About the State of Percussion Music in Iran

An Open Letter from Peyman Nasehpour to all Musicians of Iran (Persia)

About the State of Percussion Music in Iran

Saturday, 12 March 2005

Music has three dimensions: 1) Melody 2) Rhythm 3) Accent. Since skin headed percussion instruments are the main instruments for performing rhythmic cycles, consideration of the percussion instruments of Iran (Persia) has special importance. Because of cultural varieties in Persian music, we have a lot of different percussion instruments in Iran. It is not possible to discuss all of them here so this letter will be about the "tonbak" and the "daf", the only national drums of Iran. 

According to organology, tonbak is considered as a member of the goblet-shaped drum family. Similar drums are the "darbouka", played in Arabic countries and Turkey, and the "zirbaghali" in Afghanistan. The antiquity of tonbak with its "Pahlavi" (Persian pre-Islamic language) name, "dombalak" goes back to pre-Islamic ages and according to the late Dr. Moeen, "dombak" is a transformed form of this ancient name. The Tonbak has progressed in recent decades and it is thought of as a solo and independent instrument. This progress is in debt to the pure efforts of valuable masters of the tonbak, and among them, the role of the late maestro Hosain Tehrani is so important that he can be labeled as the father of modern tonbak. Even though this instrument has progressed so much and it is used broadly in different genres of Persian music, unfortunately it is not taken to be as important as it should be. For example one cannot receive his bachelor's degree in music as a tonbak player, while on the other hand choosing instruments such as "tar", "setar", "kamancheh", etc., she/he can. 

According to organology, "daf" is considered as a member of the frame drum family. Similar drums are the "ghaval", "riq" and "bendir" in neighbor countries of Iran. The antiquity of "daf" with the Pahlavi name, "dap", goes back to pre-Islamic ages and "daf" is an arabicized form of "dap". The "daf", which was played in Sufi gatherings, now is played broadly in all genres of Persian music. And according to the view of Mohammad Reza Darvishi (esteemed researcher of Persian regional music), "daf" should be considered a national drum the same as tonbak. When the tonbak with its status is not considered as important as it should be, then guess what happens to the "daf" as well as the other percussion instruments of Iran. 

According to what it was said in the above, the following suggestions are offered: 

A new major of music in the universities should be created in the way that one can receive a bachelor's degree in percussion music as a tonbak or daf player. 
International percussion festivals should be performed in Iran with a focus on Persian percussion instruments. 
An independent committee for percussion instruments should be created in the most famous Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) for Persian music, called "Iran House of Music". 

Remark: Perhaps harmony can be considered another dimension in western music, but this open letter discusses about Persian music. 

Acknowledgments: The writer of the letter wishes to thank Mr. Grant Smith for his useful pieces of advice about the translation of the letter from Persian to English.