New course introduces Azerbaijani music to students

May 19, 2013, 10:42 p.m.

As part of an ongoing partnership with the San Francisco World Music Festival, the Department of Music offered a course on the music and culture of Azerbaijan—intended to help promote world music and global activism—this quarter.

Stephen Sano M.A. ’91 DMA ’94, the department’s chair, said the course allowed the program to expand its outreach to minority populations within the musical community.

“Stanford has always been known as a place where traditional Western European classical music was the focus,” he said. “[The school] has a majority-minority student population, and students are coming in with these amazing levels of expertise. We are trying to service that population, and this is one of the courses that addresses that.”

The class, which combines both lectures and practicums, is taught by Krystal Barghelame ’09 M.A. ’09, a musician of Azerbaijani descent who teaches the academic and contextual material, and Imamyar Hasanov, a native of Azerbaijan and a contemporary practitioner of Azerbaijani music. Sano noted that the combination offers students background on the region’s “history, context, musical history and the learning of the art form itself.”

While at Stanford, Barghelame pursued a co-terminal master’s degree with a focus in Persian poetry in addition to studying ethnomusicology. Although she currently works at a software company in Palo Alto, she contributes to the class in her spare time.

“I loved Stanford, and want [in] any way I can [to] be an instrument in bringing enriching experiences to Stanford students,” she said.

Barghelame described Hasanov, whose instrument of choice is the bowed spiked fiddle and who has toured all over the world playing Azerbaijani music, as providing both the musical expertise and teaching ability to lead a successful class.

“In a class where you have students from all different backgrounds, he is able to tune in to what each student’s background is, whether an Arabic oud [a mandolin-like instrument] or a violin—he can tune into instruments and students in a beautiful way,” Barghelame said.

In its inaugural offering, the course has 16 enrolled students. According to the instructors, no level of musical fluency was required to enroll.

“Obviously if you have expertise in any of the forms, it is welcome,” Sano said. “All courses are similar, we welcome it but it’s not required.”

According to Barghelame, the course was prompted by a departmental desire to branch out into different forms of music, a movement led in part by new ethnomusicologist Anna Schultz.

“Anna has offered several courses and been instrumental in bringing specialists in Indian music to campus,” Sano said. “The ethnomusicology part of our office has just exploded in the last few years.”

According to Barghelame, her course was no exception to Schultz’s influence.

“This course brings in new approaches to ethnomusicology, and reinvents how we do ethnography,” Barghelame said.

The two instructors expressed hope that the course would expand the musical—and educational—horizons of its students.

“We have a diversity of students, and that is what we wanted. There are backgrounds in Persian, Middle Eastern, jazz and Western music—incredible diversity in the class,” Barghelame said. “Our goal for these students is to get contact with a new music system and learn about a whole new theory while diversifying their own musical vocabulary.”

Students participating in the class also have the opportunity to perform in the San Francisco World Music Festival, a program that incorporates different multimedia elements to tell stories and think about innovative ways of presenting traditional music traditions from a range of cultures.

“We’ll have real time satellite performances and film crews out in locations around the world streaming musicians and tying to create immediacy and connection with that part of the world,” Barghelame said. “The [festival] thinks about tradition and modernity in a new way. It makes music traditions engaging for an audience that isn’t familiar with them.”

Through their active engagement with Azerbaijani culture, students in the course have embraced the festival’s incorporation of means of communication that create connections with other parts of the world through music.

“Instead of writing papers, students write [on] a blog,” Barghelame said. “We are establishing a network between Stanford and Azerbaijan. We don’t want them to just absorb the information they are learning, but to contribute to the global forum and express their opinions on encountering and learning about a new culture.”

On top of learning about the history and culture of Azerbaijani music, students will also participate in a practicum, culminating in a final performance for the Stanford community. The course’s success might encourage future collaborations with the World Music Festival.

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