Yasaman, you are an accomplished painter, instrumentalist, and composer! You hold a BA in Painting, what influenced your decision to pursue an MA in Music Composition?
I like to tell stories by exploring my subconscious in the form of creating art. I have always navigated different mediums of art to find the one that best suits me. When I was a kid, I used to write short stories accompanied by paintings, which I would then gift to my family and friends. Later, I would sketch on postcards that I made. This all led me to study graphic design in art school. I had already started playing piano in middle school but was disappointed with my teachers until right before college where I met Rasool Akbari. I started to enjoy playing piano and was inspired to choose music as my career. However, since my music skills were still nascent, I decided to pursue my BA in Painting. In the meantime, I studied composition, and played piano and setar1 to prepare myself for graduate school. Being simultaneously involved with both auditory and visual art piqued my interest in an art that combines both: film scoring.
How would you describe your composition style, your “sound?” Does your background in fine art have an impact on your writing in music?
Yes! I consider myself a visual person. When composing, I often visualize myself in an imaginary place and compose music based on the things that I feel there. In my paintings, spaces are often combined, and there are no borders. There is an element in each part of the painting that connects with the rest. In a similar manner, I like to introduce an element in a piece and bring it back in a sneaky way to give a feeling of togetherness. I believe playing and listening to both Western and Iranian classical music inspired this.
Anyone who has had a great mentor knows how impactful their word can be, and you have had many! What is the best piece of advice you have received? Does it still resonate with you today?
As I alluded to before, I didn’t have the best introduction to music until I started studying piano with Rasool. Even then, I had doubts about pursuing a career as a musician. Both Rasool and my setar teacher Ali Bayani shared the same Hafez poem with me on separate occasions:
I shared with the morning breeze the ancient lore of (my) longing
A voice replied: rely on God’s infinite grace
Morning prayers and late-night sighs are the key to attain the relished treasure
Follow this path that you may reach the threshold of the beloved.
I interpreted this to mean I can always achieve my dreams through consistent hard work. Even today, that verse allows me to persevere through the hardships that composers often face. I have dedicated a piece to this message and named it Lore of Longing.
Shirley Chisholm was an amazing woman, fighting to change history for all the right reasons. You have recently scored a short documentary, directed by Jennifer and Ursula Burton, detailing Chisholm’s life and achievements. Tell us about your collaborative process for “Shirley Chisholm, a Catalyst for Change.” What was your main inspiration for the sound palette?
It was such a joy to collaborate with Jennifer, and I am so grateful to have worked with her. She left the style of music and instrumentation to me. But when it came time to give me feedback, she was very articulate about her vision. Our communication allowed me to tailor the score for the film.
Even though the documentary is short, it has many powerful messages, and I wanted my music to help support them. The film is in eight parts. Each section tells us a story about how strong, confident, determined, yet delicate and passionate a person Chisholm was. She impacted many people of all generations and nationalities, including me. She was the inspiration for my music. Each figure, melody, theme, and even rhythm is based on her characteristics.
You have already done so much within the arts and music, and you are currently pursuing an MA in Music Composition at Tufts University on a merit scholarship, congrats! Where do you see yourself in ten years? Is there anything in particular that you want to work on in the near future?
I am ambitious, for better or worse! I have three main goals for the next decade:
My immediate plan after finishing my master’s degree (May 2022) is to continue scoring for impactful films. I want to connect and work with more accomplished film composers and filmmakers so that I may improve my skills. I’m considering moving to LA or New York in order to be closer to others in the field.
As a long-term goal, I would like to be commissioned to write concert music. Ideally, this would be at a large scale so that I may introduce Iranian music and culture to the world.
It’s not easy to be a female musician in Iran, as there are many restrictions for us there. For example, women are prohibited from singing. I want to be a source of inspiration for Iranian women and composers. If I can strive towards my dreams, then so can they.
Check out Yasaman’s AWFC profile.
Interview by Michael Van Bodegom Smith
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