My musical training started when I was 11. My brother, Peyman Azarmina, who was a student of Master Faramarz Payvar at that time, noticed my musical potential and convinced my parents to give it a shot. Master Payvar initially resisted and tried to convince me to try another instrument, but I insisted and my response was that I wanted to play the Fanous, one of his santour duets, with my brother one day. He agreed and the rest is history.
After getting comfortable with performing in front of an audience through regular performances at master Payvar's monthly private concerts, it was time to venture for bolder moves. At 18, I joined the grand plectral orchestra founded by master Hossein Dehlavi for a period of almost two years. Then, I had a few joint programs debuting Shabdiz in collaboration with Ms. Haghgoo. Later on, I formed my own plectral quartet, which was active between the years of 2000 and 2002. I the UK, I toured several academic institutions (including Oxford, Cambridge and University of London) giving educational concerts which consisted of a lecture on Persian music and santour followed by a short recital.
1. Old Persian Dances: As I was nearing graduation with my santour studies, master Payvar commissioned a project to re-arrange old Persian dance forms from original resources for the santour. The output of this project became this album, which is called "Reng-haye Haft Dastgah" in Persian. It was later published by the Mahour Institute of Culture and Arts at the turn of the century.
2. Shabdiz: My second album (left image) consisted of five pieces composed by me in the early 1990s: The Passionate, The Truth Seeker, The Contemplator, The Compassionate and Shabdiz (in three movements). This duet is a program music telling the story of a pre-Islamic black horse belonging to the Persian King of Khosro Parviz. Shabdiz was so favored by the King that he kept it on top of a mountain and threatened to behead anyone who would bring the news of its death. Time passed and Shabdiz eventually fell dead. Nobody had the courage to tell the King about the unfortunate news. They eventually reached out to Barbod, King’s court musician, who composed such a sad song that when he played it in front of the King, he whispered “It sounds so sad as if my Shabdiz is dead.”, Barbod then cleverly responded: “That’s what YOU said, your majesty!”
3. Rebellious Solitude: This and the next album (Persian Nostalgia) were produced in the USA, which made a significant difference in the quality of sound and mixing. My intention was to capture the advanced repertoire for santour (Radif-e Chapkouk) in a digitally recorded format. The Persian mode of Dashti was chosen as a suitable medium to communicate ‘Rebellious Solitude’ state of mind. Throughout the album, you will hear the dual aspects of an ongoing internal conflict. Sometimes it is calm, introverted, contemplative and lonely; while at other times, there are musical expressions of unrest, struggle, contradiction and resistance. The clash of these two states is demonstrated through changes in tempo, variable notes of Dashti, expressive nuances and jumps from highs to lows and vice versa.
4. Persian Nostalgia: In this album, a selection of classical, traditional and modern Persian music is performed on the basis of a modal system, namely Isfahan from the ‘Advanced Repertoire for the Santour’. Aliases were chosen for the track names of this album that conveyed at least one aspect of Persian nostalgic feelings. Nevertheless, those aliases could also speak to the original names of the songs or compositions. For example, ‘Gates of Isfahan’ on the one hand can remind us of Iran’s Golden Age under the Safavid Dynasty and on the other hand, metaphorically it can mean the overture to the mode of Isfahan. The classics included in this album are some popular songs from the 20th century Iranian composers. They are rearranged for advanced level santour and juxtaposed against other pieces that are compatible within their hierarchy in the modal structure of Isfahan. The last piece is the artist’s interpretation of nostalgia: familiar-sounding and soothing, yet forward-looking and climactic, acknowledging the past while envisioning a brighter future.
Since 2008, I started recording a selection of masterpieces for santour and uploaded them on my YouTube channel. The result was phenomenal. It became one of the most watched collection of santour videos for those who love Persian music and this particular instrument. Soon, I realized that many students refer to these videos as an educational resource. Therefore, I decided to start recording the elementary courses for santour and make them available for novice santour players. I changed the camera angle as well and rather than recording my full profile, I set up the camera in a way that only my hands and the santour surface are shown, which is more compatible with how my students watch me playing.
Teaching santour has always been a rewarding experience for me. Since I left Iran in 2003, I realized that most of my students are not in a commutable vicinity of where I live. My first distant-learning student provided me with some equipment to run the sessions experimentally on Skype and soon after some troubleshooting, it became the standard practice for the majority of my students. Most of them are already in the intermediate to advanced tracks and therefore don't require a face to face presence for an effective session. This way, I can continue to be connected to those who love santour and would like to expand their musical horizons no matter where they live on this planet.