By Franklin Abbott

Iranian musician Kayhan Kalhor, a master of the spiked violin or kamancheh, will perform at the High Museum on Friday, May 5. He will be joined by singer Alireza Ghorbani and Behrouz Jamali on tombak. For more information about the concert, visit this link.

Kalhor’s parents recognized his love for music when he was a child. They offered lessons and he became an eager student and soon part of an orchestra. He is recognized now as one of the masters of his ancient instrument and has achieved renown in the West as part of Yo-Yo Ma’s acclaimed Silk Road Ensemble. Kalhor was one of the musicians featured in the movie about the ensemble, “The Music of Strangers.”

Kalhor says the kamancheh belongs to the fifth group of original musical instruments. The voice was the first, then drums/percussion, then hollowed instruments like the flute, the plucked instruments like the lute and last bowed instruments.

Kamancheh in Persian is “little hunting bow.” It has an round body and a long neck and is played upright like a cello although it is the size of a viola. It originally had two strings and is the parent of the Chinese two stringed violin, the erhu. A third string was added centuries ago and fourth at the end of the 19th century influenced by the violin that had also originated from the kamancheh.

Music is central to the Sufi tradition which comes from the same part of the world as Kalhor and his kamancheh. The spherical shape of the body of the kamancheh made it a part of Sufi music, the sphere representing the world. The Sufis also revered the ney or bamboo flute. It has seven holes like the human body. Rumi, the great Sufi poet of the 11th century, used the ney in his poems as a metaphor of how humans must become hollow of negative thoughts in order for a pure sound to emanate. That pure sound is what opens us to the infinite.

For Kalhor the emptiness is essential. He must live and act so the music comes through him in the purest way possible. He creates a vibration with his audience that is a vehicle for transcendence for him and for them. He prepares to go on stage with fifteen minutes alone to find himself and to remind himself why he is there. He describes performing as both a tennis match where the musician sends vibrations to the audience and the audience back the musician. He says that the music then is something that rises on its own and fills the space.

Kalhor was drawn to other musical traditions he says because the world is getting smaller and “we cannot live in our cocoons.”

In “The Music of Strangers,” Kahlor was going through a difficult time. Because of unfavorable politics he was unable to play freely in his native Iran. Since the filming, the political tenor of Iran has changed and Kalhor is just back from a tour of Iran where he performed sixty-three sold out concerts and received wide acclaim and affection. He says. “I play better when I play for people.” For him music is something to be shared, something that creates a space for him and his audience to deepen, transcend . . . words fail. Hence music.

Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta psychotherapist, writer and musician. His new album of songs and poems is Don’t Go Back To Sleep.


Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.