Female Musicians in Iran

Toseh, Daily Newspaper
No. 435, Oct. 4th, 2002
page 8

The superintendent of girls' music school, Maliheh Saeedi, says that girls in Iran have managed to make some progress in music over the recent years. The permission issued for women's concerts at Vahdat Hall and the first overseas women's concert ever performed in Austria since the outset of the post-revolutionary era in Iran are some of the developments made in this respect. Moreover, playing various musical instruments, instead of piano and violin commonly played by most female trainees as well as formation of all-female classical and national orchestra are among the changes witnessed. An interview with Maliheh Saeedi follows.

Q: Would you introduce yourself?

A: I am Maliheh Saeedi. I was born in 1948 and started playing tonbak (a type of drum) at the age of four. Once I graduated from primary school, I continued my studies at the music school and graduated when Hussein Dehlavi was its superintendent. First I used to play violin, but owing to my great interest in qanoon (a type of harp) I started playing it and managed to develop a Persian style for playing it instead of its common Arabic style used earlier.

I have written three books totally comprising 450 pages in this respect. Another book has been written on the history of qanoon and its structure by my late husband Ahmad Sotoudeh on the basis of my own research, which is to be published soon. I converted Mirza Abdullah's terms of classification for this instrument. Besides I myself came up with new terms of classification, which is marked by the initiative of plucking the instrument by all the ten fingers, similar to piano, which requires to be accompanied by another instrument. Once I graduated from the music school, I started studying music at Tehran Music Faculty majoring in playing qanoon. When I was a student, qanoon was of secondary importance as a musical instrument. As a consequence of my attempts, however, qanoon was upgraded to a first instrument of specialization both in school and university. Thus students might major in Qanoon and get diplomas and bachelors of art when they graduate from music school and university respectively. When my music master, professor Meftah, got retired in 1968, I started teaching music at university as a student. I have also recorded a number of CDs and cassette tapes on writing and playing music. At present I am occupied with instructing qanoon at boys and girls music schools as well as university. Besides I have had many research concerts both domestically and overseas.

I formed Neyriz Musical Group in 1990, which performs many concerts all year round. Before the revolution, I used to play violin in various groups, including Saba Musical Group conducted by Hussein Dehlavi, while I used to play qanoon and tonbak in Paivar Musical Group and Esmaili Musical Group respectively.
After the (1979) revolution, I myself formed a musical group and performed a concert for ladies for the very first time in cooperation with Parisa (famous female singer). For the first time I went abroad along with Parisa. Besides I recorded and distributed a cassette of ladies voices accompanied by a choir orchestra and two more cassettes titled `Wild Deer' and `The Village Song' sung by a female voice in accompaniment to that of a male. I have always achieved great success in my visits and have been awarded many badges. I have been the superintendent of girls' music school for the past four years.

Q: Is the music school supervised and administered by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the Ministry of Education and Training or any other organization?

A: You may not believe that even we ourselves don't have an idea about it. Nonetheless, in the middle of last Iranian year, (started March 21, 2002) it was eventually disposed as to which organization do we belong. The music school was earlier supervised by the art department. Later on it was administered by Tehran province Islamic guidance department, while the Ministry of Education and Training was supervising the general units included in its syllabus. If we had any request in the past three years, we didn't know were to apply. Rather we had to address a letter to the art education department, another one to Tehran province Islamic guidance department and a third one to the art department. It was also not specified as to which organization should administer the employees' salaries, nor did the school have a specific syllabus. In general, we didn't know how to proceed. We have, meanwhile, been supervised by Tehran province Islamic guidance department for the past three years. As concerns the syllabus we are in direct contact with the Ministry of Education and Training.

Q: Is any budget extended to the music school?

A: So far no budget has been allocated to the school. However, it was announced last year that they have set aside a budget to this very end. But if we decide to buy anything, we have to write several letters to call their attention to our request. The teaching fee paid to the instructors are as follows: a high school graduate receives rls 4,000/hr, instructors with an extra two years of education earn rls 5,000/hr, while holders of BA and doctorate degrees are paid rls 6,000/hr and rls 8,000/hr respectively! Given that this is a school of special expertise and differentiated from other schools where if a teacher quits he/she might easily be replaced by another one and the fact they are not regular employees, you might imagine how difficult would be to manage the school and how efficient would the school be, once the prominent masters stop teaching. Efforts should be made to keep every individual instructor interested in teaching at the music school, since they are in a position to earn much more by teaching elsewhere. Thus to keep them satisfied, in addition to the amount allocated to this effect by the Islamic guidance department, we have to provide an extra amount from the budget of the teachers and parents association.

Q: Does the Ministry of Education and Training contribute to providing the budget as well?

A: No, it doesn't. Nonetheless, it interferes with the general units included in the school syllabus and administers the exams. Such interference was not made in the past, when the music school was operated under the direct supervision of the former Ministry of Culture and Art.

Q: Have they asked your opinion on the issue?

