MUSIC: A REFLECTION OF REFINEMENT
( by Cinüçen Tanrikorur )
People are disappointed when things they love and have become accustomed to end; they want them to maintain the same beauty, freshness and excitement to the end of their lives. They are sorry when they end, because living - with human weaknesses - is something we love and are accustomed to. Even young people, or those with spiritual support or education take comfort in thinking that death is not an ending but rather a transition and continuation of life on a different plane. But if culture ends what happens then? If the culture, in which mankind has lived loved and become accustomed to for a thousand-odd years ends without being aware of it, what then? What kind of transition is this, and in what direction? As the end of culture, or constant fall to ever lower levels will eventually — when no lower level remains for it to fall to — be culturelessness, what sort of continuation is this, and of what, what hopes can it provide? To whom? To whom, other than those who wish a culture to degenerate and rot into nothing?
The Chinese founded the oldest civilization in our world. Their great thinker Confucius had several things to say about music.
“If a society’s music has spoiled, then one must judge that many other things have spoiled in that society as well.” The importance he assigned to music suggests that this great this great historical thinker — like many of our own scholars — may have been a musician as well. There are no records of his way of life 2,500 years ago, but considering how definite a measure he considered music to be of a society’s ascendance or degeneration, then even if he was not a practitioner of music, there is no doubt that he was possessed of a great spirit, with a deep concept of the meaning and significance of this art. The famous composer and tanburî Zeki Mehmet Ağa, who lived during the reign of Selim III, before going on the Hajj, went to the Istanbul judge and professor Arif Efendi, and said “I am going on the Hajj, there I will forswear my instrument and never play again.” Arif Efendi answered, “Play my boy, play, and after playing, play even on the hill of Arafat!” Although I am sure that both from the title as well as the opening statements, the reader will have understood where this article is going, I would still like to say a few words about the sad story of our music, which is truly a secret of ascendance in our history and a mirror of our culture. A bit of hearsay; after all I’ve neither the mind nor the knowledge to do any more.
In his Fazâilü’l-etrâkö the famous 9th century Arab wrıter El-Câhiz described the Turks thus: “It is impossible to consider the Turk apart from the hourse; he is in every part of that horse: on his back, in his stomach, in his tail, in his mane.” It is my opinion that music is in every part and every thing of the Turk: in his love, his grief, his peace and his war, great and small. Sadeddin Arel proved that with his aphorism, “The Turk is born with music, lives with music and dies with music.” And what’s more, we can’t separate ourselves from music even after death: the Koran is chanted at our graves, readings of the Koran at various anniversaries of a death, our mevlids, our kandils, our zikrs, our prayers, our gülbanks...right up to Day of Judgement.
All right, but why music? Whence the holiness of this art, which our old musicians called “the sacred science,” and which Tanburî Cemil described as “the tongue of Allah?” The answer to this question is in the root of the word “music,” which has gone into all languages from Greek: “Ta mousike” - the language spoken by the Muses. This meaning, which brings out the metaphysical side of the “art of sounds,” at the same time explains why the human science of mathematics, and consequently of theory, is unable to solve certain of the problems of music. Here also is the answer to why, in worship, medicine and war, the Turks are so attached to music, and find such strength in it. Turkish music, which is essentially a “vocal music", due to the emphasis on lyrics, is first and foremost a music of poetry. In the same way — in terms of its expression — divan literature, the subject matter of which draws mostly on mystical allegory and significance, is first and foremost a music of the tongue.
Öyle sermestem ki idrak etmezem dünya nedür,
Men kimem, sâkî olan kimdür, mey u sahbâ nedür?
Âh ü feryâdın, Fuzûlî, incidüpdür âlemi,
Kerbelâyı aşk ile hoşnûd isen gavgâ nedür?
I am so drunk that I cannot comprehend what the world is,
Who am I, who is the cupbearer, what is the wine?
Your sighs and cries, Fuzûlî cause the world to mourn
If you are pleased with the Kerbelâ of love, what is your quarrel?
If for a moment we do not consider the meaning, are these words above all else not spoken with music, that is, the “language of the angels?”
Where are these poets, where is this language now? This language, which we pass off lightly with the cliché “Divan literature,” which we, stricken by a “cultural cancer” of such minds H.A. Yücel, have neglected to introduce to our youth; which the likes of R. Şardağ have had the gall to openly denigrate in their books - this language, dear children, is not Arabic, nor Persian, because neither Arab nor Iranian understands it! But at least from the time of the Selçuks up until the mid 16th century, when in the “West,” which is held up to you as a model, “poor souls who have collaborated with Satan” were being burned alive, , language was the symbol of a civilization which treated the mentally ill in University hospitals in Amasya, Kayseri and Edirne with the meat of birds, the fragrance of flowers and specially composed pieces of music; the language of the magnificence of an empire.
