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Classical Iranian Music Gets a New Audience


Shayan Parsai, a 21-year-old college student who plays the kamancheh, gets to watch his hero, Kayhan Kalhor - widely considered the modern-day master of this ancient instrument - rehearse before a concert Parsai helped organize with the Persian Student As

Shayan Parsai, a 21-year-old college student who plays the kamancheh, gets to watch his hero, Kayhan Kalhor - widely considered the modern-day master of this ancient instrument - rehearse before a concert Parsai helped organize with the Persian Student As

Few in the West have heard its authentically Persian sound, but now the classical, Persian stringed instrument known as a kamancheh is being heard in an unlikely place - the mid-western U.S. state of Ohio. An Iranian-American musician is resurrecting the kamancheh’s ancient sound - the hard way - and introducing it to a whole new audience.

“You close your eyes; you start playing, and you kind of get lost in the music,” said Shayan Parsai, a 21-year-old college student who plays the kamancheh.

“Once I warm up and my fingers start moving, there’s no way to really stop me; I don’t want to stop," he said. “Whenever I want to go back to Iran, it’s like… I just pick up the kamancheh and I go back to ancient lands and history."

Learning a classical instrument is hard work. It is even harder without a teacher. So Parsai did the next best thing…

YouTube was a great tool for me as far as listening, and as far as watching how people play,” he said.

YouTube videos. As in, no teacher; no lessons; no sheet music or books. Instead, Parsai learned to play kamancheh by watching videos of Kayhan Kalhor - widely considered the modern-day master of this ancient instrument.

But this day is different. Instead of watching Kalhor on YouTube, Parsai watches from the audience.

His hero is in town for a concert Parsai helped organize with the Persian Student Association at the University of Toledo.

“I’m extremely excited and I’m glad to have him here, and hopefully this will open a gateway for many other musicians in all kinds of genres to see that there’s music lovers everywhere,” said Parsai.

And though it's only a rehearsal, Parsai now sits on the edge of his seat.

“It’s overwhelming," he said. "You get to watch this on YouTube and videos you get from stores, and now I’m seeing it in person. It’s just… I’m awestruck.”

Parsai describes himself as “humbled” and “happy” to have met his YouTube mentor.

He still has a long way to go before people call him “Master,” but with a little help from his friends - Parsai may well be on his way.

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    Arash Arabasadi

    Arash Arabasadi is an award-winning multimedia journalist with a decade of experience shooting, producing, writing and editing. He has reported from conflicts in Iraq, Egypt, the Persian Gulf and Ukraine, as well as domestically in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland. Arash has also been a guest lecturer at Howard University, Hampton University, Georgetown University, and his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife Ashley and their two dogs.

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