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November 23, 2000



Raiomond Mirza.

Raiomond Mirza.

Raiomond Mirza was one of five finalists in a BBC competition for new composers recently. Although he didn’t win, he had the satisfaction of knowing he had beaten 1,500 entries to make it to the top five.

Mirza started his creative journey here at Concordia, when he took a double major in Communication Studies and Music. We caught up with him by e-mail from London, where he is building on his Master’s in ethnomusicology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, by doing a joint historical research/original composition PhD at the same institution.

His haunting piece is called Emmanuel, and the performance (which you can still hear on the Web at http://www.bbc.co.uk/talent/composer/) features the soprano voice of his wife, Nina Wadia, and Mirza himself playing a santoor (a Persian stringed instrument played with hammers) and hand chimes, with a “choir” of sampled voices. “I wrote and recorded the whole thing right here in our flat over one weekend,” he said.

The piece started with a film project called The Journey of the Magi. (The Magi, also known as the three kings, or the three wise men, are part of the Christmas story.)

“A few authors have written about these wise men and the accepted wisdom is that they were Zoroastrian priests,” Mirza said. “When I was approached by the film producer to do the score, I immediately heard in my head a sound that bridged ancient Persia to Christianity. This composition is a setting of a 12th-century liturgical Latin text called Viderunt Emmanuel.”

Mirza is effusive in his praise for his Concordia professors. “My time in Comm Studies was particularly special, in part because I think had a really amazing group of talent in my year [1993-1997], but largely because of the atmosphere created by teachers like Dennis Murphy.

“I could walk into Dennis’s office and mention an idea, and he would bounce it back, and before I knew it, a whole avenue of intriguing exploration emerged. His encouragement was superb — and double-edged. If you produced quality stuff for him once, he never let you get lazy and hand him something second-rate.”

Mirza was born in India of Persian ancestry, and grew up in Canada, where he started in music as a drummer in “disreputable blues, rock and jazz bands,” touring Canada and the United States.

He composed music for more than 30 projects here, from film and TV to multi-media installations, and enjoyed working on Comm Studies student projects that got to the Montreal Film Festival. An orchestral suite composed for a Repercussion Theatre production of Romeo and Juliet was given limited release by CBC Canada.

Now he’s in London, finishing his doctoral study of the missing history of musical structures in the prayer performance of Zoroastrians. “I am quite fortunate in that this [work] is quite without precedent, and has taken me and my DAT recorder travelling to villages in Iran and India to make remote recordings of priests in temples.”

He thinks of London as “the undisputed music capital of the world. Within a few city blocks of, say, Camden Town, there are hundreds of opportunities to sample different musical styles, live and recorded. As a student, I’ve gone to major concert halls here for about seven pounds, and have been able to see everything from the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus to Mahler’s Second Symphony to Pete Tong mixing it for a rave to intimate Japanese koto recitals.”