In Iran, a blind musician leads the way for a women's orchestra
Los Angeles Times / Borzou Daragahi

The song is an old one, a bittersweet melody of grief and hope about a girl, Bahar, whose name is synonymous in Persian with the season of spring.

The man with the shock of white hair and dark sunglasses leads the orchestra of violins, santurs and drums from the front of the parlor.

Ali Jafarian will never see the finely embroidered head scarves or the ecstatic smiles of the 30 or so women assembled before him. But he hears every note and beat and giggle; he feels the tension lurking in every rest, the passion swelling each crescendo.

So they come back, week after week, year after year, and gather round. He is part father figure, part taskmaster. He teaches and adores. They absorb and strive. And though they pursue different paths in their work and family lives, they become one when they rush in here at 3 p.m. on Fridays for rehearsal, stripping off their coats and greeting each other with exclamations and kisses.

"We have something to say in this world of art, no matter how small," says Helen Parchami, a violinist in her 20s. "The instrument is strength. It's power. It's the freedom of my soul. When I play here I feel proud of all the women here. Only women play. We show that we can stand on our own feet."

The story of Jafarian and his all-female band shows the power of art to transform, inspire and connect.

"Nothing can stand in the way of progress, not even blindness," Jafarian says.

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