Translated by Mahboube Khalvati
The name of Maestro Hassan Kassai is so vehemently intertwined with Ney (Persian reed flute) that one cannot imagine one without the other immediately coming into mind. Ney is one of the instruments which went through a lot of ups and downs in the history of the Iranian music since the time of Sassanid kings to the time when shepherds found playing it consoling when they took their cattle for grazing. However, Nay could never demonstrate its main capacities to gain a stable position among the musicians and the people like other instruments including Oud, Tar, Santour, all sorts of bowed string instruments and plucked string instruments.
Most probably, the simple procedure of making the instrument which had led to the emergence of nonstandard patterns and eventually the technical restrictions for Ney can be blamed for the lack of stability of Ney’s position in the Iranian music. In order to develop and increase the technical features of a musical instrument, it is necessary to primarily design its structure based on an exact and studied pattern and then make the instrument so that it becomes possible to play the instrument using its maximum capacity. Based on the available information on first Iranian music records, playing techniques for instruments such as Tar, violin and Kamancheh are more sophisticated. The only available old recording of Ney is of solo playing and avaaz accompaniment by Nayeb Asadollah Esfahani who is believed to be the first musician playing Ney by the means of “teeth”. In any case, by examining the available old records, one can learn about the level of playing Ney in the past.
Maestro Kassai could not benefit from the teachings of Nayeb directly but received lessons from one of Nayeb’s pupils, Mehdi Navai; this fact proves, on the one hand, Kassai’s depth of talent and, on the other hand, the limitations and simplicity of Ney’s techniques. In this sense, Hassan Kassai is like Tehrani in Tonbak, Ahmad Ebadi in Setar, Asghar Bahari in Kamancheh and Faramarz Payvar in Santour, in devising techniques and playing all dastgahs by Ney.
In the past, the sound of Ney was impure, in other words, Ney was played in a way that one could not distinguish between different pitches; however, through changes in the position of the tongue, lips and the shape of the mouthpiece, Maestro Kassai could produce a clear and pure sound out of the instrument. This progress made the Maestro’s Ney find its way to the state radio. Consequently, solo performances and accompanying famous instrumentalists and singers such as Jalil Shahnaz, Ali Tajvidi, Ahmad Ebadi, Taj Esfahani, Adib Khansari, etc. promoted Ney to the same level as other Iranian instruments.
After this period, most of Iranian orchestras started using Ney and this need led to the ever-increasing number of Ney players with Ney becoming a field taught at universities as a specialized course. We can say that, today’s Ney players became interested in the instrument after listening to Maestro Kassai Ney.
According to Hassan Kassai, he was born on 26 September 1926 in a family of businessmen. His father, Seyed Javad Kassai, was one of the famous businessmen in Esfahan. Seyed Javad Kassai loved music and his house was a place for gatherings of famous Esfahani maestros such as Seyed Hossein Taherzadeh, Jalal Tajzadeh Esfahani, Akbar Khan Nowrouzi, the Shahnaz family (Shaban Khan, Hossen Agha, Ali Agha and Jalil Shahnaz), Gholam Hossein Saranj and Adib Khansari.
These reunions familiarized Hassan Kassai with the Iranian music from an early age and his passion for music especially Ney (after he saw an itinerant Ney player) made his father take him to Ney lessons by Mehdi Navai. After Mehdi Navai’s death, Kassai took advantage of interactions and collaborations with Esfahani musiscians to further master playing Ney. He especially learned a lot from Jalil Shahnaz to whom he is indebted. Playing Ney accompanied by fretted instruments such as Tar and Setar made Kassai more familiar with different scales of the Iranian music to the extent that he played Chahargah, Esfahan, Nava and Rastpanjgah with an exact tuning and completely for the first time. Kassai is also indebted to Abolhassan Saba and his knowledge of Setar is a legacy of the time he spent with the unique senior musician. Kassai’s style of playing Setar is a combination of Jalil Shahnaz’s Tar-playing style and Abolhassan Saba’s Setar style.
