Festival Fellows Meet Composer and Singer Amir Alan Vahab

Leading up to the Festival, the Festival Fellows, a group of twelve high school students from the greater New Haven area who share a passion for the arts, attended various shows, events, and discussions to immerse themselves in the broad range of the Festival’s programming. One of these was Amir Alan Vahab’s visit to the Fellows’ weekly class at Gateway Community College.

Amir, a celebrated composer and singer of Sufi and folk music, brought in some of his native Persian instruments as well as his vast knowledge and insight into many different musical subjects. Not only did he perform his music for them, he also taught the Fellows to play the drums he brought in, and to dance as a group to the rhythms they created.

Amir prompted the Fellows to think critically about the effects of sound and rhythm in both music and dance. Mariana Robles (New Haven Academy ‘18) remarked that “the music sounded really spiritual, like something you could meditate to.” She also noted that “it’s really hard to describe the music because of how unique it was and felt.” For Laura Castellanos (Wilbur Cross ‘18), “most important of all was how the rhythm promoted unity and how to become more close to one another. By holding each other’s hands and stepping to the same rhythm, he showed us how to leave competition behind and accept one another to form a community.”

Many of the Fellows remarked that they had never seen or heard the kind of music and dance Amir and his assistants performed and talked about. Aliah Segui (Wilbur Cross ‘19) said that “I’ve never heard any Eastern music. It just opened my eyes to a whole other world I have never been exposed to.” After listening to Amir speak about his Turkish and Iranian background, Dan Ramirez (New Haven Academy ‘18) remarked that he “left class with a wider view on music and the cultures connected to it.” Amir’s visit also inspired the Fellows to learn more about music, with Mi Nawabutsitthirat (Wilbur Cross ‘18), saying that she wanted “to do more research about instruments, and the history that developed them.” Dan also commented that “Amir made me want to pursue my musical education and branch out into different genres and instruments.”

Amir’s visit prepared the Fellows to engage with a variety of Festival music performances. On Wednesday, June 14, the Fellows will reflect on similar ideas of sound as they listen to a performance by Olive Tiger, a strings group that creates musical experiences that are both experimental and accessible by blending together elements of electronica, rock, and pop music. Through sound and poetic metaphor, they comment on the human experience, and take the personal and expand it to the universal.

After hearing Amir talk about the powers of rhythm, the Fellows will better be able to understand the musical intentions of the bands TROKER and Fulaso when they perform on Saturday, June 17. With an emphasis on mesmerizing rhythms through metal riffage, funk drumming, and DJ scratching, TROKER creates music that inspires the soul. Fulaso’s raucous rhythms will inspire the audience to come together for a soul-affirming dance party.

During the Festival, the Fellows will have the opportunity to hear other musical performances from different parts of the world. One of these is the world premiere of the work “Gardenia,” composed by the Chinese composer Xiaogang Ye, and performed by Wu Man + Miro Quartet on Thursday, June 22. Composed for a string quartet and a pipa, a traditional Chinese instrument, “Gardenia” evokes both the folk music as well as the beautiful scenery of Yueyang City in southern China.

- Soffia Gunnarsdottir