Persian National Music Ensemble in 1995.

ALI RAZAVI studied santur (hammered zither) in Iran with Varzandeh. After coming to the United States, he resumed his studies with Ahmad Borhani. He joined the Persian National Music Ensemble in 2005, and he performs on bass santur with the group. He is an anesthesiologist in practice in Maryland.

NAVID KRABBE began studying tar and setar with Ahmad Borhani in 2004 and joined the Persian National Music Ensemble in 2007. Navid also plays guitar and actively pursues both Western and Persian music. He received his bachelor's degree in computer engineering.

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