A: Yes, on many occasions, but to no avail. Whenever the issue is brought up, it is said that the education and Islamic guidance ministers are the ones to make decisions in this respect. As regards the overall syllabus, masters such as Dehlavi, Naseri, Roshan-Ravan and a few others made proposals at the art department and managed to make some minor adjustments in the general school syllabus as indicated by the Ministry of Education and Training, despite being insufficient. When I was a student, the students final reports had to be sealed by the Ministry of Education and Training as well.

Nonetheless, the interference of the Ministry of Education and Training has resulted in cutting back the art units and replacing them by more general units, which distracts the trainees' attention from their main specialized studies. At present, the applicants with a good knowledge on mathematics and other general studies such as literature, who are acknowledged on music and not so good in playing musical instruments, are admitted to universities. Meanwhile, art school graduates who are good in their major field and weak in general studies lose the chance of admission to universities.

Q: Do such controversies exist in other art schools such as that of graphic?

A: Yes. All art schools are administered by the Ministry of Education and Training and they are all faced by such problems. Given that art schools are technical and professional institutions, which should have their own special syllabus and have no efficiency in their present form, I presume that the entire system on the basis of which art schools were founded is wrong. This is similar to encouraging a physician into working as a taxi driver, while he should work within the framework of his expertise. Anyone occupied with music should be so overwhelmed in it to be able to be efficient. I have hardly observed any art school graduate, in the post-revolutionary era, with worthwhile expertise, with the exception of those limited individuals having been privately trained. Such expertise in limited cases might only be gained outside the music school in playing musical instruments, while we have neither musicians, nor music researchers.

Q: Have you ever made some changes in the school syllabus?

A: We are not allowed to do that. Nonetheless, in their free hours, the trainees are provided with the required training in extra classes by hiring instructors. Since I joined the school, an orchestra of classical musical instruments and a national orchestra have been formed and the salaries of their conductors are provided from the teachers and parents association budget. The orchestra members were selected from the girls and boys school music. It was initially highly opposed by the Islamic guidance department. Besides the ministry's protection department interfered with the process. However, given that I had already obtained the related permission from the Islamic guidance minister, I proceeded with the practices to prepare the two orchestras for their prospective performances.

Nonetheless, in the absence of any budget to be allocated to this end, unlike the earlier days of my being a student when the instructors had to pay for the absence of the orchestra members, there is no incentive at the present to make them going. They have to keep on working and perform concerts, while they hardly get anything in return. For instance, the earning gained last year after six months of practice and performance at Vahdat Hall was only rls 5,560,000. Even the parents of the trainees did hardly welcome the movement. Eventually, we managed to pay each individual excluding Mr. Zarrabi (the orchestra conductor) and I between rls 60,000 and rls 150,000. Then we called for a minimum monthly budget of rls 200,000 just to cover for their transportation considering their voluminous musical instruments such as contrabassoon. But our request was rejected. They didn't even agree to give us the 30 percent commission paid on the performance by the music hall. This is owing to the ministry's failure to allocate any budget to orchestras and since Vahdat Hall operates under the supervision of the theatrical department, in the post-revolutionary era we were deprived of having access to the only hall we were entitled to use. Music has always been ignored and nothing can ever be counted on when it comes to music. Thus today, in order to perform concerts at Vahdat Hall, it should first be rented from the ministry's theatrical department. Given that Vahdat Hall is currently a theater hall and it is only available on Thursdays and Fridays, those two days are the only time that it might be rented for musical performances.

Q: Why don't you make any publicity for the concerts performed by the music school trainees?

A: Where can we launch such publicity? Given that concurrent to broadcasting music on TV, images of butterflies, flowers or nightingales are seen on the screen, rather than the musical instruments being played, where can we publicize? How many interviews can I make about the music school? I have a minimum of three to four interviews per month. Nonetheless, being aware that what I say is not noticed at all, I will reject any more interviews. What is the use of talking when one knows that what is brought up is totally ignored? Given that on the back of the social science textbooks one reads that music trainees are admitted at high school, it is evident that the Ministry of Education and Training is still unaware of the fact that music trainees are admitted at the sixth grade (the first year of the secondary school). Despite my having called their attention to the point by writing several letters and eventually making reference to my earlier letters, they have not yet changed it after so many years. As a consequence, many gifted individuals wishing to practice music totally lose the chance since when they find out about the right time to register at the music school, it is too late.

Nonetheless, I have come up with a solution about it, which has been put into practice in the past two years. On the basis of this scheme, the applicants with a good knowledge on the musical basic theories and notations equivalent to that of the music school trainees, might take the tests offered in September to the students who have failed to pass some of their units. If such applicants manage to pass the test, they will be admitted to the music school. If only this very same problem had been solved by the Ministry of Education and Training, it would have saved so many talents from being wasted.

Q: Thus the students of music school are hardly provided with any facilities?

A: In my contacts with the art department I always insist on getting tickets for the students to enable them to attend the concerts.

Q: How do you proceed with providing the musical instruments for the music trainees?

