The Evolution of Persian and Middle Eastern Music

Music was used in the Persian empire predominantly in rituals and for the entertainment of the king. The history of the music goes back hundreds of years before Christ, according to the earliest record. Some of the musical instruments that were used are harps, flutes and drums.  The oldest system of music in Middle East was called the Khosravani. It was developed by Barbad, a musician of the courts of the king.

The origins of Persian music are recorded to have existed even before Islam. There are drawings of people playing the harp and huge tambourines, which is the only evidence of the music. Other instruments that were depicted in the drawings are lutes and double flutes. Once Islam arrived, music became a very important part of the Islamic civilization.

While the instruments that were used in the past, are used to this day, the sound of the music has evolved over the years. Through different invasions of Persia, music was attempted to be squashed. However, the instruments and musical traditions survived. In today’s Persia, Persian music has been mixed up with other genres to produce beautiful folk and alternative music.

When East Meets the West

The classical music of Persia is hugely dependant on the musician’s ability to memorise a series of notes. They began to inculcate the teaching of music in schools and in their universities over the years. The rich vocals and the accompanying instruments began to gain popularity and influence music around the world.

With several dynasties fighting over the lush Persian lands, there was some impact to the music. The Pahlavi Dynasty was the first to influence the music in Persia. Their attempt to make the music as close to the western music by introducing a duotone in the sounds produced, was well received. The pitch of the music was raised and lowered instead of the monotone sounds traditionally produced, to make it sound more western. This raised the bar on what traditional music terms melody as.

Persian Instruments

Some of the traditional Persian musical instruments that other genres use are the Ney, Satur, Harp and Sitar. These are some of the popular instruments that many other genres of alternative music have managed to include in their sounds. Out of all the instruments the most popular one in Persia today is the Tombac. This is a large wooden instrument that has goat skin on its head. The shape of the drum is square, and the type of sound produced is soft and low. In the western world, the instrument is called the Dumbek.

The Grand Masters of Persian Music

Three grandmasters of Persian music are revered throughout Persia and other parts. Ostad Abdullah Davami, Nasrallah Nassehpoor and Ostad Ali Akbar Shahnazi. Out of the three Shahnazi was not a vocalist but a predominant Tar player. With a lot of opposition from family, he learnt the instrument and founded the Shanazi Music School, which is popular to this day. His talent is notable, and many vocalists have performed with him. He invented new styles of music which he taught to his students at the school. Coming from a family of arts, his impact on Persian music is profound.