It is really hard for me to write in remembrance of the late Ostad Hosain Tehrani who is the father of modern tonbak. He changed the negative view that people had about tonbak and tonbak players.
Every musician that remembers him, not only talks about his great art, but also about his kindness and his true courtesy.
He was born in 1912 in Tehran. Once that he had gone to zourkhaneh (Persian traditional gymnasium) he felt that he loved the tonbak of the morshed (Morshed is the singer and tonbak player of zourkhaneh that leads the athletes to practise marshal art in zourkhaneh. Morshed literally means spiritual guide.) So when he went back to their house, he made a hole at the end of a clay vase and covered the bigger mouth with skin and started playing his first strokes of tonbak on it.
When his father was at work, he was able to practice in a room. But after some days the neighbors complained to his father that sound of Hosain's tonbak was tormenter. So he stopped practicing at home and started playing tonbak in the train (at that time it was called in Iran 'vagon-e-asbi') for people. That train's line was between Lalehzar crossroads and Machine-Garage at the end of the South of Tehran. This was the first experience of this great master of tonbak of playing in front of people.
According to his interviews he started learning tonbak seriously in 1929 under the training of the late Ostad Hosain Khan Esma'ilzadeh (great master of kamancheh) and since at that time there was no notation for tonbak he had to call to mind the rhythms with some interesting phrases such as 'Yek-Sad-o-Bist-o-Panj' and 'Baleh-vo-Baleh-Ba'leh-Digeh'.
For continuing his studies and research he went to the classes of the great masters of his time such as the late Ostad Reza Ravanbakhsh and the late Kangarlu. Even he studied the style of the gypsy tonbak players (tonbaknavazan-e-doregard).
In 1938 he became acquainted with the late Ostad Abolhasan Saba (multi-instrumentalist) and this acquaintance was an important point in his life and then they became heartfelt and sincere friends and this friendship continued till to the time of the sorrowful demise of the late Ostad Saba. He himself said: "… except the recitation of rhythms that I learnt from Khaleghi, [the late Ostad Ruhollah Khaleghi was composer and writer. His famous works are his book on the history of Persian music (Sargozasht-e-Musighi) and his very famous national composition, Tasnif-e-Ey-Iran.] what I know about the theory and practice of Persian music comes from Saba."
In 1940 after the establishment of Radio Tehran, he and some other artists collaborated with the Radio. In 1941 in the Master Course Music School under the directorship of the late Ostad Ali Naghi Vaziri (tar and setar player and theorist of Persian music and specialist of esthetics) he started teaching tonbak. When somebody else became the director of this music school, the programs of the teaching of Persian music was omitted and the teaching activity of Ostad Tehrani was postponed.1949 after the efforts of Ostad Khaleghi and some other musicians the National Music School was established and Ostad Tehrani was invited to teach in this new music school.
In these years after the establishment of National Music Orchestra and National Music Society, he collaborated with these artistic organizations too.
After these activities the tonbak became more popular and many volunteers wanted to learn tonbak and Ostad Tehrani invited some of them in order to establish a musical group for tonbak for the first time in Iran.
After the establishment of Iranian TV in 1958, he started playing tonbak accompanying Ostad Faramarz Payvar (composer and santoor player).
In the first Shiraz Art Festival (1967) he played with Ostad Payvar and was the conductor of the tonbak group and one of the tonbak players of the group was Ostad Mohammad Esmaili.
Not only he was very famous and respectful artist in Iran but also many foreigner musicians had praised his tonbak. He had also some concerts in European cities such as London, Paris and Rome.
His book Amuzesh-e-Tombak, even now, is the most famous instructional book on tonbak. Later this book was reprinted and Ostad Esmaili has recorded the lessons of this book in two cassettes.
Ostad Tehrani recorded some tonbak solos and accompaniments in gramophone disks and some pieces have been reproduced in a cassette.
In 1972, though he was ill, he recorded his last performance, rhythms of zourkhaneh.
He was acquainted with 'radif' repertoire of Persian art music and 'tasnif' (rhythmic compositions of Persian vocal music).
He was kind, smiling, chic (I should explain that he lost one of his eyes while he was working in a technical workshop in his youth and because of this he was always wearing a smoked glasses), self-possessed and witty.
Unfortunately after a long indisposition, he passed away in Feb. 25th, 1974.
May he always be brought happily to mind!
Jan. 9th, 2002.
[KH1]: Ruhollah Khaleghi, Sargozasht-e-Musighi-ye-Iran, Tehran, 1974.
[KH2]: Parviz Khatibi, Khaterati-az-Honarmandan, Bonyad-e-Farhangi-ye-Pariviz-e-Khatibi Publication, Los Angeles, 1994.
[M]: Hassan Mashhoun, Tarikh-e-Musighi-ye-Iran, Tehran, 1994.
[N]: Peyman Nasehpour, A Brief History of Tonbak, 2000.
[T]: Hosain Tehrani, Amouzesh-e-Tombak (Tombak Rudiment), Tehran, 1970.
[Z]: Ella Zonis, Classical Persian Music, An Introduction, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1973.