News ID: 115994
Published: 0250 GMT April 19, 2015
Shirmohammad Espandar

Sole doneli player in world

Sole doneli player in world

Shirmohammad Espandar, the master doneli player, still plays this musical instrument at the age of 85. His performance is mesmerizing.

Espandar received an honorary doctorate from Jacques Chirac, the former president of France. He has traveled to many Latin American and European countries to perform.

Based in Iranshahr, Sistan-Baluchestan province, Espandar fears that after his death, no one would continue to play doneli and the instrument would be buried with him.

 Excerpts of his interview with Iran Daily follow:

IRAN DAILY: When did you start playing the reed? How were you introduced to the world?

ESPANDAR: I was born in Bampoor (Sistan-Baluchestan province), one of the least developed regions of Iran, in 1931.  I continued animal herding to earn a living and played the reed since childhood.

My family migrated to Pakistan when I was six. I was involved in animal herding and farming there. Then I started to work in a factory.

I became familiar with Haml Shah, who was a prominent reed player. He was eager to teach me music, so I officially learned to play reed.

I got married with my cousin in Pakistan at the age of 15. Then I returned to Iran and continued animal herding and farming.

The officials invited me to play reed in a live program aired by Baluchi radio in Sistan-Baluchestan province.


When did you take up the double reed?

I continued to play Baluchi melodies with a reed until 1983. Then, in light of the help of former president, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, I was invited to Tehran to present a live performance. When I played with a double reed, I got a warm reception.

Then I was invited to European and American countries to play the double reed.

Two reeds are used in doneli. One has nine holes and the other has six.


Do you play other musical instruments?

I haven’t tried other instruments. However, apart from playing doneli, I sing in Kurdish-Baluchi style.

Doneli is an ancient style that originated from India and Pakistan.  For the first time, I have succeeded in playing both single reed and double reed simultaneously.


Why no Iranian or foreigner learnt to play the doneli from you? You are the only person who can play doneli, according to the standards.

The player's breath makes the reed vibrate against the mouthpiece, which vibration is then amplified. In double reed instruments, which use two reeds that are bound together, they require tremendous breath control to play. 

In spite of joint efforts of me and the government for training pupils, nobody could control his/her breath well to play doneli.

The government arranged a class for me to teach doneli to 20 reed masters in the past, but we did not get positive results due to their inability to control their breath.


 Are your children interested in learning doneli?

Out of my four sons and two daughters, only two of my sons expressed their willingness to learn doneli. However, they also could not make progress due to the breath control problem.


You have traveled to over 30 American and European countries. Your numerous doneli performances indicate that foreign audiences are also interested in doneli.  What’s the reason behind this interest?

I dare say foreign audiences are more interested in hearing doneli than Iranians.

I used to travel to Latin American nations such as Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela before performing in Europe.

During the presidency of Jacques Chirac, I went to The Elysee Palace upon his invitation and gave a doneli performance.

Then, he awarded me an honorary doctorate of traditional music.  This success led to my invitation to other European nations.

Also, officials from Sweden, Turkey, Arab nations such as the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, as well as Pakistan, sent invitations to me to give live performances in their countries.


Isn’t it difficult for you to give long and live performances since you are on threshold of 90 years?

Although I face problems due to diseases such as heart failure and blood lipid, I can give live performances by the grace of God.


As one of the major figures of Iranian traditional music, you have been honored several times in recent years. No one can play the doneli like you and inherit this art. What is your plan to preserve doneli?

I cannot find a talented pupil to teach doneli due to my old age.

Therefore, I hope the officials take measures to hold doneli training courses to preserve this art.


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