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Cellist, new graduate Kimia Jamshid-Arsani hopes to change the world

​Kimia Jamshid-Arsani began playing cello at age 12 when her family moved to the United States.

The audience applauded as Kimia Jamshid-Arsani took the stage. She walked out in a powder blue dress, shiny black heels, hair parted down the middle in a bun and cello in hand. As a performance major at the University of Delaware, she was prepared to begin a solo show for her senior recital. The lights dimmed as the spotlight steadied on her. She gracefully lifted the bow of her cello, took a deep breath and began to play.

As long as she can remember, music has always been a big part of Arsani’s life. Born and raised in Iran, she was exposed to music at an early age through her mother and brother, who both took lessons. By age 7, she began lessons for the tanbour.

When Arsani was 12, her family moved to Washington, D.C. Although she wanted to continue playing the tanbour, a traditional Persian instrument, it was not offered at her school. On the recommendation of her tanbour teacher, she chose the cello.

She struggled. She was unfamiliar with classical music and said she felt like she was starting over. Others thought she transitioned very well. After only one year of studying the cello, Arsani was accepted into the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, where she continued to excel.

“I was at a point where I already knew how to play one instrument very well so having to go back was like, ‘Oh, I have to start from scratch with another instrument,’ ” she said. “It's a really frustrating process, but I really wanted to focus on it and being at Duke, my high school, was really encouraging because I had teachers that were really supportive.”

​In a UD practice room, Arsani prepares for her upcoming senior recital.

Through one of her teachers, she became acquainted with UD and applied. Lawrence Stomberg, a UD professor of cello, remembers his first impressions of Arsani during the audition process.

“I remember her being a very — and she still is — a really interesting and thoughtful musician and person,” Stomberg said. “There was something very sort of special about the way she carried herself. She’s a person with a lot of curiosity, both about music — which I’m most interested in when I’m talking to prospective students — but just about life, too.”

A few months later, in the fall of 2014, she began her journey as a music major at UD.

Before Arsani graduated on Saturday, May 26, a UD writer and photographer spent a day with her during the spring semester. Her days were filled with classes, rehearsals, music theory and personal time to practice both the cello and the tanbour.

9:30 a.m. - Chamber Music Literature

Arsani’s Thursday mornings began with Chamber Music Literature class. The class filed in as Philip Gentry, an assistant professor in the Department of Music, set up his computer. He gave a brief history of Beethoven’s life before analyzing specific pieces.

“Beethoven is the center of music history,” Gentry said as he wrapped up the history portion of the lesson.

Arsani sat in the front row of the roughly 25-person class. She had her laptop out to follow along with the slides and music scores, but took notes by hand. She rested her chin in her hand as Gentry prepared an audio clip for the class to dissect.

​Arsani continues to play the tanbour, a traditional Persian instrument that she began playing at age 7 in Iran.

“How do you build up tension in music that holds your attention for a long time?” Gentry asked the class.

They were going over the first string quartet of Beethoven Opus 59. The class had a lively debate about the overarching themes. Could Beethoven's work be classified as romantic or classical? They agreed his work is too complex to give a simple label.

11 a.m. - lunch at Saxbys

After class, Arsani’s friends, Jonathan Terry and Amy Noonan, joined her for lunch. They met at Saxbys, a coffee shop located just outside of the Amy E. du Pont Music Building. The trio munched on bagels and coffee while they chit-chatted about life and the approaching end of the semester.

Naturally, the conversation gravitated toward music. They talked about who was working on what songs, the challenges of pieces they’ve all played and the works that touched them the most.

12:30 p.m. - Advanced Analysis and Interpretation

Alongside her dreams of being a musician, Arsani is also toying with the possibility of becoming a composer. During the graduate-level music theory course, her classmate Christopher Leich presented his analysis of "Danzon No. 2" by the Mexican composer Arturo Márquez.

Most students had the score pulled up on their computer screens and took notes on their observations. Arsani lightly swayed to the music as the song played in the background. Her professor, Jennifer Barker, let the class’ curiosities and instincts guide the discussion.

