Greek Orthodox Music in Ottoman Istanbul: Nation and Community in the Era of Reform

Greek Orthodox Music in Ottoman Istanbul: Nation and Community in the Era of Reform

Greek Orthodox Music in Ottoman Istanbul: Nation and Community in the Era of Reform

Greek Orthodox Music in Ottoman Istanbul: Nation and Community in the Era of Reform

Synopsis

During the late Ottoman period (1856-1922), a time of contestation about imperial policy toward minority groups, music helped the Ottoman Greeks in Istanbul define themselves as a distinct cultural group. A part of the largest non-Muslim minority within a multi-ethnic and multi-religious empire, the Greek Orthodox educated elite engaged in heated discussions about their cultural identity, Byzantine heritage, and prospects for the future, at the heart of which were debates about the place of traditional liturgical music in a community that was confronting modernity and westernization. Merih Erol draws on archival evidence from ecclesiastical and lay sources dealing with understandings of Byzantine music and history, forms of religious chanting, the life stories of individual cantors, and other popular and scholarly sources of the period. Audio examples keyed to the text are available online.

Excerpt

In September 2000, when I assumed the role of translator between the Greek oud player Christos Tsiamoulēs and the Turkish kanun player Göksel Baktagir, who was my kanun teacher, I had no idea this would be the beginning of a dilettante’s curiosity about Greek music that would gradually turn into passion for a research topic. Tsiamoulēs was visiting Istanbul with a group of nearly twenty students of the music school of Patras, all of whom were excited about visiting Kōnstantinoupolē, the “City” whose privileged place in the memory of Greeks is beyond doubt. the students’ appetite for musical scores, CDs, and the diverse instruments of what was called in Greece paradosiakē mousikē (traditional music) was impressive. At that time, I did not speak a word of Greek; I was translating from Turkish to English and back again between the two musicians who wanted to collaborate for a future concert.

The next spring, the friendships established during this first encounter took me to Athens. This book contains much of the inspiration and enthusiasm fueled by the overwhelming impressions of that first visit, in addition to what I learned from hours spent in various libraries and archives. the first Greek Orthodox service I attended was the liturgy on Holy Thursday at the small eleventh-century Byzantine church “Kapnikareas” at the center of Athens. No less of a milestone was my joy and pride in learning the Greek alphabet by doing the playful exercise of transliterating Ottoman Turkish maqam names written in Greek characters as I struggled to “read” the recently published books on “traditional music.” the magical atmosphere of musical gatherings at friends’ houses or in the familiar taverns of Athens or, later, in Rethymno during my Erasmus year in Crete, renewed my passion for my topic more than reading any book could have done. Any moments of pessimism and feelings of defeat I had during my research and writing were dissipated by the thought that the publication of this book would be the best “thank you” to my friends who had nurtured me with music, ideas, and encouragement to pursue the difficult topic that I, a foreigner and a Turk, had chosen. I’m sure my interest in this subject seemed incomprehensible to most of them.

This book is a response to a set of practices in the history of the Turkish Republic whose aim has been to create a society with a singular identity (Sunni Muslim and Turkish) and a monolithic culture. These practices had tragic results for the Greek Orthodox population and for other non-Muslim and non-Turkish groups. in the pro cess that began with the Greek-Turkish population exchange of . . .

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