A: A number of trainees playing one or another instrument outside the music school might follow a wrong method. We had a trainee who had been playing violin wrongly for some time and it took about one year to teach her the right method. That's why in case of some trainees who have been playing some musical instrument outside the school we try to choose a different instrument for them. Nonetheless, those who have been working with a correct method are allowed to keep on playing the same instrument. When I started my work, more than half of the trainees played piano and violin. However, I took some new measures such as using cassettes from various instruments. I intended to use some films as well in order to show the efficiency of various instruments, but regretfully we didn't have video player and film projector. Since we are short of facilities and get no assistance from anywhere, not much can be done in this respect. At times we invite masters from the music school's technical council to talk about their instruments and let the trainees listen to their played tunes. We select the instruments for the trainees both on the basis of the music community's requirements and their physical condition. For instance, oboe that was not earlier played by girls is commonly played by them. We paid for it from the budget of the parents association, so did we in case of flute. Contrabassoon was earlier considered a secondary instrument. But through our attempts it is now played as a major instrument. Neither was horn common, while nowadays we have several trainees majoring in horn. The program was arranged in such a way as to enable the trainees to secure a job once they graduate. How many violins are after all needed to be played in an orchestra? While horns, oboes, etc. need to be played as well.

Q: How often do you change the instruments used in the music school?

A: They are never changed, despite their having mostly worn out. Last year I set aside a budget for it from the money provided by the trainees' parents. An amount of rls 70-80 million is required annually to cover the employees' salary. For instance, someone is required to operate the Xerox machine and take copies, while we are told that there is no need for an operator. Besides someone is required to collect the instruments delivered to the trainees, while in the absence of any employee I myself have to take charge of it. Neither is any budget allocated to this effect. An amount of rls twenty million is allocated annually to the purchase and repair of the instruments. A bill on the repair of a cello, which is to be taken home by one of the trainees to practice before she can manage to buy one, was just handed in. The amount of the bill is rls 560,000. Such cases are numerous. Meanwhile, given that some trainees cannot afford to go through the expenses, we have to provide them with some financial assistance as well.

Q: Given that the school has no open space, how do you manage with the physical education unit?
A: We do have a sports hall upstairs.

Q: Would you explain the school building?

A: When it was delivered to us, it was in a terrible condition. Its elevator is out of order and I myself have been trapped in it several times. It is quite different from the normal type used everywhere. We have made some changes in the amphitheater. The building is quite improper for playing music and does not suit the music school. Its acoustics is unfavorable and no one's advice was asked for buying it.

Q: Is the syllabus of the school planned on a long-term or short-term basis?

A: Here is quite different. The trainees are trained without any definite schedule. However, as of last year training in three separate majors of global and Iranian musical instruments as well as writing music are provided. Q: Aren't the trainees required to make distinction between the Iranian and non-Iranian instruments.

A: The building of boys' music school was earlier used by the higher musical institute, where training was only provided on classical instruments. When I used to study at the national musical institute, training on both Iranian and classical instruments were provided. But training on classical as well as Iranian musical instruments is included in the syllabus of both schools.

Q: Has any overseas concerts been performed by the music school?

A: Yes. For the first time after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, 20 trainees were sent to Austria. The program was arranged because of my acquaintance with the owners of the Austrian music hall. Percussion and traditional instruments were included in the orchestra and the performance was warmly welcome. Earlier, however, the ladies were not allowed to perform at Vahdat Hall. But after their concert in Austria they were given permission to perform. Q: Would talk about ladies music?

A: I believe that it is not right to differentiate between the male and female musicians. We might have some shortcomings in one field or another. This might apply to male musicians as well and there is nothing wrong with it. For instance flute is scarcely played by ladies. Likewise, we don't have any wind instruments players among the symphonic orchestra of the music school, which might be related to the ladies physical condition. In my opinion such differentiation is quite wrong. Nonetheless, under the nation's current circumstances, nothing can be done about it and we have no choice than abiding by it. If the circumstances allow and the ladies are allowed by their families, they might achieve great success. Ladies keep on working, yet this is not the ideal. Despite my being quite busy, I consider the trainees of girls and boys music schools as my own children. Even my husband believes that I adore music more than him and our children. However, the present condition doesn't interest me at all.

Q: How are Iranian and global instruments differentiated?

A: When nothing is as it should be, the titles and names keep changing as well. Even here such titles are quite common. What can be said when nothing is changed? You are talking about the Iranian and global instruments, but I really don't understand the concept.

Q: What has been done for you by the Music Complex?

A: I myself am one of the individuals selected for the instructors committee. Of course, when they were selecting the players, I was overseas. In my absence a meeting was held and a constitution was written, but that was all. How can an institution be put into operation without a budget? It is just like questioning the orchestra's integration. The trainees undergo training at the music school, but they in turn have some expectations, while no budget is allocated to the Music Complex. As a matter of fact, given that the music itself is under question, how can a budget be allocated to it.

Q: Would you introduce a good book?

A: Books can never be bad. Books can scarcely be differentiated, but first of all the respective field should be specified. Mr. Dehlavi's writings are quite interesting, especially his book marked by the integration of poetry and music.

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