My mission last Friday night in Tehran was to go to the symphony.
To soak up some local culture, yes. But more importantly, I wanted a concert violinist to instruct me in the Iranian classical scale.
It has notes we don't have in the Western scale — notes called microtones that exist between a flat and a natural, or a sharp and a natural. I managed to convince two violinists to give me a brief lesson.
Arash Jame and Mansour Safaiyan were generous to a fault with their time, and spent 15 minutes with me in the green room at the Vahdat Hall before their concert, showing me what "sori" and "koron" are (koron is the note between a natural and a flat, sori is the note between a natural and a sharp).
I struggled a bit, but at least I was able to land a koron with proper intonation. So they said.
I don't think Jame and Safaiyan were blowing smoke.
Before leaving them, I asked them for some homework to tackle when I got back to the US.
"For Iranian students, if they have not been very exposed to Western music, it's difficult to them," Safaiyan said. "It's the same for you. You have not been exposed to Iranian music. You are not familiar to this kind of sound. So it's much more difficult to you."
I said to Safaiyan that it sounded like was telling me not try this at home.
He smiled and said that he didn't mean to discourage me. But I needed to listen more to Iranian music and adjust my ear to these unfamiliar sounds.
So even if you're not a student, here's a list of five Iranian composers you should pay attention to, courtesy of Arash Jame and Mansour Safaiyan.