A Song for the Future – the instruments

6 May 2021

Welsh National Opera is currently streaming A Song for the Future – a new opera filmed in lockdown and created in association with Oasis Cardiff. WNO singers and musicians appear alongside performers who have sought sanctuary in the UK, and this has resulted in a collaboration involving musical instruments traditionally associated with an orchestra and less well-known instruments from all over the world. Composer Boff Whalley gave us an insight into those that might not be as familiar.

The ney is over 5,000 years old and its name comes from the reed from which the instrument is made, found in Iran and other countries in the Middle East. The sound is made by placing it between your teeth and using your tongue and lip. Diaco Geravandi, who plays the ney in A Song for the Future, chose to play the instrument because he liked the sound as a child saying ‘It feels like poetry, like it is speaking to me.’

The tanbor is 6,000 years old, and is one of the oldest instruments still played today. It has 3 strings and 14 frets – as with the ney, Diaco taught himself to play.

The tombak is an Iranian goblet drum and is considered the principal percussion instrument of Persian music. Goblet-shaped drums are played in different regions of Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. Although similarities exist among all goblet drums, the techniques for playing the tombak are different.

Mahnaz Baoosh first tried playing the setar, but came to the conclusion that she preferred to play percussion instruments, saying that ‘playing with just a few fingers on an apparently simple surface to make complicated rhythms is exciting.’

The meaning of the word setar in Parsi is simply, ‘three strings’, although the instrument now has an added fourth string. The setar comes with 26 to 28 frets, a small sound box and a long neck.

Arash Javadi says ‘It’s worth mentioning that Iranian music has got unique musical keynotes – that for example in the setar you can find: Re-koron, Re, Mi-flat, Mi-koron, Mi, Fa, Sol-flat, Sol-koron and Sol.’

These players and their instruments are joined in the piece by Frederick Brown on piano, Steven Crichlow on violin, Louise Rabaiotti on viola and Alison Gillies on cello. If you haven’t watched the film yet, then it’s available to stream until the end of May, so why not give it a view and listen out for the unique sounds of these wonderful instruments?