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Exploring The Sacred Lute

Ostad Elahi, 1966. Courtesy of the Nour Foundation

Ostad Elahi, 1966. Courtesy of the Nour Foundation

The first time I heard the evocative sounds and exquisite poetry of classic Persian music, I was amazed by its simple and elegant beauty. I later learned the complexity and philosophical principals behind the music, and about the different genres and ancient regional traditions that still endure. After a trip to Iran to visit scholars, composers, instrument makers, and musicians, a friend introduced me to the music and life of the exceptional musician, jurist, and philosopher Nour Ali Elahi (1895–1974), also known as Ostad Elahi. The resulting new exhibition, The Sacred Lute: The Art of Ostad Elahi, examines Ostad's transformation of the art of tanbūr—his modifications to the instrument, its playing technique, and the elevation of its repertoire—as well as his innovative approach to the quest for self-knowledge and his personal transformation from a classical mystic to a modern jurist.

The exhibition presents the weaving narrative between player and instrument by exhibiting rare tanbūrs belonging to Elahi and his father; a number of Ostad's personal possessions, such as his judicial robes and manuscripts of his books; and symbolic items that provide greater insight into his disciplined approach to life. Instruments and artworks on display from the Elahi collection, the Musée de la Musique in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum help to set the context for Elahi's traditional world.

This exhibition, funded in part by the Nour Foundation, has been endorsed by UNESCO for promoting cultural diversity through music and art.

The Sacred Lute: The Art of Ostad Elahi is on view through January 11, 2015, in Gallery 458. See all upcoming events related to this exhibition.

Installation of The Sacred Lute: The Art of Ostad Elahi

Last-minute touches being applied to the exhibition's installation

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