In this second article, I would like to share with you my experience and views on Turkish makam music education and its transmission to future generations.
First of all, I must state that at the time of writing this article, although it seems that there is still a standard for Turkish music education, unfortunately, it does not exist. This puts students, instructors, and performers in a difficult position. The most used system in this regard is the Arel-Ezgi-Uzdilek system created in the 1930s. This system was an effort to set an unwritten (or partially written) system, passed down from generation to generation through a 500-year master-apprentice relationship, to a standard on the foundations of Western music. We can say that it worked quite well, but in the 21st century, people’s questioning revealed the inadequacy of this system. In the last few years, a group of researchers/musicologists, especially Turkish music researcher and lecturer (at the time of writing) Sühan İrden and Kağan Ulaş, have examined the old manuscripts and notes, revealing in detail how the old masters conveyed this music. In this way, we realized that it is simpler and easier to understand than the one used today. By the way, although I learned makam music with the AEU system at the conservatory, I later realized that the training I received from my masters was actually based on that old system. In the old system, learning and teaching continues somehow. But until recently, no one had written this down. Sühan İrden has opened a door for all of us in this regard with the works he has published.
As someone who was educated through the AEU system, although I devoured this system when I was at school, I always realized that something was missing when it was time to perform. There was no such problem with my friends younger than me who played next to me, who had never studied school or studied theory. Over time, I realized that the AEU system only gives us a foundation, it is a more permanent and correct method to learn 🙂 Frankly, in my first 10 years of teaching, I always told my students or those who asked me something that there were formulas for makams such as Tetrachords-Pentachords, TKST, SAS, TBTT, etc. Later, I realized that this system confuses people a lot, and people overestimate learning and performing this music, they are afraid. I also thought of teaching it with simple melodies as I learned it later, in practice. When I applied it, I realized that it was more useful and that people perceived it in a much simpler way.
After I moved to London, I tried to explain these two systems to people who are not Turkish and have never heard or heard very little Turkish music before. When I tried to explain it like Western music, they asked me the right questions such as “What are you talking about, this system is not like this”, what kind of system is this, there is an inconsistency, how can we understand which sound will be played 1 coma and which 2 comas? Afterward, when I explained it with the old system (I will explain below), they said yes, this makes more sense. As such, I received feedback in the form of “This music has its own system, we should not think of it as a Western music structure, we should think of it as a separate structure”. I had the opportunity to talk and experience this experience with the participants in 3 workshops I did in the music department of Cambridge University. In conclusion; It would be more correct to describe and convey the makam music within its own structure and with its own tradition.
Let’s come to the question of what is the old system. Some of you may know, but for those who don’t, let me explain briefly. By the way, those who are curious about more details about the authorities can follow my Youtube channel for Turkish videos and my education channel at superpeer.com/bahayetkin for English videos.
The logic in the old system is actually very simple, we have a 2-octave scale from Yegah (Re/D4) to Treble Huseyni (Mi/E6). We differentiate the sounds of this series with sharps and flats and create certain main scales. The old masters called these main series “fret” systems. We can explain all the makams and their relations with each other through these fret systems. In this way, we automatically see and learn about the relevant makams. The subject, which we call the transition and which scares everyone, suddenly becomes very simple.
Let me give an example right away; Let our main notes be on Rast fret system (you can also check out other series from Sühan İrden’s book on order, pitch, mode, and composition practices in Turkish music). If you construct a Rast-focused melodic sentence between the Aşiran(Mi/E4) and Neva(Re/D5) frets on this scale and stop on the Rast fret without stopping at any other note, the name of this melody will be Rast. Even if you stay in the Dügah fret using the Uşşak fret (2 coma) instead of the Segah fret (1 coma), the name of the melody will be Uşşak. After showing their own structures in these two makams, their first transition will be to the Neva tone, that is to the Neva makam. When we move the focus of our melodic sentences to this pitch, we will be making melodies in the Neva makam. In Neva makam, Fa/F can be played in natural (Acem) or sharp (Evç) can be played. You will see this in many Rast, Uşşak, and Neva compositions. This also shows that it is possible to make Uşşak in Rast and Rast in Uşşak. As we establish such connections, it becomes easier for us to learn this music, to compose, and to include this music in Western music melodies.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about whether it is necessary to deal with Turkish music theoretically with the structure of Western music or with the educational structure of makam music, which has been going on for centuries. I think it would be more correct to explain and teach this music in its own order. Because it’s a culture and tradition. Just as we see and learn a language as a part of that culture, this is the language of music. We cannot explain the musical culture of every country or region in the same way. Examples, Flamenco, Indian Raga, Chinese local music, etc. All of these music use Western music notation and theoretical knowledge to explain some things, but they do not have an order based entirely on Western music. They continue to teach with authentic and traditional methods. I think that we should develop makam music in this direction, find new methods, and enable people to listen to and benefit from this music, and for artists to use it in their own music.
I can simply explain the system I apply as follows; I describe each of the makams with their own characteristic structures and example sentences, and I show how it sounds by performing a few masterpieces, in other words, I teach based on the meşk system. While doing this, if we get support from the system called the Arel-Ezgi-Üzdilek system and the Western music system since the 1930s, by adhering to the names and expressions in the authentic education system, the person on the other hand will perceive the subject faster, no matter what musical discipline or culture they come from. I have experienced this with about 100 people, and in a very short time their view of makam music has changed and their perceptions and definitions of makams have improved. You can find the Turkish versions of my makam music training video series on this subject on my Youtube channel, and the English versions at superpeer.com/bahayetkin.
Today, music genres, which are more commonly referred to as microtonal music, have begun to increase. Music by Australian band King Wizard Gizard has gained worldwide acclaim. Microtonal and adjustable microtonal guitars, invented by Tolgahan Cogulu, also made a worldwide impact. Thanks to this, many people became aware of such music. Names of Middle Eastern origin Ibrahim Maalouf, Dhafer Youssef, and Anour Brahem, who play at the most important jazz festivals in the world, fascinate people with small makam/microtonal touches to their Western or jazz-based compositions or music. Of course, the artists of the Ministry of Culture&Tourism, who have been performing this music in many festivals, special organizations, etc. for years, and groups such as the Istanbul Sazendeleri have gained appreciation in many countries and impressed the audience.
Here I have a quick question for you! Well, while many names around the world are making a name for themselves by using this music and enchanting their listeners with their music, why can’t anyone do something that will make a world-renowned sound in Turkey or in countries where makam music is performed, except for 3-4 people or groups??? I think this is something that needs to be thought about and even researched. My view is; due to a lack of education, lack of vision, and lack of marketing knowledge.
People in the world and in Turkey who find makam music heavy may adore the music of a European or American group that uses the same elements. We have to ask “why”…