In the mid 19th century, starting with Ârif and Şevki Bey and continuing to the composers to follow, the taste in lyrics slowly began to decline. Although Zekâi Dede, Tanbûri Ali Efendi, Rahmi Bey and S. Ziya Bey tried to maintain it at some cultural level, they were unable to prevent the singing of pathological emotions that began with Selâhaddin Pınar, appealed to the customers of the alcohol-serving nightclubs. On the subject of the public’s education, TRT which, with the exception of one branch director, never worried about this, worked with all their might to destroy taste in language before that of music. Here then, for you, is a song, music and lyrics by Sait Ergenç, and broadcast constantly sung by M. Milli, that should serve as a lesson: “Nikâhsız Aşk” (Unmarried Love).
Ne nikâh bağlar bizi, ne mahkeme ayırır,
Düşmanların şerrinden bizi Mevlâm kayırır.
Nikâhsız diyorlar, desinler,
Günahtır diyorlar, desinler,
Adam sen de, ne derlerse desinler.
Günah bizim, sevap bizim,
Varsın çatlasın eller!
No wedding ties us, and no court separates us,
God protects from the evil of our enemies
“Unmarried,” they say; let them say it
“It’s a sin,” they say; let them say it
Forget them, let them say what they will
The sin is ours, and the good deed as well
And to hell with the rest of them!
And of course it led onto today’s disgusting picture: from Lord İbrahim (Tatlıses), who said “Kul oldum bir cefâkâre, cihan bağında gülfemdir” (I fell slave to a tormentor, she’s my rose in the garden of the world,) the fall to “Kıl oldum abi” (I’ve gone nuts, bro).
Is this hideous loss of culture an issue only in the music on the radio and TV, cassettes and nightclubs? Don’t you hear the degeneration in the mouths of the muezzins, those who, five times a day chant the ezan [call to prayer] in a tastelessly affected Arabic accent? As this people loses its security and consciousness (that is, its identity), just as secular music imitates the West, religious music is becoming an imitation of the Arabs. However if Arabic music had something to offer us, would they have sent for teachers from us every in every country in which they opened a conservatory? As in the case of honest musicians like M. Kâmil el-Hulâyî, the writer of the book “Kitâbu Mûsikî eş-Şarkî,” would they refer to us in their books as “esâtizetune’l-etrâk” (Our maestros the Turks)? But after the West, learning nothing from Jesus, used the wisdom of the east and enriched itself by colonizing others, became accomplished at selling those of other religions and debasing them in the name of God. This loathsome game has been well-documented in the works of 5. Ayverdi, as well as C. Meriç, T. Süreyya Sırma and M. Doğan.
Let us move onto another subject. The Turks have been praised throughout history for the beauty they have produced (illumination, calligraphy, ornamentation, ebru, engraving, carpet weaving). Architecture is created in stone, but who was it that nourished, protected and elevated their music, built with sound?
First was the Mehterhâne: since the time of the Huns, the military music school and band, whose objective was to use the booming sound of their foreign and terrifying music, audible three days’ journey distant, to attack the morale of the enemy, destroy his will to fight and thus avoid the spilling of blood by war.
Next was the Enderûn: the musical department of the Palace university which, regardless of language, religion, or race, took talented youths coming from all parts of the empire and trained them.
After this was the Mevlevîhâne: a network of music and fine arts academies, spread to the remotest corners of the empire, which with the Koran and Mathnawi, and with the ney, kudüm, sema, calligraphy, illumination and ebru, taught the beauty that makes us human; and trained our greatest composers.
Next in line were the guilds of the musical profession, and finally, the private meşkhanes, where which opened in the homes of well-known composers or in public locales, and gave music lessons free of charge to those interested.
The training in the Mehterhâne and the Enderûn of the French spy Aimée de Rivery, cousin of Napoleon’s wife Joséphine, who took the name Nakşidil Sultan in the palace, was covered by Sultan Mahmud II. The Mevlevihânes, along with the other Sufi lodges, were locked in 1923. In the first official school of theatre and music, founded in 1914, education in Turkish music was abolished in 1926 by a dispatch from Musa Süreyya, son of composer Giriftzen Âsım Bey. Later, in 1934, broadcast of Turkish music on the Radio was abolished by order of Minister of Domestic Affairs Şükrü Kaya. In this way, as we cut all the arteries feeding it with our own hand, our music inevitably headed towards its demise. Unable to listen to their own music on their own radio station, the Turkish people, pleading when going to buy a radio, “Give me a radio but please let it not play Necip Celâl!, turned in desperation to “Sawti’l-Arab mine’l Qahire (Voice of Arabia from Cairo); learned what wavelength Tehran and New Delhi radio was on. And so with Raj Kapoor’s tune “Âvârâmu, nâ-naranam...” the musical which launched, if not the first “Arabesk,” then the first “Hindesk,” became famous. After the mid-50s, as you well know, oudist Suat Sayın and other performers of Arabesk began their journey to the present day, and now make your hair stand on end with their “Kıl Oldum Abi.”
