03.12.2005A German Brass Band in the Middle EastTouring the Orient with a Trumpet and a NotepadShiraz
We arrive in Shiraz early in the morning. First to the hotel and a few hours of sleep. Shiraz is located between mountains and a plain. The predominant color of the region is dusty brown. The beauty of Shiraz lies hidden in the city's large gardens and parks.
No shade in Persepolis - and Shiva as the guide We rehearse with Iranian musicians at the local cultural center. Mohammed, the percussionist, doesn't understand English, but catches on pretty quick. Hanni practices a couple of pieces with two girls and three boys from the local choir group.
We then arrange everyone together on stage. Six performers sing in unison and it is pretty impressive. The head of the local organizing group, the Fars Foundation, sits in the hall and listens closely. The sound levels have to be carefully adjusted so that the male voices appear somewhat louder than the female voices, as women are not allowed to sing in public in Iran.
Later in the hotel, I am approached by two Saudis, who are here for a tourism congress. They express total enthusiasm on hearing that I am a musician who has come to Iran. They already read the concert announcement and truly regret that they can't attend.
They wish me all the best, and, extremely pleased, shake my hand. This all takes place within the span of 40 seconds. I am overwhelmed by this openness, warmth, and friendliness of strangers. The Iranians are also all so unbelievably curious. As a foreigner, I am spoken to on the street, asked about Germany, what Germans think of Iran, and so on. Small groups of people gather and are excited to be able to speak with a foreigner.
The next day begins with a bit of tourism. We visit the ruins of Persepolis. Our guide is Shiva. She is young, very pretty and dynamic, speaks excellent English, and takes her job seriously. Persepolis is impressive, but the heat is sweltering and there is not the slightest bit of shade. Tonight is the first concert of the tour.
Some 800 people show up at the Shiraz Palace of Culture. The audience goes wild for the Bavarian and the Iranian songs. Real enthusiasm. After the concert, Zaha, one of the singers, was worried. She could be heard singing alone for about 20 seconds and some moral repression idiots promptly made a scene.
The next day we hold a workshop at the cultural center in a small hall. Like everywhere else, the room is framed by portraits of Khomeini and Khamenei to the left and right. The workshop turns out to be more of a press conference and a question and answer session.
There are about 30 people, mostly young, in attendance. I sit with Raimund on stage and answer questions. Time and again, band members are asked to give special explanations about their instruments.
The level of questioning is actually surprisingly high compared to international standards and shows background knowledge of music and a level of intelligence. Not just the usual, "What does the name of your band mean?" or "What was the inspiration for these pieces?".
We are subjected to some very specific technical questions. Gellert has to explain the secret of the fourth valve on his tuba, they want to hear special sound effects on the trombone, and we are even asked about "post-modernism in music" and my opinion of the group "Rammstein."
"It has to be said that Khomeini looks exceedingly good, very charismatic", Moll notes down, "with the gaze of Sean Connery" Return flight to Teheran. For the first and only time in Iran, I see a portrait of President Khatami next to the unavoidable other two at Shiraz Airport. The lighting around Khatami, of course, doesn't work. While the other two shine, he sulks in the murky darkness. This probably reflects the true balance of power in the country. It has to be said that Khomeini looks exceedingly good, very charismatic – with the gaze of Sean Connery.
Teheran is gigantic and it is all uphill. There is a 700-meter difference in height between the southern and northern parts of the city. Northern Teheran is located at an altitude of 1700 meters – you can see the mountains and the smog is somewhat more bearable. As a result, the north has the better residential area and the rents are beyond the means of the average citizen.
We drive by the street in which Khomeini lived. Khamenei, in contrast, lives in the center of Teheran, which is considerably cheaper. He isn't as rich as Khomeini, says Babak, our tour guide. His portraits really do have a touch of "the ordinary man" about them.
Apart from that, today I noticed for the first time a huge wall painting celebrating Islamic martyrdom nonsense. We later experience more religious ecstasy at the Shiite holy shrine housing the remains of Emam Zadeh. He was the son of an imam and was tortured to death by the Saudis. Babak asks if we, as Christians, are also allowed to visit the holy shrine. We're allowed.
As always, men and women are separated. Hajnalka was given an extra black chador to wear. Once inside, we find a relaxed, cheerful, and peaceful atmosphere, and it feels like an oasis of calm in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the neighboring bazaar. We enter the actual shrine, with our shoes off.
It is a small room vaulted by a dome covered in mirrors. Behind a continuous metal mesh lies the coffin of the martyr, draped in a silk cloth embroidered with citations from the Koran and a large book on top.
The men here inside are visibly moved, sobbing, kissing the bars of the mesh, rubbing the walls with their hands and then massaging the holy aura in their faces, and praying fervently. Even more moving is what one hears from the other side door separating the shrine. There women are wailing, singing, and sobbing – and rather loudly.
They are certainly making considerably more racket than the men. I am quite moved to see these people so animated and vulnerable. It is an intimate situation, and I am torn back and forth between a deep respect, a feeling that it is a great privilege to witness this, and uncertainty as to whether I am disturbing something and if I should really be here at all.
Next stop: Beirut (click 3)