Kiu Haghighi is known as a santour virtuoso in concert halls around the world. Kiu began his lifetime study of the santour at the age of ten. As a teenager he performed on the radio station of Mashad, Iran and the National Iranian Radio in Tehran, Iran. At nineteen he was invited to join the Iranian Ministry of Education and Art. There he performed as the featured soloist in the Academy Orchestra and performed regularly on National Iranian Television. Kiu was an instructor at the Ministry of Education and Art until 1965 when he left Iran for study in the United States. Kiu Haghighi's musical career in North America has included numerous performances throughout the world in colleges, universities and concert halls. He has remained faithful to a desire to share classical Iranian music with western audiences.
Kiu's work as both a performer and a composer on the santour combines and blends traditional Iranian forms with contemporary ones. A master of all the twelve melody types used as a basis for Iranian classical improvisation, Kiu has expanded the technical possibilities of the santour. His unusual speed in the movement of the leather-tipped mallets called mezrab is both well-known and extraordinary. Audience members have remarked at Kiu Haghighi's new approach to the tradition of the Persian santour. They are intrigued by the new features in his music with the addition of interesting musical ornaments and parallel melodies with unique musical dissonances. Audiences always remember the energy and vigor of expression of Kiu Haghighi in his musical performances.
The santour, a native Persian instrument, is often defined as the box zither of the Middle East. The first time the santour made its recorded appearance was in Assyrian and Babylonian inscriptions in the year 699 B.C. and it is the prototype of the piano. In Iran, the santour is an important instrument in the traditional orchestra. The santour consists of a trapeziform case made of walnut wood, approximately 90 cm wide at the broad end, 35 cm wide at the narrow end and 6 cm deep. The sides form an angle of 45 degrees to the wider end. The strings are fixed to hitch-pins along the left-hand side and wound around metal wrest-pins on the right by means of which they are tuned with a tuning key. Each quadruple set of strings rest on a movable bridge of hardwood (kharak). The right-hand rank corresponds to the bass strings and that on the left to the treble strings. In the center of the santour the low-pitched strings on the right cross the high-pitched strings on the left. The santour has a range of three and a half octaves. It is played by striking the strings with two hammers or mallets called mezrab which are held in three fingers of each hand. Kiu Haghighi uses two santours. Both of these were hand-crafted by Barbad Workshop in Muncie, Indiana, U.S.A.
Kiu accompanies his santour with a drum called the tombak, which has been the principal percussion instrument of Iranian classical music for centuries.
The tombak is played under the arm, while it rests on the musician's leg. Its base is hollow and open, the skin braced with glue. It is carved out of a single piece of mulberry wood.
Kiu accompanies his santour with yet another percussion instrument, the Daf: consisting of a skin membrane stretched over a frame. The wooden frame is usually fitted with metal rings on the inner surface and in many cases with cymbalettes.