I suddenly jump out of a trance as my inner-thoughts are abruptly phased out when I hear the pleasant sound of a piano tune, a piece by Mozart played by a slender and insecure, but charming 5-year-old girl. She has only been trained under her piano master for only four months; nonetheless, she has already mastered the seating style behind the piano, while allowing her tiny fingers rolling over the piano keys so elegantly.
Her classmates then follow her, a Chinese-American boy of presumably ten in age who plays Beethoven, then a Caucasian upper class teen-ager playing Bach, and then a macho-looking young man in his early twenty's performing – then on to a well-mannered African-American teen-aged gir.
The piano recital continues by dozens students who have taken weekly lessons from a renowned piano master in the Lower Hudson Valley, Suburban New York who has tirelessly trained dozens of students annually within the past 30 years in this region, to be preceded by yet another ten years of the same educational service in Long Islands, which in turn had followed over two decades of musical writing, instructions and performances in his native country before he felt obliged to emigrate with her life-long spouse to the US.
Having resided in the area for two decades, it has only been since five years ago that we became friends of the Piano master's family, and so we have been invited to his annual student recitals. To tell you the truth, I am musically challenged in that I can neither read notes nor can I play any instrument. The best I have personally striven to achieve on this one in life thus far is to develop “an ear” for recognizing and appreciating World music from across the global village.
So, the first couple of times my family and I attended these piano recitals, we must have done it merely as an investment toward our growing friendship with the piano master. For the past three years, however, it is an event we are all looking forward very much to attend, as it has become an annual pilgrimage of some sort for our soul-searching endeavors. The event takes you through classical musical pieces played by each of the students, followed by an outstanding reception that is one of a kind.
Each student is accompanied by a cheering, picture taking family comprised of siblings, parents, grand parents and some friends, too. So, in all nearly two hundred people of all races, color, creed and social status so politely sit in the Nauraushaun Presbyterian Church hall for three hours to listen to not only famous notes which many of us recognize such as the paradoxical piece we all have heard in Frankenstein's movies, but also to less known, nevertheless, as beautiful musical masterpieces from unknown musicians, perhaps a reflection of the piano teacher's legacy himself.
His students have over the years won top praises in regional and state competitions, have gone on to renowned fine arts schools like Julliard, SUNY and Pratt Institute, and have played in numerous orchestra. It is such sense of gratification to over-hear parents speak so fondly of him asking him to be in pictures with the family. No wonder his peers in the New York Music Guild consider his superb communicative skills to match his excellent pedagogical teaching competence to deal with pupils ranging in age from 3 to 30.
As I am listening to one piece after another and while checking the names on the itinerary flyer to measure how close we are to the festive part of culinary indulgence in the end, I notice the fabled and kind, medium built piano master's face as an institution by himself on the stage, of having trained hundreds of kids ranging in age from three to twenty's over the years, thereby gaining positive recognition and credibility by the thousands of citizens in the New York society not only for himself but perhaps more significantly for his cultural and ancestral Persian heritage, thereby counterbalancing those negative stereotyping that may have been perpetrated against his country of origin and the nearly one million law abiding and contributing affluent Americans of Persian heritage, specially unjustifiably exacerbated after 9/11.
His name is Hossein G. Aslani. He was born in 1936 in the little village of Shah-Ghaji near Rasht in the northern Iranian Province of Gilan. Hossein hardly recalls his father , as he became an orphan very early in life. This loss together with the harsh mistreatments of his elder brother, who tried to take on the role of his father, accelerated his childhood to a premature adulthood, leading to his relocation as a teen ager to Tehran where he for sometime tackled any harsh physical labor he was offered to barely sustain himself.
His eternal love of music as instilled in him through a bamboo flute he had been given as a child, however, never left him idle in the interim. Upon persistence, he was hesitantly accepted by Maestra Tatiana Kharatian for piano instruction, followed by Hooshang Ostovar for Harmony Orchestration Composition, and by Freidoon Farzaneh for Theory and Solfeggio. Notwithstanding the lack of recognition by the establishments, he regards these three teachers among the best in modern Iranian musical era, and as such feels indebted to them forever.
Aslani then joined the Iranian State Radio and TV Organization as a composer, arranger and pianist, while giving private lessons to then the upper echelon family members who were seeking the talents of a young musician with a distinct Rashti accent who had arrived from his village a few years earlier. Despite family's resentment, his marriage to Alampideh Betyakob, an Assyrian art loving girl from a noble family of Rezaieh (Urmiyeh), who remains life-long supportive and companion of Aslani, was as unconventional and unimaginable to many in the society.
Yet Aslani was never regarded to follow the conventional norm anyway, but rather, someone who breaks away and walks beyond and above the traditional boundaries. Besides, anyone like Mrs. Fida Aslani who could bare the super-sensitive soul of an artist in life albeit Hossein, must by default be a superb person of fine qualities herself. Their reluctant immigration to the US in the early 70's opened yet another challenging chapter in life which they triumphed with endurance.
He has served as a perpetual advocate of universalism when it comes to music. In other words, through philosophical and practical approaches in life, he has indeed exhibited that music should not be locked up in certain political or even cultural boundaries, but rather in order to make it comprehensibility enjoyable by all peoples in the world, musical masterpieces like Persian traditional tunes/ radifs, should be integrated with others like the Western music for instance. Music to him is a common language that when successfully utilized, it is the driving force for establishing friendship for ALL regardless of political and other cultural divergences.
Hossein Aslani's multifaceted contributions to society follows his global musical perspectives. He has already donated his funds and built a middle school for girls in his hometown–who would have not otherwise been able to go beyond the primary school. Moreover, he has now totally depleted his limited resources toward the building of yet another girls high school in the same poverty stricken region of Guilan, but the project is at a stall at 2/3 completion at this juncture. Although he adamantly wishes to complete it on his own, I am personally on the belief that there are many good Samaritans, as exemplified by the readers of this passage out there who would graciously give to such noble cause.
The Aslani's have no biological children, and might naturally feel certain void at times in life. Hundreds of his students and their families, and a vast circle of friends worldwide feel privileged to have known and had the Aslani's in life, and hence, do consider Hossein Aslani with his huge and warm heart much closer to themselves than a father and, or a brother.
Epitomizing, what people like Aslani continue to accomplish in life has truly been more effective in promotion of the humane uniqueness of the Persian cultural heritage, while counterbalancing the stereotyping and the negatives image portrayed against the people of Middle Eastern and Iranian origins. If one could just emulate a fraction of what Hossein Aslani has contributed to our community and the society at-large in my life, the person could get such self-gratification that would enrich one's soul for life. If we could just have another hundred Aslani's, the world would certainly be a far more pleasant place to even enjoy more!
Davood (David) N. Rahni is a freelance writer in Somers, New York.