A Calgary musician brought some relief to stressed-out university students this week with a Middle Eastern instrument that is thousands of years old.

"The first time I played the oud, it sounded like a drop of water in a crystal bowl," Mehdi Pouragha told The Homestretch this week.

"I have to learn this."

Pouragha has been musically-inclined for about 15 years and picked up his first oud about a decade ago.

"It is actually the parent of the guitar," he explained.

"It has a short neck. It originated in the Middle East, maybe 5,000 years ago, but it was brought to Spain and became a guitar. It is being used in different countries like Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Greece, Egypt and Tunisia."

Mehdi Pouragha

Mehdi Pouragha plays the oud this week on The Homestretch. He says he envisions pictures in his mind and tries to bring them to life with music. (David Bell/CBC)

About a month ago Pouragha was chatting with the University of Calgary's Nickle Galleries.

"This was exam week and students are stressed," he said.

"I like the area, it's a very nice area to play music in, it's filled with modern art. I thought it would be really nice to play music there. They said, 'Can we help students to be less stressed?' That is how we came up with this idea."

Pouragha, a postdoctoral fellow in engineering, says students seemed to enjoy his lunchtime performances.

"They have been showing up, sitting there listening to the music, looking at the paintings and art," he said.

"Hopefully it's helping them."

His sets are roughly 90 per cent improvisation with 10 per cent folk music.

"I came up with topics with pictures that I keep in my head and focus on and I try to interpret them," Pouragha said.

"A topic like joy. I subdivide it into different pictures that I find related to that topic. I focus on that picture. I try to describe it using music."


With files from The Homestretch