Lily Afshar after a recent performance in San
Photo courtesy Holly McDade
One with the guitar
An interview with Lily Afshar
By Shahram Sadri
April 24, 1998
Q: Lily, Where does your inspiration to play music come from, and what motivated you to play the guitar instead of other instruments?
The inspiration comes from within me as well as what I see or feel around me. Music is a basic necessity in my life. It is the way I can best express myself. When I was a kid, I was very shy. The guitar brought me out of my shyness. Although I was exposed to other instruments at an early age, I fell in love with the classical guitar because of the beauty of its sound. I also love the guitar because it is an instrument that you can caress in your arms. Classical guitar is the only string instrument that you can touch with both hands as you play. When I play the guitar, I feel as though I'm one with it.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your early guitar lessons in Tehran and your high school years.
I started my first guitar lesson about a week after my dad bought me a guitar. First, I took private lessons at home and then I enrolled at the Tehran Conservatory. I used to go there twice a week for three hours each time. During the day, I attended Iranzamin international school. I remember taking my guitar to school and practicing during free periods. Before graduating from Iranzamin, I played three concerts in Tehran, one at the German Church and two at Kakh-e-Javanan.
Q: What is appealing about Memphis and what do you do there?
The best thing about Memphis is its music. Most people think that Memphis is big on country music. But they are wrong. Memphis is big on Blues, Rock, Jazz, and believe it or not, Classical! There are so many good musicians in this city. The musical atmosphere is very friendly.
Memphis is a very cultural city. Every May, it celebrates the music and culture of a country. This May it is Portugal. It constantly hosts various international exhibitions, like Napoleon, Treasures of the Ottoman Empire, Catherine the Great, Titanic, etc. I like the size of the city, about one
Meeting a fan after a performance in San Jose.
Gloves protect her nails for the next performance.
Photo by J. Javid
million. I love the Mississippi running through the city. Beautiful sunsets, friendly people, a lot of history here. I love going to Beale Street to listen to the blues and hang out with local musicians.
I'm the guitar professor at the University of Memphis. I prepare my students for undergraduate, master's and doctoral recitals. I do studio work in Memphis where I play the guitar for songwriters on their albums. I also record my own CDs here. I write reviews of books and CDs for the American Record Guide. Memphis is where I prepare for my concerts.
Q: How many hours do you practice daily, and how long does it take to master an average piece for a concert?
When I was a student, I used to practice 10 hours a day. Now I practice anywhere from 3-5 hours a day. An average piece would take around two months to master. That is, if you spend 4-5 hours a day on it. In order to master it, you need to not only learn and execute the notes perfectly, but memorize it, find out what the composer was trying to say, become one with the piece, and then transfer that message or messages through your fingers to the audience.
Q: How does it feel to be on stage, and what does it mean to you?
To me the stage is the moment of truth. There is nothing that you can hide. I feel wonderful on stage, alive. The stage is where I can share all my experiences and talent with everyone. It is where I put my soul out. The presence and feedback of the audience and the acoustics of the hall intensify my performance. Every performance that I give is different from the one before it. The reason is not only because the hall and the audience are different, but because I, too, feel different everyday. The performances, therefore are always fresh. For me nothing matches the energy and excitement created on stage.
Q: What is the best advice that you have ever received?
"Keep up the hard work so that you reach international fame!"
Q: What advice would you give to a person starting on a similar career path?
Don't listen to any negative opinions, and work your butt off!
Q: What have you found difficult about the guitar or being a concert player?
I would say the business aspect of it is the most difficult for me. I would love not to have to think about contracts and appearance dates. My concert schedule is planned at least a year in advance. The rest of my life rotates around this. My job has never been a 9 to 5 job. It consumes my whole day. Even if I'm not playing, music is running in my head or I am visualizing the notes of a piece. The whole thing, both the business and artistic aspects are very focused.
Q: Who influenced you the most and how?
My father influenced me the most. He was an extremely kind, intelligent, and open-minded person, a well-rounded intellectual. He was great in everything: he was an electrical engineer and a pilot who played Bach and Vivaldi Violin Concertos, called Sa'adi his teacher, and read vehemently. He was very generous and enjoyed life. He stressed education. He read the Shahnameh to me at a very young age. He instilled the love for art, music, and literature in me. He encouraged me to pursue the guitar but he said to be a musician first and then a guitarist. He taught me to complete every task that I set my mind to and reach the top. With his teaching, I grew up a fearless person.
Q: What are the five words that describe your character?
Honest, kind, loyal, serious, fun.
Q: What traits would you seek in a friend?
Honesty, kindness, generosity, sense of humor, intellect.
Q: What Iranian music have you arranged or written? Are they available on CD?
I have been working on a set of eight Persian ballads which will be on my new CD due to be released in November '98.
Q: What other music or styles do you listen to?
I love listening to Gypsy Kings (Albums 1&2), the Italian singer: Franco Battiato especially his album Caffe de la Paix, and the Blues, especially B B King.
Q: What do you do at your leisure? What is your favorite pastime?
Traveling, hiking and biking in Aspen, Colorado, swimming, reading, studying languages, going to movies, visiting friends.
Q: What are the three items that you would love to have in your refrigerator?
Since we are narrowing it down to 3, I'll have to say Persian caviar, French champagne, and maast-e keesseh from Siah Bisheh!
Q: Of all the places that you have traveled, which one appeals to you the most and why?
I would say Italy because of its beauty, history, art, music, and people.
Q: What is the best gift that you would give to a friend? What if you are at the receiving end?
I would give them my time. I would like to have their moral support.
Q: What are your future plans involving your life and career?
Finish recording my second CD, perform in major concert halls around the world, establish a steady international concert career, find a good manager, buy a Dachshund, make lots of new friends, and enjoy life.