An Interview with Babak and Pedram Falsafi, the talented classical guitar players

Interview by: Shirirn Tabibzadeh

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I came to know the talented Falsafi brothers recently at one of their concerts. I was quite impressed with their music, demeanor, and polished manners. Both Babak and Pedram are extremely talented, down to earth, and indeed a source of pride for the community in Diaspora. I decided to arrange an interview, on the spot. We set a date and met a few days later at their studios in Fremont, California, where they teach classical guitar to both children and adults.



Shirin—I would like to thank you both for accepting my invitation for this interview. Please tell us a bit about yourself, where were you born, your childhood, your elementary and high school, etc.

Babak--I was born in Tehran, in 1971, went to Razi elementary and high school.

Q--how about you Pedram?

Pedram-- I was born in 1978, I went to Afshar elementary school and Razi high school. Half way through the high school I left Iran and came to California to continue my high school at Lee high school where I graduated from.

Q--Babak, when did you leave Iran?

Babak--I left Iran a couple of times. The first time I went to Syria and Turkey to Karaburun Summer Guitar Festival for a short time and then to Dubai to perform in a friendly environment for the Iranian community. My second sojourn abroad was a bit longer. This time I left Iran for the Czech Republic and studied music in Prague Conservatoire for 2 years. Afterward, I returned to Iran, stayed there for about a year or so, performed and taught music, and then left Iran for the third time for California in 2000.

Q--Pedram, did you continue your education after graduating from Lee high school?

Pedram--yes, I was admitted to the Music Conservatory of San Francisco and graduated. I am now seeking admission to their Masters program.

Q--and you Babak? Do you plan to continue your education?

Babak--I am going to the same school next year.

Q--doing your graduate studies in music?

Pedram-- yes, we are going to go to the same school and we are both very excited because this is the best opportunity for us to play ensemble and focus on playing duos. The school has agreed to provide us with chamber music programs.

Q--what does this mean? Is this a special program that you two can perform duets?

Babak-- yes, something in that range. Usually, if it is a big orchestra, it is called a symphony orchestra, but if the orchestra consists of only two people, they call it a duo or duet, 3 people, a  trio, 4 people, a quartet and so on. We are going to play duos and that is extremely important and an excellent opportunity for us to play together.

Q--it is so interesting that the two of you are so much into music, especially into classical guitar. What made you interested in music and at what age?

Babak-- I think I had it in me from an early age. I was 7 or 8 when I started to feel the urge and love for music. I enjoyed all kinds of music, especially Persian pop music. My uncle was the driving force in this love of music. He was seriously involved with music and was an excellent guitar player. I don't know what happened that I fell in love with the piano but for whatever reason, my parents decided to buy me a guitar. I think the reason was that they thought guitar was an instrument that was very close in body and shape to tar and setar, the Persian instruments; also, because they thought there are already a lot of pianists in Iran compared to the number of guitarists.  My uncle always said he wished he had started playing classical guitar from a very early age. He encouraged my parents to get me the guitar. They took me to the Tehran  Classic Guitar Canoon and I started learning guitar from the Iranian renowned guitarist, Bagher Moazen.


Q--and you Pedram, did you simply follow the older brother?

Pedram-- I don't know. I guess I did not have that much choice! When I was 10, Babak was 17 and he was already playing for a couple of years. He started teaching me guitar. When I was 16 or so, I left Iran, but continued practicing on my own until I went to the Conservatory.

Q-- what were your parents’ reactions? Did you have to convince them on selecting music as your profession? Did they try to persuade you to choose something more financially rewarding and stable?

Babak-- of-course, we had a hard time convincing them! Although they both love music - in fact our father is a music lover and has a great voice and has a lot of musician friends - nevertheless they looked at music as a sort of hobby for us and not as our main profession.   When I decided to dedicate my life to music, there were a lot of disagreements and uneasiness, but this did not deter me. I continued practicing because this kind of love doesn't understand logic. It is just in you. For Pedram, it has been much easier, I should say!

Q--Pedram, did you have the same feelings about music?

