Special Persian New Year Celebration Draws Crowds

Barbat-player Hossein Behroozinia, left, and percussionist Pejman Hadadi perform during the Persian New Year celebration on April 3.

News Story: April 9, 2013

Electricity was in the air as students, families and friends gathered at Sacred Heart University last week for a special Persian New Year celebration. At the opening reception, guests nibbled on various traditional desserts such as almond cookies, baklava and rice cookies. Next to the sweets, attendees talked, laughed and helped themselves to a variety of teas. There was an atmosphere of anticipation and excitement for the events to come.

Hennalyne Sedigh, a December 2012 graduate of the University of Hartford, sat on an orange armchair with an open book, practicing a passage in Farsi. “We are celebrating the Persian New Year, which is the most scientifically accurate new year since it starts on the exact nanosecond the earth finishes its rotation around the sun,” she said. “It marks the first day of spring, and the holiday changes every year based on that timing.”

Later, on the stage at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Sedigh read the poem she had been practicing – a work by 12th-century Iranian poet Hafiz. Robin McAllister, professor of English at Sacred Heart, then repeated the reading in English, which he had translated himself. “Sit, drink with the wise. In the woods, every leaf tells its own story. Easy is the path if you know the way,” McCallister read.

Cima Sedigh, professor of education at SHU, organized the event. “I believe peace is the world’s most urgent need and, as an educator, I try to explore the possibilities for peace building and effective conflict prevention,” she said. “I find Persian New Year to be a great festivity to unite people and to plant the seed of peace.” Sedigh has organized events like this in the past, including “An Evening with Rumi, Poet of Peace” in 2007 and previous Persian New Year celebrations. 

This year’s celebration also featured guest speaker Hadi Jorati from Yale University, who discussed the history and background of the Persian New Year. He explained that new year, or Nowruz, means new day. “It is like a garment you wear every day, a new garment of green. In Iran, it is the celebration of spring and new life,” Jorati said.  “The country of Iran is just a small corner of what was once the culture of Iran or Persia. When we talk of Nowruz, there are distinct segments and histories that have now been blended together as one.” The professor spoke of remembering his family traditions, where his father would bring out a very old Koran and a book of poetry, and they would sit around a ceremonial cloth waiting for the new year. “Nowruz is about the humanity that we all share. We can celebrate together as the human race, regardless of any politics,” Jorati said.

Sacred Heart biology student Carmen Ortega ‘16 said she enjoyed the unique event. “It’s a moving experience – to actually be able to listen to Professor Jorati from Yale come in and then be able to experience the culture first hand,” she said.

Renowned musicians Hossein Behroozinia and Pejman Hadadi delighted the crowd with Persian music of both traditional and folk varieties. Edward Malin, associate dean of Sacred Heart’s Isabelle Farrington College of Education, introduced the artists. “This music is primarily improvisational, with ancient themes of Persian music created anew in front of us,” he said. While playing their stringed and percussion instruments, Behroozinia and Hadadi sat on colorful patterned blankets draped over chairs. Hadadi, who has been playing the tombak drum since he was 10 years old, educated the audience on the musical instruments. “Hossein is playing the barbet and I will be using the daf drum. It has sets of chains and rings inside, covered behind the drum head,” he said. The daf is considered a sacred instrument and is also used in classical music. Hadadi also played frame drums mounted on snares, which were tuned at melodic intervals.

The music, which was explained as promoting peace, flowed through patterns, changing from contemplative to fiery and passionate. The artists improvised, making eye contact and playing off of each other. Hadadi played his instruments as an extension of himself, using every part of his hands on the drums. Behroozinia animatedly played the barbet, tilting his head, shrugging his shoulders and truly feeling the melodies. The songs transitioned from slow-paced and celebratory to frenzied and ferocious bursts of sound. At the conclusion of each song, the crowd erupted in applause with uncontainable cheers.

Helen Margolnick, a student in Sedigh’s multicultural education class, said that she and her daughters particularly enjoyed the music. “I was amazed by the instruments and was so glad to get a visual of such lovely music. I was very impressed how only two men were able to make such vibrant music that expressed the Persian culture so well,” she said. “I appreciated what the drummer said about bringing peace and unity in the world.”

People traveled far and wide to be part of the festivities. Payman Shamsollahi, a Seattle native on a business trip to Springfield, Mass., found out about the program and drove 90 minutes to Fairfield with three of his American colleagues to attend. “Cima did an excellent job introducing Persian culture to the outside world. The musical part was especially amazing,” he said.

The event, which was sponsored by Sacred Heart University’s Isabelle Farrington College of Education, University College, the Middle Eastern studies, occupational therapy and nursing programs, the Council of Graduate Students, MARS, Mission & Catholic Identity, Human Journey Core Curriculum and the Iranian community, was a beautiful representation of the richness of the Persian culture. Velma Heller, professor of education at Sacred Heart, relished the occasion and all that it had to offer. “The complex history, the lyrical poetry and the rhythmic, melodious music against a backdrop of creatively displayed artifacts, the splashes of color and beauty—to say nothing of the delicious delicacies—all combined to create a cultural feast for the senses,” she said.