Classical Violin brings Afghan, Iranian to Indiana

Mehran Fanous wanted to play the violin from the moment he first heard a recording at the age of six. And 10-year-old Parastoo Heidarinejad heard the instrument was difficult to play, so she wanted one challenge.

Her dream of becoming a violinist took her from her native Afghanistan and Iran to Bloomington, Indiana. The small Midwestern town is also home to the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, the largest music school in the United States.


Mehran was six years old when he listened to his brother’s recording Gypsy Wise for violin. Upon hearing this recording, Mehran wanted to learn Western classical music and play the instrument.

Just a year later, Mehran’s musical skills earned him a place at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM). There he studied with William Harvey, who happened to be the violinist on the recording.

Harvey, who studied violin with Mimi Zweig at the Jacobs School of Music, is also the founder of Cultures in Harmony. The organization brings together musicians from different countries. One of their main goals is “to promote international and cultural understanding through music and interaction”.

Even before the Taliban took control of the Afghan government in August 2021, Mehran’s family knew she had to go so he could pursue his dream. The Taliban do not allow playing or listening to music.

With the help of the UN refugee agency UNHCR, Mehran and his mother left Afghanistan for India, where he continued to study online with Harvey. Meanwhile, his father, who sings traditional Afghan music, left Afghanistan for the United States in August 2021. And his brother Elham studied piano at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City.

FILE - Students walk to and from classes on the Indiana University campus on October 14, 2021 in Bloomington, Indiana.  (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

FILE – Students walk to and from classes on the Indiana University campus on October 14, 2021 in Bloomington, Indiana. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Mehran arrived in the US in December 2021 after joining Jacobs with the help of Harvey and Zweig. Mehran told VOA of the experience:

“Somehow when I came to the United States, I just felt like I was really happy, like I was in the classroom, I’m enjoying every moment. . . When I’m sitting in the classroom, I feel really happy. . .”

Mehran said he practices the violin for about five or six hours a day – three hours in the morning between classes and another three hours in the evening. He wants to be able to perform the most famous pieces, such as Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

His teacher, Zweig, observed that Mehran had talent and worked hard.

“He’s so smart and so talented, and he practices all the time.”

Asked how people view Afghanistan, Mehran said:

“People sometimes judge Afghanistan by the Taliban, which is really not good. So a good example to give now. . . I was in Afghanistan and without Afghanistan I could never start music. For example, at least in Afghanistan there was a music school.”


Heidarinejad goes by the name Parastoo.

Growing up, she listened to both Persian and Western music. Her father played the setar, a traditional Persian instrument, and her older sister learned to play the piano. After hearing that the violin is a difficult instrument to play, she decided to do it. “I wanted to challenge myself,” she says.

Since Parastoo’s family moved often, she received methodical training only at the age of 17. At that time she traveled to the Iranian capital Tehran every week to take lessons there. A year later she was admitted to the University of Tehran. She said it was her beginning Trip to be a violinist.

FILE - An Iranian musician plays the violin while performing pieces by 19th-century Russian composers with the Tehran Symphony Orchestra at Unity Hall in Tehran, Iran July 3, 2019.

FILE – An Iranian musician plays the violin while performing pieces by 19th-century Russian composers with the Tehran Symphony Orchestra at Unity Hall in Tehran, Iran July 3, 2019.

Like Mehran, Parastoo realized that in order to become a classical violinist, she needed to find an education in a western country. She is now a second-year master’s student in historical performance and baroque violin at the Jacobs School of Music.

The Baroque period in classical music extends from around 1600 to 1750.

“What does it matter genre What is special and interesting about music for me is that there is always something new to discover, even if I often hear or play the same piece.”

She said that while her music education in the US is close to that in Iran, there are many more music festivals and competitions for artists in the US.

It took Parastoo some time to become more comfortable speaking English. During this time, she discovered something she really liked about US culture.

“I was very surprised at how supportive and patient people were. They listened so carefully outside interrupt or to correct myself and try to understand what I was trying to say.”

It also helps that there is a Persian community in Bloomington, Indiana.

“Usually we celebrate important Persian events like the New Year together. I’ve also unbelievable non-Persian friends at school with whom I spend most of my free time.”

Parastoo intends to continue her studies for a doctorate in baroque violin performance. And she hopes to one day teach baroque music and historical performances in Iran.

For now, Mehran and Parastoo bring music and cultures together in the small university town.

I’m Andrew Smith. And I’m Caty Weaver.

Andrew Smith wrote this story for VOA Learning English.

Classical Violin brings Afghan, Iranian to Indiana

Classical Violin brings Afghan, Iranian to Indiana

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words in this story

challenge -n. something difficult to do or achieve

Trip -n. a travel experience, usually of long distance and duration

genre -n. a category or style of art

interrupt -v. doing or saying something that causes another person to stop what they are doing or saying

unbelievable -Adj. excellent, amazing, exceptional


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