September 21, 2020

Rumi Nights relaxes with music, poetry

Rumi Nights featured performers who read poetry and played Sufi music in the Library Auditorium. (Abby Hocking / Photo Assistant)
Rumi Nights featured performers who read poetry and played Sufi music in the Library Auditorium. (Abby Hocking / Photo Assistant)

By Hannah Gow

Four talented and seasoned performers showed off their cultural knowledge, reciting 13th century poet Jalal al-Din Rumi’s verses and whirling to traditional Sufi music during Rumi Nights: Iran and Beyond.

The event was held Thursday in the Library Auditorium and was sponsored by the department of Education. The event was made possible by the two year Title VI Grant awarded by the State for the purpose of expanding the department in areas such as Central Eurasia and the Middle East.

Benjamin Rifkin, Dean of the school of Culture and Society, in addition to Jo-Ann Gross, professor of history, and Cynthia Paces, associate professor of history, attended the event as well.

The performances were based on the teachings, rituals and poetry of Rumi — a Persian poet, mystic and scholar. Rumi was born in present-day Afghanistan and composed over 70,000 verses of poetry.

The intimate auditorium set the mood with dim lighting, traditional rugs and props, a recognizable smell of incense and a spotlight highlighting the stage.

“I came late, after a stressful day, and immediately felt the mood from the soothing music, recitation and incense, though I was worried about finding a seat,” Caitlin Kelleher, freshman history education major, said.

Gross began the night welcoming the audience and performers and introducing Sufism. The poetry reading began with Peter Rogen, former Shakespeare performer of the Helen Hayes Equity Theater at Brooklyn Academy of Music. Rogen read the poem in a deep, articulate voice while Amir Vahab played the tanbour. As Rogen recited a poem, Vahab, a professional musician and singer, followed with a Persian translated version.

Harpist and flautist Arsalaan Fay was dressed in a Sufi traditional sikke hat and black robe with white garments underneath that flared out during dervish whirling — a traditional dance. Sufism refers to the inner, mystical dimension of Islam.

As the music picked up, the music of Vahab with his “shorr” technique — literally translated as “waterfall,” due to the fingers strumming across the strings in a continuous motion like water.

“A lot of it was improvisation,” Vahab said. “I play what I feel and what I feel the audience wants to receive.”

The night was centered on the celebration of Rumi’s tradition and was brought to the College in hopes of introducing the rich culture from East Asia and the Middle East.

“This was a way of giving our students the ability to learn about Islam and Sufism in a different way and getting passed that one-sided view of Islam that so many people have,” Lauren Daidone, junior history major and president of the newly-founded Central Eurasian and Middle Eastern Studies Society, said.

Secretary of the society, Esther Tetruashvily, junior international studies and English major, mentioned Sufism’s universal appeal and importance to the campus and its cultural knowledge.

“This is the first time something like this has come to our school,” Tetruashvily said

Nagesh Rao, professor of English, commented on the importance of the show.

“Listening to this reminds me of rich traditions in other parts of the world we’re so ignorant of,” he said. “It was such a treat.”

Those who missed the show may get another opportunity to learn about these cultures.

“We are thinking of coming back March 21 for the Iranian New Year and possibly for Persian calligraphy as well,” Vahab said.

For more information on the tanbour or Vahab and his music, visit or

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