The Especial Instrument for Iranian Ceremonies
The Especial Instrument for Iranian Ceremonies
The word “sornā” is a Pahlavi derivative of sūrnāy, which is a compound of 'sūr-' meaning festive ceremony and '-nāy' (the general name for Persian wood wind instruments). It is also suggested that "sorna" is a cognate of "horn", as "sorna" simply means horn. Even in Persian there is another wind instrument, karna that its name seems to be a cognate of both "sorna" and "horn".
The instrument's history dates back to the antiquity. According to the Shahnameh, it was King Jamshid who invented the sorna. Of course, it seems more to be a legend not a historical fact. The famous Persian poet Rumi has mentioned the sorna and dohol (double-faced drum) in his poetry. Except the literary evidences, there are also number of artefacts from Sasanid dynasty (224-651 CE), depicting sorna including a silver dish currently in Hermitage Museum.
Sorna was an outdoor instrument of Iranian regional music. All of Iranian peoples use the sorna in their festive ceremonies except the Turkmens. This ethnic group lives in east- Northern Iran, the south-eastern shore of the Caspian sea and their music is very different from other Persian folk music. Sorna spread in the vast area from India to North Africa and Greek under mastery of Achaemenid and Sassanid emperor. Nowadays, we can find this instrument in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkey and throughout the Middle East. Hence, there are many different sonorities and special characters of the sorna among the different ethnicities in Iran such as Lor, Bakhtiyari, Kurdish, Azeri, Gilak, Mazandaran, Kormanj, Baluch, Sistan, central Persian, Khorasan (Torbat Jam) and etc. Sorna is usually accompanied by Persian percussions such as the dohol, naqare, dayereh and tombak.
Listen to sorna and dohol in Lori style by Shah Mirza Moradi
Listen to the sorna and dohol in Bakhtiyari style by Gord Ali Asgari and Ali Akbar Mahdipur
Moreover we can hear voice of Sorna in funeral ceremony exceptional. Some of Persian tribes who is live in Zagros mountain range west of Iran such as Bakhtiyari, Lor, Kurd and Qashqayei use Sorna and Dohol in their mournfully ceremony infrequency. The funeral song has different names. Chapi and Chamary are alike, first in Bakhtiyari and second in Lori languages.
The sorna belongs to the aerophone instruments family which is the Trumpet-like instrument but is played like the oboe. The sorna can be categorized in double- reed musical instruments of the woodwind family. It is consist of two parts, reed section called “Mil Sorna” in Persian, and a wood part which is the cone shape same as bugle. Therefore, the player’s fingers can stay on it. The wood part of this instrument has eight holes, seven of which are located on the front and one on the back of it. It's usually made of ebony or other strong woods.
A small amount of air is forced by pressure through a small metal tube called the staple which serves to hold the reed and match it to the bore. This requires the player to make sure, as in playing the oboe, that one also empties the lungs of stale air when taking a new breath.
The recent sornas are made in five size so all players can play them in different tunes. There are F, G, A, Bb and C tuned sornas. The size of F-tuned sorna with 40 cm in length is the longest, and the C-tuned one with 30 cm in length is the shortest.
Playing and players
Generally, the sorna has a range of one octave, but virtuoso players can produce more notes, almost two octaves. The embouchure is the use of facial muscles and the shaping of the lips to the mouthpiece of a wind instrument. A sort of primitive sound is produced when a stream of air is directed by facial muscles toward the reed of the instrument. Then, the sound would be circulated inside the wood part wherever is made a melody by player’s fingers. Finally, the air would be passed from cone shape. Shah Mirza Moradi was one of the best contemporary players of the sorna. He was scintillated in the Avignon festival in 1990 and took a new epithet “The pearl of oceans”.
Sorna has faced new experiences in recent years. The fact that it was a folk instrument for thousands years but nowadays many musicians try to use it in urban music is a big change of status for the sorna, Such a new experiments in using the sorna outside the regional folk music was done by Anushirvan Rohani who composed a piece for the sorna and western orchestra in 1975. He had to tune his orchestra according to the sorna because this folk instrument did not have a standard tuning system.
Ten years later, in 1985 Ali Akbar Shekarchi arranged a different form for the sorna and Persian ensemble. He says “I pitched the sorna’s tune by digital software and made it compatible with to my Persian ensemble”.
The third experience in this field happened in 1990 by Khosrov Soltani with Hossein Alizadeh's cooperation. They made an album for ancient instruments called "No Bang-e Kohan". Soltani in this album experienced some new sonorities by playing the different sizes of the sorna. He basically arranged pieces for a sorna ensemble. Sornas were often played in pairs, one acting as a melodic instrument and the other as the drone one. The one acting as the drone instrument might move to different notes, changing at prescribed places in the composition.
The forth experience of this kind was done in the Republic of Azerbaijan. The Azeri musicians used the sorna with western orchestra in a different way.
Finally, in 2008 I arranged a folk song for the sorna and Persian ensemble. That’s very different from other mentioned experiences. Fortunately, the sorna player was able to play according to my ensemble’s tune.
Thanks to Anushirvan Rohani, Ali Akbar Shekarchi, Hooshang Javid, Keivan Pahlavan, Mansureh Sabet Zadeh, Asemeh Fenderski and Hossein Ali Hosseini and Special thanks to Aryan Rahmanian