For years, Hassan Kassai taught Ney, Setar and Avaz. Many pupils attended his classes in person and many famous musicians benefited from his lessons on the radio including Hossein Omoumi, Hassan Nahid, Mohammad Mousavi, Behzad Forouhari, Nematollah Sotoudeh and Shahram Mirjalali. Although many of Kassai’s pieces were improvisation rather than composed music, today a lot of pieces and Avaz played by Ney players owe to his performances.
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From Past Days…
A part of the secrets of the masterpieces from the golden era lies in the special design of the instruments, as a result of a profound insight to and awareness of the significance of the precise calculation of the various components of the object of arts being created, such as making a violin or a bow.
No introduction is needed when talking about the position of the late Houshang Zarif (1938-2020) in the Iranian music. His character and personality are so well-known among musicians that his name per se is a symbol and role model for the Iranian youth. “Becoming Houshang Zarif” is the dream of many young people who enter the world of music in Iran and many of whom retire regretting the realisation of this dream.
Establishing O.R.P. Quartet is Kayvan Mirhadi’s latest activity as a guitarist, composer and conductor of Kamerata Orchestra. Besides working with this Quartet, Mirhadi is busy these days recording and mixing some of his own works as well as some pieces by 20th century composers. O.R.P Quartet performed a concert in Rasht, Gilan Province in late May 2016 and offered a master class.
Gholam Reza Khan Minbashian, a.k.a Salar-Mo’azez, was a pioneer in several domains in the history of the Iranian music. He is recognized as the first Iranian musician who was educated in classical music. He is also the first Iranian the score of whose works were published in Europe. He is the first Iranian to have launched courses on Western classical music and was also the first Iranian teacher of classical music. Moreover, he is the first founder of a string orchestra in Iran, the first author of the Iranian Radif which was available in oral form. Minbashian is also the first Iranian who studied music in Europe.
The present series of training articles, “Principles of Violin Playing”, seek to help students, to appropriately understand this field, by gradually introducing, categorizing, and teaching the myriad relevant points. One of the principles of playing violin, which must be always kept in mind, is that the selection of the most natural position for the body parts while playing is the best and most appropriate solution. As a matter of fact, any unnatural body part position which requires lots of energy or unusual stretching to maintain, is wrong.
Regional music festivals are organized to, firstly, introduce the music of different regions and, secondly, to support its performers. Regional music festivals are held in large cities for various reasons, including the availability of financial and executive facilities and the presence of an audience. However, the organization of these festivals has always been one of the challenging issues of ethnomusicology. The reason is that the presence of regional music performers in large cities places them in a context other than the context they would normally perform in their homes; consequently this change in situation leads to changes in the quality of their performance.
Developments in Composing
Along with developments in the Iranian instruments, composition of the Iranian pieces developed as well. As a matter of fact, the developments of the two, mutually affected each other. In other words, instrumental developments led to developments in composition and vice versa.
Creating sound continuity between two notes in the source and destination positions when left hand position changes and “two different finger numbers” are involved is called portamento. Portamento can be performed on single string or two neighboring strings and with hand moving on fingerboard either upward or downward.
In the world music culture, there are instruments which were traditionally associated with a certain gender. It remains disputable to what extent these gender-based perceptions have been logical and scientific. For example, as playing wind instruments need more breath strength and the public opinion believe that men have stronger breath compared to women, these instruments are predominantly a male domain. Harp is also considered a female instrument as the public opinion believe that women have finer fingers and can therefore better perform nuances and delicate techniques on the instrument.
Joint application of the two techniques of “Lip” and “Nose” could be effectively applied for hearing and playing far-away intervals, by the Classical Guitar. Before this, a Classical Guitar player had to waive playing intervals not possible with the left hand, and had to replace or eliminate some notes, making it possible to play such intervals; specifically the capability of the left hand of the musician, was also a factor in such a selection. These methods are hereby illustrated by photographs and a video-file, in order to provide optimum comprehension of applying these methods, invented by the author; specifically the “Lip” technique, which is considered to be a more significant technique, emphasized by the author.