Pedram--yes, it was one of those things that grows on you as you get older. At 18, I knew for sure that I was going to study music, especially classical guitar. I already knew there were substantial differences between playing the piano and guitar. Very soon I realized that there are more chances for guitarists than pianists and specially there is more room for classical guitarists .  I believe our parents’ resentments worked to our advantage. We had to work harder and be more creative.

Q-- to prove yourself?

Pedram--Yes, to prove ourselves and make a point that you can go after what you love and make ends meet too.

Babak--as Pedram said, our parents' uncertainty, made us eager to struggle more. Nothing came up easy for us but it became almost like a philosophy of our life, it became a path to eternity and a way of thinking for us. It made us closer and more interested in other cultures. Through that, we learned about others who struggled for what they believed in, we learned about other people's miseries, their poverty, and their misfortunes. All these gave us more strength and plenty of ideas for creating music that can touch hearts.

Q-- is guitar the only instrument that you two play, do you play any other instruments?

Pedram-- I started learning setar a while ago, don't know why, I guess I felt homesick.

Q--any similarities between guitar and setar?

Pedram--yes, a lot of similarities, one of which is that in both you use your right hand fingers and not a pick or mezrab, you use your fingers and nails. I enjoyed playing it a lot and we also both play the piano.

Q--do you work and practice together?

Pedram--we practice on our own first and when the duos are almost ready we work on them together and in these rehearsals we mostly work on the ensemble aspects of the performance.

Babak--before Pedram left for the US, we used to practice together and performed a couple of duos. Then we were separated until 3 years ago that we both went back to Iran. I went to Iran from Prague and Pedram a few days later, from San Francisco . We had the entire summer to practice. It wasn't easy at first because we had not practiced together for a long time.  But we finally had our duet. It went great. Now, fortunately, we have all the time to practice together and after one year of practice, we feel much more comfortable playing duets.

Q--It looks like you two are in perfect harmony, no rivalries? no problems? fights?!!

Babak--oh, yes, there are, there are a lot!

Pedram--as I mentioned before, this kind of fighting and struggling gives you strength and a reason to work harder to excel. All these  have strengthened the ties between us. We have come to have a better understanding and a more in-depth realization of each other's feelings and as time goes on we enjoy more working with one another.

Q-- do you sometimes write your own songs?

Pedram--yes, I have composed 3 songs. Right now, I am working on a duet, it is called "the oriental tango", it is a fantasy piece. When it is done we will let you know.

Q--in your last concert you played some of Marin Marais' work and also one of your own, Pedram. I also enjoyed the Comparsita that you played on request. Do you sometimes get ideas from the masters and blend it with your own composition to create something new?

Pedram--yes, in our concert we usually have a blend of both.

Babak--in our last concert we had something special, an arrangement from Marin Marais called "tout les matin du monde", originally played using a viole de bomba which is an old instrument, something like a Cello. We arranged it to play with as duos using guitar. We also arranged some orchestra music with two guitars. Playing orchestra music with one guitar is not easy, it does not give you enough possibilities.

Q-- what do you mean?

Babak--you play classical guitar with your right hand fingers and the thumb plays the bass, so you have almost all the possibilities that a pianist has, so two guitars will be like a piano duo and we can even think of playing orchestral works.


Q--when did classical guitar start, is guitar a more recent means of playing classical music?

Pedram--classical guitar started from un instrument called vihuela during the baroque time.

Q--is it the same as viola?

Pedram--no, viola is a string instrument, a larger violin.  Vihuela was an early form of guitar which was mainly used in Spain . It wasn't used very extensively due to its short range and small number of strings, I believe it had  4 to 5 strings.  At the end of the baroque period and the beginning of the classical time, around 1750, vihuela evolved and another string was added to it, it became a six string instrument and it was renamed guitara in Italy. I think classical guitar started at the beginning of the classical time.

