The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music has named Farzad Amoozegar as the new director of the Iranian music program. His appointment represents the continued partnership between the school of music and the Farhang Foundation, an organization dedicated to celebrating Iranian art and culture in the community. The foundation’s support has enabled Amoozegar and his colleagues to establish courses and collaborations that connect students with the local and global Iranian musical community.
In his new role, Amoozegar will oversee the creation of the Iranian music minor, as well as organize a series of conferences and workshops on aspects of Iranian music performance, aesthetics and ethics. Amoozegar, who holds dual doctorate degrees in ethnomusicology and anthropology, is an experienced performer of the Iranian musical instruments tār, a double-bowl–shaped six-stringed instrument, and setār, a pear-shaped four-stringed instrument.
Amoozegar recently spoke with Alireza Ardekani, executive director of the Farhang Foundation, about his passion for Iranian music, his teaching philosophy and his future plans for the Iranian music program.
Where does your passion for Iranian music come from?
Since my childhood, I have had a special relationship with Iranian music and poetry. My formative years were spent in Iran learning to play the tār and the setār from my grandfather. I fondly remember the first time he called me into his music room and handed me a setār. I had just turned 6 years old and connected with the beauty of music through the liveliness of the melodies and poetry he played and sang. My grandfather often spoke about his “great fortune” to learn from ustād Abolhasan Sabā [1902–1957], calling him “a remarkable master” and referring to his music as “breathtaking.” He was adamant that musicians should follow Sabā’s beliefs and practices. Gradually, I learned various setār techniques from my grandfather, but what was even more valuable to me were the musical stories he told me, some of the gatherings he took me to and the visits from his musician friends. Through my grandfather, I found a passion for music that still keeps me fascinated with and in awe of the tār and setār.
There is an intimate relationship between Persian poetry and music. My father, a professor of Persian literature, was a great lover of poets such as Sa‘dī and Hafez. With him I learned to recite and memorize both classical and modern Persian poetry. My father was also interested in the Rubā‘iyyāt [quatrains] of ‘Omar Khayyām, an 11th-century philosopher and poet. Through the poetry of Khayyām, I was inspired to think about life and human existence. For many Iranians, Persian literature becomes the means to acquire good manners, advocate for justice and humanity, exalt knowledge and art, to find love in the Divine and cherish life’s delights, and to contemplate human existence. For me, it also has the added inspiration of experiencing how music and poetry merge into a beautiful melody and rhythm in performance.
You bring a wealth of unique experience and knowledge to the Iranian music program at UCLA. What perspectives and lessons are you hoping to share with students?
I believe that a classroom is a place for elevating knowledge of students’ specific passions and interests and helping them nurture a strong and broad foundation of the complex intellectual terrain of Iranian music and more generally music-making. Central to my teaching philosophy is the examination of meanings, intentions, thoughts and references in relation to the values derived from beliefs, practices and discourses in Iranian music. I employ ethnomusicological, anthropological and performative approaches in my teaching that encompass in-depth descriptions of theoretical concepts, alongside the experience of conducting fieldwork [e.g., the “Iranian Popular Music in Diaspora” course with a mini ethnographic requirement]. I believe that my multidisciplinary training will help advance both the abstract theoretical issues and the descriptive and reflective approaches I have learned as an anthropologist and ethnomusicologist. My teaching brings these issues into the classroom not as conclusions, but always as questions. I attempt to stimulate enthusiasm among students about the potential of research to interrogate the issues that matter to them.
The study of Iranian music follows the school of music’s mission to combine an interest in music as an art form with questions about how musical art and practice relate to other aspects of culture, society, politics, identity, gender and economics in Iran. My main goal has been to create a curriculum that invites the students to take both a theoretical and a hands-on approach to issues of Iranian musical practices, with a sound approach informed by ethnomusicological theories. These courses effectively combine an interest in music as an art form with questions about how musical art and practice relate to other aspects of culture. The courses aim to address how scholars in the field understand the interplay of music and culture, as the student will learn about ethnomusicological studies and approaches — many developed at UCLA. These courses are complemented by practicum courses that provide students with a hands-on approach to issues relevant in Iranian music, such as improvisation, mode, rhythm, dance, pedagogy and poetry. These courses bring the rigor of scholarship in conversation with the experience of music-making. They offer interested students an opportunity to further explore Iranian music history, language and performance practices, thus providing a wider context of Iranian musical tradition.