by Corrina Ligertwood
According to mythology, the 6,000-year-old pan pipe was created when wind passed through bamboo and gently caressed its opening. “I invented the modern pan flute in 1968,” Zamfir explains, “and created an entire family of pan flutes that eventually helped me introduce the instrument in all musical styles.”
Zamfir, who handcrafts each pan flute and tunes them with beeswax, uses five different sizes of pan flute for his performances. From the traditional soprano pan flute, he built the alto, tenor and bass flutes, and in 1972, he created the contrabass. In 2003, he built what he calls The Giant, a flute with 42 tubes.
A deeply spiritual man, Zamfir describes his music as “gigantic prayers releasing a colossal force, which helps us understand the divine forces.” Zamfir also believes the sounds of the pan flute have “major cosmic values meant to set man free, and save nature and the Earth.”
In 1982, Zamfir was exiled from Romania for violating the doctrine of Ceausescu’s totalitarian regime by publically dedicating his songs to God. Having toured the world, Zamfir chose Montreal for his eight-year refuge.
“The exile was absolutely terrible for me,” Zamfir says. “I suffered a lot because of the communist regime that destroyed all the human values. If I had not chosen to flee the country, I would have been found guilty, arrested, and maybe dead. Ceausescu was jealous because I was famous and he could never accept that he was not the only famous one.
“When I returned from exile in 1990, I suffered just as much as during the exile, because for the previous 15 years I had been totally marginalized,” Zamfir explains. “The cruel campaign meant to discredit and insult me damaged my reputation enormously. When I returned, the Iliescu and Constantinescu governments started a fierce attack against me; they were just the same people as the ones we had before, but with different masks.”
Zamfir returned to Romania with only one wish: to help his country change and progress, culturally, socially, and economically. He felt that he had gained an enormous amount of experience living in democratic countries such as France, Germany, Switzerland and Canada. However, he found that it was not to be. “The same communists were ruling as the play had been staged long before the fall of the Ceausescu regime,” he notes.
“They knew exactly who was going to grab the power and how they would rule the country. I became an easy prey in Ion Iliescu’s hands, as well as of those who are still ruling the country because I have never changed the opinions and beliefs I had during Ceausescu’s regime, so I was their target for a total destruction.”
Despite his political persecution, Zamfir remained in Romania and created the world’s first university department for pan flute study. Today, he continues to tour and add to his prolific catalogue of compositions and recordings.
Zamfir has composed chamber music and symphonic orchestras, sacred music for orchestra and choir, and more than 300 opuses for the pan pipe and organ or piano. While most of his albums are devoted to rhapsodies, concerti, and sonatas of his own composition, as well as works by Bach and Mozart, popular Western music is also part of his repertoire.
The composer notes that his theme for Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America helped his world reputation and career enormously. Zamfir also played on much of Bill Conti’s score for The Karate Kid and scored several films, including Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol.1, which has afforded him musical hipness and a new generation of pan flute fans who can whistle his famous tune The Lonely Shepherd.
Zamfir is pleased to be returning to Canada, which is now home to more than 130,000 Romanians. “In the ‘80s, I performed in Vancouver and my concerts enjoyed a fabulous success. In 1984, for example, I had seven concerts that were all sold out.”
Zamfir performs January 27 at The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts with the Athenaeum String Quintet. Tickets $65.50 at www.ticketmaster.ca or call 604.280.4444. For Zamfir’s Canadian concert dates, visit www.keystonemusic.ca, 403-670-0460.