​Like many other subjects, music has gone digital. Here, Arsani reviews a music score on her laptop during a music theory class.

Near the end of his presentation, Leich noted the time signature changes throughout the piece. He demonstrated by clapping the resulting syncopated rhythm.

He opened it up to the floor to hear other opinions. Arsani said the orchestra did not conform to a typical Western style. She said it was nice to hear a piece that sounded true to its cultural origins.    

2 p.m. - Chamber Ensemble

After a morning of history and theory, she was finally ready to play her cello. Arsani stopped by her locker in the music building to get her instrument.

Her last class of the day was rehearsal time with her quartet members — Marius Sander (violin), Erin Gartland (violin) and April Beard (viola). Led by Stomberg, they were working on "String Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor" by Dmitri Shostakovich.

They sat in a circle with their stands and pages of sheet music in front of them. Arsani lightly tapped her black boot as she waited for her entrance. Stomberg intently followed the score on his device while the quartet played.

Of course it was not perfect. Whenever Arsani made a mistake, she flashed a sheepish smile, but quickly refocused and moved on.

Stomberg offered his critiques. On that run through, the players were a bit out of sync. They went through it again, but something was still off.

How does this section of the music make you feel, Stomberg asked. Nostalgic, Arsani responded. He asked them to try and evoke those emotions while they play.

“As a group, you want to think about what are we getting at here,” Stomberg said.

After her classes, Arsani had Symphony Orchestra rehearsal. The orchestra met on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

In previous years she would reserve late nights for more practice time since her days were jam-packed. As a senior, she has more time to herself. Now, she normally finishes up any lingering class work and has dinner.  

Impacting the world through music

Most people in the music department know who Arasani is. They admire her ability to not only see a need, but also act toward a change.

While at UD she helped develop the annual Women in Music concert series, whose mission is to highlight music created by women.

“As musicians we just play a lot of music by men. Especially older, dead men — we always say,” Arsani said. “ So something I’m passionate about is getting new music out there and music by women because it’s not something we always hear about.”

The largely student-run effort, takes a lot of organization. As the president of UD’s College Music Society, Arsani took on a lot of the responsibility to put the program together.

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed.

“She wants to help make where she is a better place and to acknowledge things that need to be better,” Stomberg said.

This is in addition to her own school work. She’s not filling a requirement or doing any of this for credit, he said. She really cares.

“She does it because she feels its important and she’s passionate about it,” Stomberg said. “That’s what I think has brought her to be a leader because people recognize that and recognize that she’s genuine.”

Other faculty members agree. Last year, Arsani won the De Martini Award — given by the faculty to an upper class student who demonstrates humanitarianism, professionalism, integrity and unselfishness.

After graduation, Arsani joined the UD Symphony Orchestra on a 12-day tour of China, culminating with a performance at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center. She plans to take a year off from school, so she can continue to practice and take some time to build up her composition portfolio. Afterward, she would like to apply for graduate programs.

Her dream is to change the world through music. What drives her is the power of music to rouse feelings and help people connect with their emotions, she said. That’s what propels her love for certain music and artists.

“If I want to feel like a diva, I listen to some Beyoncé. If I want to go into my core deep deep feelings I listen to Iranian music,” Arsani said. “It’s just so powerful.”

And that’s what she wants to do for others.

“When you listen to something you feel something, whether you want to or not,” Arsani said. “It's just that’s the power of music and I think right now we live in a world where a lot of bad things are happening and the one common ground we all have is music. So, that’s why I do what I do every day.”

Article by Carlett Spike; photos by Evan Krape

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Cellist Kimia Jamshid-Arsani, who graduated this May with a major in music performance, believes that music has the power to connect people and to change the world.

​Cellist Kimia Jamshid-Arsani, who graduated this May with a major in music performance, believes that music has the power to connect people. Her dream is to use music to change the world.

6/1/2018
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