COMPOSERS AND PERFORMERS
Niyazi Sayın was born in 1927 in an old style Turkish wooden house in the Doğancılar (also known as Açık Türbe) district of Üsküdar, Istanbul. After living here a while, they moved into a two-story wooden house, of the type not often seen any more in Doğancılar. His father was born in Resne in Rumeli; his mother was born in Manastır (Bitola) in the same region. Niyazi’s older brother and sister were also born in Istanbul. He attended elementary and middle school in the Paşakapı quarter of Üsküdar, and high school in Haydarpaşa and Beyoğlu. Due to the Second World War and the impoverishment it brought, he was not able to complete his education. During his military basic training, he went on to the Istanbul Municipal Conservatory. During his schooling, he was successful in various sports. Continuing the tradition of musical training in his family, Niyazi’s father turned him towards music at an early age. During school he devoted himself to vocal music, harmonica and western music; and especially during his time at Haydarpaşa High School, he played the harmonica quite well. At the same time, his spiritual beliefs turned him towards mosque music, and despite his young age he put forth a great effort to learn it.
As a result of his father’s life within Istanbul culture and especially his love for Tanburi Cemil Bey, he would sometimes gather his children around the gramophone. One of his children would put on the record, to another fell the duty of turning the crank, and Niyazi’s job was to set the needle. Of the spots of beauty in Niyazi Sayin’s life, Tanburi Cemil Bey’s taksims stood out. The sounds the came from the homes, mosques and especially the minarets within the atmosphere of those days were among the things that helped him survive through that difficult period. In 1947, an evening ezan, [call to prayer] from a neighborhood mosque brought Niyazi to its door to find out who was chanting. Among those leaving the mosque, he met one of the neighborhood’s foremost citizens Mustafa Düzgünman. He asked who had sung the ezan, which pleased Mustafa Düzgünman immensely. He answered that he himself had sung it, and said “if you like, come to our home, and we can work on religious music.” Niyazi began studying there and became one of the teacher’s most diligent students. Thus the door of that mosque was one of the first serious doors to the world of music for Niyazi Sayın. In studying religious and mystical works, the feelings and thoughts expressed in these works began to capture his interest and, trying to decipher the lyrics’ meaning, he suddenly found himself in mystical Islam. Mustafa Düzgünman, who Niyazi was ever to consider his benefactor, provided him with much help in developing his talent, and guided him within the other arts in which he was involved as well.
On March 4, 1948, Niyazi took two lessons from Neyzen Gavsi Baykara, son of sheikh Abdülbaki Dede of the Yenikapı Mevlevîhane. During this time one of the many great people who entered his life, Hattat (Calligrapher) Necmeddin Okyay took Niyazi Sayın to the Neyzen Halil Dikmen, who was the director of the Museum of Painting and Scupture and a teacher at the Fine Arts Academy. Okyay was a student of Neyzen Emin Dede, and one of Turkey’s greatest ney players; Niyazi Sayin was not aware of this. Necmeddin left Niyazi in his hands and Niyazi Sayın was now a student of one of the greatest teachers of the Fine Arts Academy. He took his first lesson on January 21, 1949. Every Thursday for fifteen years, he took lessons in ney and morals from this teacher. Describing the greatness of Nayzen Halil Dikmen, he said “I don’t believe there will ever be another teacher like him. One day I was on the way to the museum to take a lesson from my teacher. In the garden, I met one of the students of the Academy, Cemal, who had taken lessons from him. I asked about him, and he told me something I’ll never forget: ‘Niyzai, I’m not taking lessons from him any longer. Because he does the impossible on the ney. But you can be sure I’ll still go to him. Not for ney lessons, but for lessons in morals.’” This statement truly attests to what a treasure Neyzen Halil Dikmen was. From his teacher Mustafa Düzgünman, in addition to ilahis, he was also learning ebru, bookbinding and photography and, collecting prayer beads, learning all the details of their value. In the end, because of his interest in prayer beads, he spent six months with Galip Usta in Istanbul’s Edirnekapı quarter, learning how to make them. In addition to his insatiable desire to learn ney, he also began taking painting lessons from Halil Dikmen.
At the wish of Dr. Nevzat Atlığ, he began taking part in music broadcasts of Istanbul Radio. During those years, when there were many esteemed teachers, he gained much from the radio environment. He remained in this position from 1954 to 1956. From 1956 to 1969, at the wish of Münir Nureddin Selçuk, he became a member of the performing ensemble of the Istanbul Municipal Conservatory. Following this position, he was appointed as a teacher and president of the Wind Instruments branch of the State Turkish Music Conservatory newly opened at Istanbul Technical University, where he continues today. In 1980, together with his colleague Tanburî Necdet Yaşar, he served as a visiting scholar of Turkish Music for a year in the Ethnomusicology Department of the University of Washington, Seattle. At the same time, giving concerts in countries including England, Germany and France, they had the privilege of introducing the true beauty of our music. During his time in the U.S., he also opened two exhibits of ebru in Seattle.
Thus his teachers, in order, were Mustafa Düzgünman, Şeyh Hayrullah Efendi, Mızıkalı Muhiddin Efendi, Zekâî Dede’s student Kadırgalı Hüseyin Fahrettin Efendi, Hafız Ali Efendi, Kadıköylü Vahit Bey, Emin Ongan, Şefik Gürmeriç and above all, Mesut Cemil Bey. He is forever indebted to his teacher Neyzen Halil Dikmen for his help in all branches of art, and ney in particular. He is the last representative of a longstanding school of ney performance. He also feels obliged to say that his love for Tanburi Cemil Bey and his records, and the guidance he received from his son Mestu Cemil Bey, were particularly helpful to him. In his own playing, his sole desire has been to unite the artistic approaches of his teachers Neyzen Halil Dikmen and Tanburi Cemil Bey.
With the horizons he has opened for them, Neyzen Niyazi Sayin’s young students exhibit near-miraculous success. With his meticulous attention to pitch, his mastery of breathing and unequalled legato, Neyzen Niyazi Sayın has gained himself an eminent place in the history of music. In addition to the 26-unit system he uses in making neys, his gliding system has him in a position of leadership to generations to come, and constitutes a distinct school of ney performance.