(Persia Digest) – The ney flute is an Iranian wind instrument that comes in different sizes and is played in accompaniment with an ensemble or as a solo instrument. It does not require tuning. Historical evidence exists to show that the ney was played in Iran since the Sassanid times, such as the drawings of Ctesiphon. Old and contemporary Persian poets also mention the ney in their compositions, the most significant of these being the “Masnavi Ma’navi” by Molana.

One of the most prominent ney players in the Qajar era was Master Nayeb Asadollah Esfahani. This is what he had to say about his instrument: “I have taken the ney from being played in the sheep fold to the courts of kings.”

Legend has it that the Master traveled to England in attendance with Nasser-e-Din Shah to take part in a big concert for the Queen of England at the time. Many musicians from around the world performed at the concert with a myriad of programs. At the end, Nasser-e-Din Shah signed to the Master who took his ney out of his pocket and began playing to the astonishment of a receptive audience.

Nayeb Asadollah Esfahani playing the ney (centre)

The Queen was so touched by the pleasant sound of the ney that, unwittingly, she takes her necklace off and hangs it on the Master’s neck. Then, she turns to the audience and says: “I say, this Iranian gentleman has achieved such a great sound with a dried piece of reed with a few holes in it that he has put all modern instruments to shame.”

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Great masters of classical Persian music, such as Master Hassan Kassaei and Rouhollah Khaleghi, have nicknamed Master Nayeb as the “God of Ney”. In the book History of Persian Music, Hassan Mashhoun has described Nayeb Asadollah as the best-known, most masterful player of ney in the Qajar era.

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