Lily Afshar is a virtuosa who brings passion to her performance. Acclaimed as "one of the world's foremost classical guitarists" according to Public Radio International. She has become the first woman in the world to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Music in guitar performance. She has received many honors during her career and has received many honors in the course of her career. To name a few, she won the 2000 Orville H. Gibson Award for Best Female Classical Guitarist, as well as the 10th, 11th, and 12th annual "Premier Guitarist" awards by the Memphis Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc. She was chosen as an "Artistic Ambassador" for the United States Information Agency to Africa. Please Watch this 2 mins video to get glimpses of her life journey so far and do read her full interview with Inspirational Beings team to know what all challenges she had to go through during her journey, who was her pillar and guiding force, how she managed to overcome negative events in her life, what is her message to our readers and plans ahead.
Please brief us about your family and childhood? I was born in Tehran, Iran. I come from a musical family. My father who was an electrical engineer played violin and piano beautifully. He encouraged me to study the guitar when he found out how interested I was in it. My sister played the piano. So there was always music in the house. I was raised listening to Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin. Tell us about your education After I finished high school there and came to the USA to pursue my university studies. I discovered the Boston Conservatory and studied there for 4 years and received my BM (Bachelor of Music) degree. I did my MM (masters of Music) degree at the New England Conservatory. Then for my Doctorate (DM) I went to Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL, and became the first woman in the world to ever receive a Doctorate in Guitar Performance. In the summers, I studied guitar at music festivals and schools in Banff, Canada, Aspen, Colorado, Siena, and Gargnano, Italy. Why did you decide to become a professional guitarist? I always loved music, but I never imagined being a professional guitarist at the international level. It is up to all of us how we react to situations in life and give meaning to them. When I look back, there were many events in my life that lead me to become a professional guitarist. My father sacrificed a lot to send me to America for further studies. He put all his hopes and dreams in me. He always had faith in me and encouraged me to become an international artist and a musician.
When I was studying for my bachelor's degree, the revolution in Iran happened and after that, there was a 10-years war with Iraq. That separated me from my family. I poured all my frustrations and pain into my guitar and tried to make the best out of these negative events. I kept spending more time with my guitar. The guitar became my therapy from the pain of separation and loss. In the end, I became a better player and got ahead quickly. Then my mission has always been to be the best guitarist. I have worked hard and diligently to get to the international level. I always wanted to make a CD on my music, but I have surpassed that goal and have released seven CDs. I have surpassed all the goals I have set for myself because I have dedicated my life to achieving them. How and why you had to separate from the family and about our hardship to reach them? It was a custom in my family to go to either Europe or the USA for further studies. My grandfather was one of the first Iranians to graduate from an American university. He studied Political Economy at Columbia University. My father studied engineering at Birmingham University and Transportation at Stanford University. When I got admission to a college in Boston, I was not sure whether to pursue higher studies there. That time I did not know that I could get a degree in classical guitar until I discovered the Boston Conservatory. First 6 years, I was in Boston, I managed to go to Iran once, and then my father visited me once in Boston. It was getting more and more difficult and dangerous to travel between the two countries because of the revolution and the war with Iraq. My father did not want me to risk my studies and not be able to get back to the States, even though I knew that deep down he wanted to see me so badly, but he put my work and my education first. When I got accepted at the Boston Conservatory. My teacher told me that I have to work very hard. I took that literally and I practiced 10 hours a day. My priority was the guitar and everything else came after. In one year, I excelled and got better than the other students who were more advanced than me in the beginning. I remember I would make tapes of my playing and send it to my father in Iran. He would then call me and tell me that half the tape had been erased and he could only hear a little bit of my playing. To this day, this saddens me. At the time, the Islamic Revolution had happened, and the music was very low on their list of subjects of study. They did not support it at all. They discouraged people to study music and felt it was too western. So what I was doing the States was not supported at all. But I knew that as long as I had my father, I could still achieve what I came to achieve, to be the best classical guitarist I could be and reach the highest level. Can you tell us more about the challenges you faced while getting and settling in the United States? When I graduated from high school in 1977, I had an acceptance from Boston University so I came to the States. Interestingly enough, after two weeks of orientation, when I noticed they did not offer guitar at all, I withdrew and by accident found the Boston Conservatory and auditioned there. I only wrote to my father after I got accepted to the Boston Conservatory and gave him the news of my decision to study music. The other thing is I found it hard to adjust when I came to the USA. I remember the sizes of everything was so large as compared to Iran, cars, houses, hamburgers, and even chairs we sat on. The freedom I experienced in the USA was incredible but right away I felt that if left uncontrolled, one could go astray. So I stuck even more to my guitar. I remember in 1980 after the Islamic Revolution, I would see graffiti on the subways saying, "Death to Iran". That made me want to go into hiding and just play my guitar and forget the reality around me. How was your journey towards being one of the best female guitarists in the world? If you would talk to my friends who have known me along the way, they would tell you that I lived and breathed music. I was the most persistent in my guitar studies. I never gave up a chance to perform in a concert competition, or to attend a concert, a festival or any musical event related to the guitar. I know that I pushed my teachers to teach me everything they knew. I learned everything wholeheartedly and researched to learn things I was not taught. I was always thirsty for knowledge. I did not let anything, or anyone stops me from achieving my goals. What is you your advice to our readers? Only listen to positive people and surround yourself with them. Don't allow negativity in your life. Be positive. Find your talent, listen to your inner voice, and go after it with all you have got. What is your plan ahead? To work on my next music CD release and continue my musical activities of performing and teaching. I want to dedicate my life to music and connect people beyond the boundaries of religions and nations.