Babak- guitar existed even during the baroque time, Gaspar Sanz was a baroque guitar player. During the classical and romantic period the most famous was Fernando Sor and in 19th centaury, Francesco Tarrega, both were from Spain. The problem with guitar has always been its short range volume which never could fill out the big concert halls or even the chambers and salons. In Spain, in royal courts, guitar could not compete with harpsichord, viola, or cello. It has been just recently, in 20th century that guitar could find its way to big concert halls too. Andre Segovia, the great Spanish guitarist, took it to the big concert halls of Europe. He was also the first European to bring guitar and played it in big concert halls of the US. We now have great classical guitar players in the United States and guitar societies. Guitar has become very popular in the US. Andre Segovia, was the first to take it to Japan too. I think changing the gut string to nylon string at the end of 19th century, helped the range and volume of guitar a great deal hence its popularity.

Q--are you influenced by any specific guitarist, anyone that you try to emulate?

Pedram--there are several famous guitarists that we love and listen to their music but we really don't follow anyone in that sense. We enjoy their work and admire them and get ideas from them but we try to have our own taste and depend on our own creativity. But I think Babak was very much influenced by John Williams in the past.

Babak--yes,  Julian Bream and John Williams, the Australian guitarists. These two were my idols, as you might say. I came to know them through the video tapes given to me by my uncle. Living in Iran at the time, I had all the time in the world to listen to them hundreds of time.

Pedram--I loved them a lot too, I listened to them and enjoyed them a lot. But to me, Vladimir Mikonka was something else. His music took me to another planet, I still listen to him.

Q--he was from Czechoslovakia, I believe?

Babak--yes, he was.

Q--do you have a specific technique that can be considered your own or you follow big names?

Pedram-- that is our secret!!, we can't tell you.

Q--is that right?

Babak--Pedram has a good knowledge of classical Persian music, so he invents interesting tunes using the Persian music.

Q--actually that was my next question to know if you are influenced by Persian music at all?

Pedram--of-course, we are Iranians, we love classical Persian music and I personally play around with it quite often and am influenced by it. I have tried it with my teacher at the conservatory. He is always so fascinated with different sounds that I can produce using Persian music. He too, is a composer, always looking for something new.

Q--did you compose anything under the influence!!  (Influence of Persian music of-course!)

Pedram--yes, I have created a few that clearly show that I am a Persian composer.

Babak--you see, our concerts usually have a title. For example, we had a Baroque/Renaissance concert, a Latin concert which we mostly played tangos and Brazilian dances, etc. Some of our concerts are totally based on Iranian or Middle Eastern music. One of them was perfumed on this last April for the Middle Eastern day in San Jose, in which we played Middle Eastern music using guitar. They invited us because guitar sounds like tar and setar.

Q--what is your style, any preferences for old or new?

Pedram--we tend to go more for contemporary music and produce more of a contemporary sound. We prefer modern touch rather than the older style.

Q-- what do you think about classical music in general, who is your idol among the Masters?

Pedram--my favorite has always been Bach, he is the great father of classical music. Everything I have learned, I can say for sure was from him.

Babak--to me in fact it is a little different. Bach and Beethoven are great but to my taste they are a little too heavy. I love romantic music; Chopin, Mendel son, Schubert are my favorites. I listen to Bach too but...

Q--anyone for Mozart?

Pedram--we can't say that we don't like him but Bach is sort of a father for them all. Mozart studied Bach's music, so did Beethoven.  Schubert was influenced by him, Mendelson revived Bach's music. So when I say I love Bach, it means I love them all.

Babak--and also Dominico Scarlatte is the favorite of both of us. We play his transcription for harpsichord. He has something around 550 sonatas for harpsichord. We arrange them with guitar and we enjoy them immensely.

Pedram-- he was a contemporary of Bach, he was born on the same year, died almost on the same year and they never met as far as I know. Two people from two different countries but both created such fantastic songs that are so irresistible to trained ears.

Babak—Scarlatti was born in Italy but lived all his life is Spain. So his music was very much influenced by Spanish culture and fits very well with guitar. although they were composed for harpsichord, but when played with guitar, they sound very natural, especially when played with two guitars. Pedram has been inspired by some of his work.

Pedram & Babak

Q-- now let's get back to real world! Loving music is great but can you support yourself. How do you support yourself financially, does it pay off to be a classical guitar player. Are you a full time song-writer and musician?

