SAXTONS RIVER -- As a boy growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in Teheran, Iran, Eshagh Shaoul could not have imagined that his love of music would open doors for him around the world and lead him, eventually, to a tranquil life in Vermont.
He will share those experiences and the violin music he played with pick-up groups in Afghanistan, Japan, Singapore, Ivory Coast and Hong Kong in an evening of Iranian food and culture on Saturday at Main Street Arts.
Shaoul and pianist Jon Liechty will present a concert of European and Persian music at 7:15 p.m., preceded by an Iranian meal at 6 p.m. Tickets for dinner and the concert are $20 or $15 for the concert only, with dessert and coffee. Dinner reservations are needed by Sept. 20 and can be made by contacting MSA at 802-869-2960 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shaoul says Persian music is hard to explain to Western musicians because it is the opposite of Western music. The scales are different, and improvisation is the key. Shaoul found this out the hard way when he was drawn to apply to the Juilliard School by his yearning for a return to music during his engineering studies at Columbia University.
When he auditioned his Persian music with the faculty, they told him, "We don’t know what you’re playing," and gave him four pieces by Bach and three others and told him to learn them and come back in three
"I never worked so hard on the violin," says Shaoul, who had little experience playing Western music. "At the end of three months, I could only play one movement."
Although he was accepted at the prestigious music school, he knew he was in way over his head and lasted only a year.
"I could never play the same thing every time," he recalled. "I made Bach sound Iranian."
Shaoul returned to his studies at Columbia, where he met his wife Rose, and eventually received a master’s in international relations from The City University of New York and a doctorate in international political economy from George Washington University. Work for the U.S.government took him to Afghanistan with the purpose of setting up a registry of vital statistics.
Afghanistan he described as a "whole other world, unbelievable, with a very backward system of keeping records," and Iran had a generous scholarship system that few took advantage of. So he suggested that Afghanis study in Iran. The Afghanis, however, took offense at his report and gave him 24 hours to get out of the country.
He began his practice of international economics when he took a position with the Chase Bank, where he worked for 22 years, including 13 years living abroad. He carried his violin to each place he lived, finding a local amateur musical group to join. Another 10 years with AIG brought the total of countries he has visited to 103.
Four years ago, he and Rose returned to Iran for the first time in 32 years. He had been on Khomeini’s black list because of his work at Chase with Iranian government accounts during the Shah’s regime. But, for the first time in a long time, he played with friends who shared his love of Persian music and played well together even though they had never seen each other before.
Shaoul said his mother recognized his talent early on when he put together a few pieces of wood and string to make a hammer dulcimer-like instrument called a santur. At eight, she bought him an inexpensive violin and found a teacher.
At age 18, he set off for America, arriving on the S.S. America after 13 days at sea and expecting to be met by someone’s brother, cousin or friend. No one showed up, so he made his way uptown and eventually found an apartment in a building populated by musicians and dancers. When they heard him playing his violin on the balcony, they asked him what he was doing and offered to take him to Juilliard, which happened to be on the same street.
He says he has passed on to his three children that this is one world, and you can live anywhere you want, but you need to be kind and compassionate.
More information is available at www.MainStreetArts.org.