Naeim Rahmani is unusual in the world of classical guitar. He began formal lessons at age 22, an age most serious players had already been practicing for up to 4-5 hours per day since their mid-teens.
The Iranian native moved to the United States in 2003. He's one of three guest soloists at the upcoming Classical Mandolin Society of America Convention in uptown Normal the week of Oct. 9.
The three soloists will perform at a variety of evening concerts during the convention, culminating in a Saturday night, Oct. 12, "En Masse" concert at ISU's Center for the Performing Arts that will include over 100 mandolinists.
Rahmani is on the music faculty at Bellevue College in Washington, and director of the Seattle-Isfahan Guitar Project. That is a career trajectory the now 30-something told WGLT would have been much more difficult had he tried to move to the United States more recently.
“Right now, it’s all shut down. You can’t really get into the country,” said Rahmani via Skype from his home in Seattle. “The thing happening with the (Trump) administration that they won’t take refugees … I came as a refugee.”
He said his Iranian heritage hasn’t been an issue inside the country, at least that he knows about. Air travel is another story.
“I’ve been a U.S. citizen since 2008, but because of my first and last name, I can’t really check-in online. So, I have to go through the booth, and it takes sometimes 40-45 minutes. And sometimes these are for domestic flights,” said Rahmani.
He recounted a recent episode where he was returning to Seattle from Berlin, Germany, where the airline couldn’t print his boarding pass.
“But I had my ticket, so I said, ‘Well just use the ticket,’ and they said, ‘Well we can’t really print out your boarding pass.’ And I was headed to Cologne and from there I was headed to Seattle. They just said, ‘Look, we’re going to give you a boarding pass from Berlin to Cologne, but we cannot print a boarding pass from Cologne to Seattle. That needs to be handled when you get to Cologne.”
That dance is something most U.S.-born musicians don’t have to deal with, although it’s well known baggage workers can handle musical instruments roughly.
“Usually having a guitar makes it so difficult,” said Rahmani. “I had this experience flying with United about three years ago where they broke my guitar. A very expensive guitar. It got fixed but it’s always a battle with airlines to travel with my guitar.”
When Rahmani plays with the “En Masse” mandolin orchestra Oct. 12, it won’t be the first time joining a large mandolin ensemble. He staged his own show “The Wheel” recently, collaborating with the Seattle Mandolin Orchestra. Since he learned music in the United States, since he didn’t get a musical background in his Isfahan, Iran home town. These new compositions for orchestra and guitar features a new generation of Iranian and Seattle-based composers.
“The whole idea was to bring together performers and composers from these two cities,” said Rahmani. “These deal with concepts that incorporate a wealth of music, art, and literature that exists in Iranian culture.”
The five pieces in the program are all based on the poetry of Omar Khayyam, one of Iran’s great poets. “The Wheel” was an image and concept that kept spinning in his own mind.
“There are things happening with refugee’s or the whole state. Sometimes you’re not the one who is running it, somebody else is running it for you. It’s the whole idea of the wheel … if they are rotating it, it can click and stay somewhere. And right now we’re in the situation that has it stopped in … not a good place,” said Rahmani.
He thought The Wheel would be an ideal platform to introduce Khayyam to a new generation of Americans. He also wanted to highlight the similarities between Iranians and Americans.
“It’s sort of a cliché, but it’s just love of the music or the passion you have for creating the sound and how that sound affects you,” said Rahmani. “This music doesn’t sound Iranian, because that’s not what I was focused on. There is a common connection we have when we share something.”
Though he would love to include literature and poetry inside that project to show how Iranian culture has a deep connection to poetry and music.
“I would love my American audience or people in general get to know that culture a little bit better than the things that are happening,” said Rahmani.
Naeim Rahmani is one of three guest soloists at the Classical Mandolin Society of America Convention in uptown Normal the week of Oct. 9.
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