Houman Pourmehdi is is a master percussionist, well known for his diverse abilities as a musician, composer, and multi-instrumentalist and is Co-Founder of the Lian Ensemble with Pirayeh Pourafar. He will be performing with the Lian Ensemble in collaboration with tabla Maestro Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, who will be joined by Raaginder Momi Singh on Indian classical violin and son and disciple, Nilan Chaudhuri, on tabla. Chitresh Das Institute Communications Intern, Shruti Pai, interviewed Houman Pourmehdi to get his insights on his work as an artist and his thoughts about the upcoming production of “Noor - Music Legends of India & Iran” at Z Space, Sept 29 & 30, TICKETS www.zspace.org/noor
Q. Can you talk a little bit about your upbringing and musical training?
Houman Pourmehdi (HM) I grew up in Tehran, Iran and my father was a musician. I learned a lot of the culture through him and his very close friend, later on he becomes a grand master and I was his student and was introduced to Persian classical music in that way. Later on I started to go to school where I studied in the Center for Preservation of Traditional and Classical Persian Music, and I was introduced to Sufis in the west of Iran, and that’s how I learned drums and instruments through the Sufi tradition. So for many years I played with them, traveled with them, and then coming to the U.S. in 1988 opened up a new life for me. So I studied a little bit of stuff in college here and doing concerts and working as a musician, and touring around the world since that time and working with many grand master musicians around the world, including Persians and non-Persians and all kinds of music and musicians. And then in 2005 I was hired by California Institute of Arts as a Persian percussionist and then later on I started a different program for Persian music and Persian ensemble and a percussion ensemble. Since 2005 I have been teaching in California with CalArts.
Q. What connections between Persian and Hindustani music most interest you?
HM: As we know, Persian and Indian music have the same roots. In many ways I see a common denominator between us, especially when I work with great masters such as Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, because it is so amazing how we can bring you rich subjects through our cultures and find out the real sound of our roots. So many, many instruments that are played in most Indian and Persian music have a lot of similarities. Plus, the form of music has so many similarities between us. You just have to know your own music, so once you sit together with no ego, so definitely you will reach the point that you see we are all the same. You’re going to believe we are in a different place, a different language, but basically we are talking the same language.
Q. Have you found it difficult to preserve Persian arts in America?
HM: Not really, I never felt that. Just like your mother tongue language, you never forget. So I’ve grown up since I was three years old with this music, so how can I forget? And there is interest in this country and especially in California there is a big interest, and that’s why I’m teaching at CalArts, I am teaching my own traditions and I’m not teaching western music. So I think they found me and then they asked me to “just be yourself and teach whatever you know through your culture.”
Q. Where do you draw inspiration from when composing music and what is that process like for you?
HM: When I compose music, I personally always am looking at poems, poetry. My favorite poet is Rumi, and Attar, and many other Sufi poets. So these people inspire me because I am not composing, I am just unfolding, that’s how I see it. The music is sitting in the poetry, I am just looking at it and then I see it. I’m just making it more, kind of easier to understand the poetry. So I personally think the music is already embedded in the poetry, so I am just opening it up.
Q. What does the word “Noor” mean to you personally?
HM: So it’s a long story actually. I’m going to refer to Rumi, in the Masnavi there is a story that explains that. There’s a story in Masnavi which says there are three men that have been sent into this room individually and someone asks them what they observed in that room. One of them says “I was in this very short ceilinged room. I touched the ceiling and I think I was in a small room.” And the second person’s observation was that “I was in a really big room with really big posts. I felt the posts, I touched the posts, so I assume it was a big room where I was.” And the third person says, “I think there was some palm trees in there.” Then Rumi says they light up a candle and they went back, the three of them, to that room and they find they saw an elephant. So the first person touched the belly of the elephant and thought it was a small room, the second person touched the feet of the elepehant and thought it was a big room with posts, and the third person touched the ears of the elephant and thought it was a palm tree. So where the light comes in, it shows the truth. So when we are in the dark, we don’t see anything, or the truth. Once the light is coming, the truth, we can see it. Noor means light in our language.
Q. What do you hope the audience takes away from this performance?
HM: I do not hope anything, we are sharing. We are sharing a zone, a momento, which is kind of difficult to find musicians to move that zone. We are trying to reenter that zone again. And I really don’t see music as a goal, it’s not an aim for us. Music is a truth for us, it is not an aim. Personally I don’t think music is an aim for me, or a goal. Because every moment and second changes, especially when we are improvising, so no one can plan what to play and what to do. So as long as we know our job and what we know and are sharing our love together, usually what happens is that love creates a bigger circle, a circle of love and kindness. So whoever is in that circle probably gets a taste of it, so I don’t know what audience is going to sit and watch us, we are just trying to be who we are and play music. That’s basically sharing our love with people.
GET TICKETS TO NOOR www.zspace.org/noor
MORE ON HOUMAN POURMEHDI
HOUMAN POURMEHDI is a master percussionist, well known for his diverse abilities as a musician, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. Performing and recording in numerous ensembles and at a variety of venues. He was introduced to Persian music by his father, and received his first Tonbak at the age of three from his grandfather. He was privileged to study Tonbak under guidance of the late Grand Master Amir Nasser Eftetah. At sixteen he continued his studies at the Center for Preservation and Propagation of National Music, where he completed the techniques of playing Tonbak under supervision of Master Morteza Ayan. His interest in the spiritual path of Sufis introduced him to the Ghaderi Sufi order's virtuoso Daf players, such as Haj Agha Sadeghi, Mirza Agha Ghosi, and Darvish Karim, with whom he studied the heart-to-heart traditional techniques of playing Daf. Pourmehdi moved to Chicago in 1988, where he founded the society for the Advancement and Preservation of Traditional Persian Music and he study Persian Music Under supervision of Dr. Mehdi Forough, it was here that he first fathomed the exciting possibilities of introducing the unique sounds of Persian instruments to American audiences. He also preserved the ancient Persian Percussive instrument called Kurekeh. The Society also facilitated his meeting the eminent Mohammad Ali Kianey-Nejad, who taught him the Ney (Persian Reed Pipe). Pourmehdi designed the tuneable Dayereh which is part of the Cooperman's Artist Innovation Series of instruments. Houman is both a recording artist and concert musician. He has appeared at many radio and TV interviews with live performance. He has performed widely throughout Europe, North America, Asia, and North Africa . Pourmehdi composed music for a short educational film in 1999. His knowledge of traditional repertoire and intimacy with Sufi world are made to serve a very personal style of interpretation in his compositions. He is the recipient of the Individual Artist Fellowship Award C.O.L.A. 2008, L.A. Treasures Awards 2004 & 2008, ACTA the Folk & Traditional Arts Mentorship Initiative 2004 & 2006, and ACTA Apprenticeship Program 2003. Houman has composed music for two plays "Philoktetes" Directed by Michael Hackett and Olivier Award-winning British actor, Henry Goodman; as well as, "Medea" starring Annette Bening directed by Lenka Udovicki. In 1996 Houman has co-founded The Lian Ensemble. He currently lives in Los Angeles , and teaches Persian Percussion at the CalArts (California Institute of the Arts).