It is a well known fact that nature does not destroy its own: It does not pollute its water, it does not burn its forests, it does not kill its animals, it doesn’t up and uproot a centuries-old plane tree. But mankind? Hostage to endless greed, hate and selfishness, man uses fire and weapons to destroy, burn and kill. A grand plane tree, the work of centuries; his music, a monument to enlightenment, breeding, light, and — under the pretext of opening a road — demolishes it with the bulldozer of Western apery. A road? To where? Where will it lead, to unenlightenment, darkness and ill-breeding... To what end? To make a monkey of men, who for thousands of years has lived, not only as men, but as “gentlemen.” A monkey, who has sold his consciousness to a West he desires to imitate. That West which was actually an admirer, even imitator of his civilization before it was destroyed. When the great composer Beethovan proudly wrote at the head of some of his pieces, alla turca, that is, “in the style of Turkish military music,” was he not experiencing the hope and trepidation that he might, in some small measure, approach the magnificence of our Mehter bands? When the Yugoslavs said on a record, “Old Turkish Music in Yugoslavia,” made twenty years ago, that “the Turks even taught us how to bathe,” were they not showing the courage to remember fondly a civilization tat we are trying to forget? And lastly, during a visit to Turkey in the 1990s, Margaret Thatcher gave a speech before a concert given in her honor. Her opening sentence was extremely meaningful: “We greatly admire your old culture.” What was she trying to remind us of?
One day, while I was living in Ankara, a taxi driver switched the radio away from TRT as soon as the news was over. When I asked him why, he said “Brother, what’s to listen to on TRT?” and I was not surprised in the least. How could TRT, putting kemençe next to violin, a ney next to a clarinet, burying the sound of the tanbur under the oud and kanun, and turning it all into a big mixed pickle with the addition of a piano as well, compete with the violins and rhythmic orchestral music of Arabesk? Seeing that it’s steadily losing its listeners, the Radio, in order to force itself upon garner applause from a public ready to applaud whatever it sees, good or bad, has resorted to “special entertainment” programs in the large studios. Referred to among the musicians as “special torture” programs, the only difference between these programs and the nightclubs is that you aren’t pressured to buy drinks. Shouting “all together now!”, female singers who have “managed” with thirty songs over their thirty-year artistic lives, who couldn’t sing on stage or at weddings, can at least don their low-necked outfits, snap their fingers covered in rings “as if dancing,” and get the applause of their audience.
Then, like third-rate theatre companies touring Anatolia, began the “intercity radio concert tours” (which continue still). Based on the attractive justification of “a close, live dialog with the listener,” these programs get the people dancing with the most superficial, average songs. As if corrupting the already-poor taste even further wasn’t enough, the endless bus trips day and night, and the nights spent in beach cabins with no water or toilets are truly torture for the artists. But what can they do? They’ve signed the TRT agreement that tells them in effect, “we’ll do whatever we want, whenever we want!” But even here, there were great people. That evidently wasn’t enough to create this warm, close dialog; so the latest invention was the “In-city evening tea concerts.” Here, the Radio sends a few instrumentalists and singers to the home of a listener to play and sing; the hosts get together their darbukas, tambourines and finger cymbals and wait to be entertained. This is then broadcast as a radio program. Ah, you at TRT, in what other country have you seen such a mortifying display? Even in Uganda or Zambia, is an artist at a state institution sent to the audience to entertain him in his house?! What will we see next... Perhaps a little farther down the line, they’ll appoint a chieftain from the Sulukule groups to the TRT High Commission as a “Head Turkish Music Consultant!...”
In our home, we turn off the TV as soon as the news is finished. Apart from this, once a month, or once a years, when a friend calls and says “turn on such-and-such a channel, they’re playing your piece,” we turn it on, of course missing half of what’s been played. Personally, I’ve become ashamed to live in a country where people have been obliged to look to such disgusting things for entertainment; where the concepts of breeding and entertainment have become so degenerated. Our forefathers said “for the crazy man, every day’s a holiday.” Today, candle in hand, I’m looking for that crazy man. Are you overcome by the same feeling? So, where’s it all leading to? Will we need a terrible earthquake or a nuclear war, leaving nobody behind, in order to wake up and let go of this buffonnery and regain our dignity and self-esteem?
I realize that, aside from one or two musical examples I played, I’ve said nothing encouraging to you. But like the late poet Aziz Sami Bey, whom I met in 1971 in Baghdad, a man’s tongue cannot smile while his heart is crying. The word “hasret” (longing) in poetry may be said for a lover, but the longing that we share together is not for a “lover,” it’s for our culture. When I went to America for an operation, our dear Tahralı sent me a poem, “Cânân Ateşi” (The Fire of the Beloved) and in an effort to dispel the longing for my country, I composed music to it. The poem said, “Would that there were a man like Moses, ablaze and brilliant; the fire of compassion in the sacred valley.” In the same way, we are filled with longing for those Moseses, who were everywhere until the Tanzimat (Official Reforms of 1839) turned our people into mental vegetables.
Speech made on July 1, 1994 as part of a
conference series, “Secrets of the Rise of Societies,”
held by the Kubbealtı Academy