Music, Theatre, and Facets of the Theatrical

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals.


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It is proposed that music students in European & North American universities would benefit from studying aspects of Persian music within the standard undergraduate music curricula, either through a survey course or through incorporation of modules into existing courses.
There are several relevant aspects:
(i) acknowledgement of a rich music tradition with a long history, far-reaching influence, and high degree of sophistication in both theory and practice, to compensate for scarce mention in academic texts of Western classical music;
(ii) a comparison of Persian music theory with Greek music theory (regularly referred to within the standard introductory music history course) with which it shares several features;
(iii) clarification of the centrality of the voice, which serves as a model for much of the instrumental music and probably did so in earlier Western music as it does in other cultures as well (such as Indian);
(iv) a survey of Persian instruments, and their traceable influence on instrument design throughout the world;
(v) the development and function of the radif, which provides not only an understanding of Persian musical practice but also a fascinating insight into a flexible structure which can be a potent concept for contemporary composers and improvisers in Western traditions;
(vi) an introduction to current debates on notation and tuning which can provide a clearer understanding of oral transmission - once central in Western tradition and still present in vocal and instrumental instruction but often not acknowledged as such due to the academic focus on notation in history and theory;
(vii) a discussion of the influence of Persian musical traditions on the music of Western Europe, both directly and indirectly, via the Moorish occupation of the Iberian peninsula - an influence which may have been profound at the crucial time of the emergence of Renaissance music;
(viii) the influence of Western music on Iranian music during the 20th century – from the introduction of piano to subtle incorporation of counterpoint into traditional Persian styles;
(ix) the influence of Iranian music on Western music during the 20th-21st centuries, from Iranian composers working in electroacoustics to contributions in the areas of fusion and world music.
The author is presenting a special topics course in Jan 2014 on Persian and Indian music traditions, and would report on the course structure, content, and reception by students and colleagues in addition to an elaboration of the above points.

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My paper examines the ways in which musicians in the rock, pop and hip-hop genres contest rigid notions of an all-powerful, authoritative God propagated by the state’s institutionalized Islam through their varied, personalized renditions of a complex God. I argue that these young musicians’ projections of their nearly ‘human’ relationships with an imperfect God in many ways reflects the dissolution of notions of the absolute authority figure especially among the younger generation today. On a different plane, presentations of a God who may be susceptible to bribes or a God who is simply a ‘great nothing’ are parallel criticisms of an Islamic Republic that is sustained by its equally corrupt or empty God. Hence, this poetic tactic is employed for various purposes. I briefly discuss changing notions of authority within Iran’s modern period before delving into a textual analysis of chosen song lyrics in order to demonstrate my points above. I draw on years of ethnographic research in Iran in order to situate my interpretations within Iranian society itself.

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This essay begins with the premise that the question of modernity—as expressed by contemporary Iranian intellectuals—is one of the central challenges facing Iran today. As articulated by Mehran Kamrava, Iranians in the post-Revolution era are specifically interested in understanding the causes of what is understood to be a delayed introduction of modernity into Iranian culture and society (2008: 45). In essence, they are concerned with the very nature of modernity: what does it mean to be modern, and how are the ways in which Iranians can become modern given their cultural and historical positioning (Kamrava 2008: 45)? In order to confront such meaning-laden questions that indirectly imply modernity’s absence, or rather, which places modernity as something yet to be achieved, this essay examines the development and current re-appropriation of one of Iran’s indigenous artistic/religious expression that has been able to withstand repeated opposition in modern history: Ta’ziyeh, the dramatic representation of the tragedy of Karbala. Despite it’s 300-year (with plausible earlier roots) history, Ta’ziyeh only emerged as an actual tradition with distinct symbols and conventions during the Qajar dynasty, which likewise coincides with Iran’s cultural, economic and political efforts towards transforming the country into a modern nation-state. As a tradition that has undergone remarkable transformations in parallel with the wider changes in Iranian culture and society, it serves as telling lenses onto which modernity can be considered. Conductive to divorcing the concept of modernity from its exhausted dualistic understanding (East/West, old/new, us/them), the contemporary expression that Ta’ziyeh has found in Iran and abroad exemplifies how modernity should be comprehended as a flexible model that adapts to diverse temporal and spatial conditions, respectively evolving to the needs of societies (Behnam, 2004: 12).

Behnam, Jamshid. “Iranian Soceity, Modernity, and Globalization” in Iran; Between Tradition and Mofernity by Jahanbegloo, Ramin ed.
Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2004.

Kamrava, Mehran. Iran's Intellectual Revolution. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.