Babak--music is our job. We teach classical guitar to Iranian or international students, we play at concert halls or perform in smaller concert halls or at different events. We also play at different senior centers sometimes.

Q-- do you get paid?

Babak--yes we do. We love playing at the senior centers. Meeting all those people from different background makes us work harder to learn the music of different countries. We perform music from Russia, the Middle East, South America, etc. It is so great communicating with them through their own music.

Q--and you get paid for the concerts that you have at different cultural events and universities?

Babak--yes, our next concert is going to open in San Jose Museum of Art, on June 9th. We are going to perform Vivaldi Double Concerto with Chamber Orchestra.

Q-- you also have a studio, do you teach children or adults?

Babak--children mostly but adults too and we teach private lessons at home too.

Q--do you have a phone # where they can reach you if they need to contact your for your classes?

Babak--if they want to get lessons, they can reach us through this number: (510)299-4299 and also the email: and ,

Q--with all you do for the love of your life, what is your goal, your aspiration, your dream?

Babak--when we started playing guitar, mom and dad thought it would be just a serious hobby but now we know that it is indeed our main profession. Our goal is to be original musicians with original music and we hope to always remain Iranians who belong to all nations,

Q--any major achievements in the past?

Babak--I should mention that Pedram has been a full time Fulbright scholarship student at the San Francisco conservatory, every four year of his studies. I was awarded foreign student scholarship during my studies at Prague Conservatory to study with Milan Zelenka but we are looking for greater achievements.

Q-- what do you expect from the Iranian community, how can they help you?

Pedram--Iranian community has been very supportive at the individual level. Life in the Bay area is very intense you can't expect more, we really enjoy playing for our own community.

Q--yes, but what do you expect them to do to help you, to support you. Perhaps to come to your concerts, to buy your CDs, or how else?

Pedram--while in Iran, Babak enjoyed the support of people, but here, it is a different story. We need to spread the news among the Iranians who might be interested in Classical music..

Babak--since I came to this country I enjoyed a lot the support that I received from individuals who were interested in our music but there is not any cultural organizations that we know of that might be interested to support us, to make people aware of the existence of the events that we are involved in.

Q--do you mean that you expect the cultural organizations to promote you and to support you by introducing you to the community?

Pedram --yes, but as far as we know such organizations don't exist here.

Bababk--as far as we know, the organizations that exist try either to bring entertainers for pop music or if they want to bring serious music, they tend to invite musicians who play traditional Iranian music either from Iran or other places.

Pedram--to be frank, we have enjoyed the support of individual Iranians but the active organizations of the Bay Area have not been too helpful.

Babak--I think the main reason is that not too many people are interested in classical music and classical music is not something sure at the business level as the pop or traditional Iranian music are. It is as though they say "these guys are playing western music, so they don't need our support." Other communities support their musicians regardless of what they are playing. We know, for example that the Turkish community support their classical musicians and so do many other communities.

Q--I hope they read this and I am sure if they know of your dilemma they will support you. You will have to somehow let them know that their support is crucial for your advancements. Even if you would want to ask help from American organizations they will probably want to know what your community is doing for you.

Babak--exactly, whenever we reach for a grant and other financial support, their first question is exactly that, what is your community doing for you, how they are helping you.

Q--and in production level, did you produce anything, any CDs, Videos, etc?

Pedram--we are just working on our CD, nothing is out yet. It will be out soon, it is called "tango," it mostly consists of Argentinean tangos with some contemporary tango composers, including myself.

Q--great, let us know when it is out. One final question: do you have a family of your own or you are yet too young for that!?

Pedram--no, we are married to our music for now!

Q--anything you would like to add, any thoughts, any message?

Babak--although our music is different but still we enjoy the support of individuals who so whole heartedly encourage our effort, we are so grateful to them. But we need more support from Iranian organizations and we hope to be able to attract their attention to our music, our efforts, and our cause. We hope to be able to make a point that music should not know boundaries, every inch of their help will give us energy and hope.

Pedram--we would like to thank you for the interview and hope to see more of our compatriots in our future concerts and hope we can count on their support.

Shirin--I thank you both for this interview and I wish you more and more success in the future. we are all so proud of you and wish you all the best.