“Fem-i muhsin” or the Creative Performer


DOI: 10.26650/TJS.2017.2.0005

OnlineFirst published on December 24, 2017

Year: Vol: Number:


Music, due to its nature, uses sounds instead of words; this natural structure of music, in turn, makes music unique in playing a mediating role between cultures and societies. The meanings that music has gained during its formation in Istanbul, has been constituted by Istanbulite musicians, Istanbulite gentlefolk, Istanbulite elites and Istanbulite people who have been living and producing within the extraordinary experience of acculturation in a multi-religious and multi- lingual demographic structure that can rarely be found anywhere else. Music was formulated mostly within the social gatherings of the Istanbulite elites and gentlefolk. Joint performances of musicians from differing traditions and with different musical styles and who have practiced with different people in the same gatherings resulted in an exchange of styles, attitudes and expressions. Although each era has a general understanding of music, differing performance styles have always prevailed. These differences are not limited to style; it is also known that from time to time different maqam conceptions have emerged. Performance of music involves two groups: performers and listeners. The performers need to fulfill the requests of the listeners and to satisfy them. The performer’s music was accepted or rejected by this reaction of the listeners. This was the most significant function of the social gatherings in the formation, the preservation, and the maintenance of the tradition of music. The subject of all these processes was the musician who was, before everything, a professional, and also a music enthusiast. The musicians understood and constantly matched their talents against one another. One of the characteristics of the Ottoman musician was his not using any musical notes. The Ottoman composer never had a system of symbols representing music, while hiding the music itself. A written text was never given to the performer. The Ottoman music culture had not employed a written text that could be substituted for the voices in the mind/memory for the part of the sign that executes interpretation –to put it in Peirce’s terminology. Hence, in Ottoman music culture the performer was not confronted with the necessity of interpreting a written text. He just had been per- forming his music by using all the tools he had known to express a melody in his memory one more time. There were two inescapable circumstances that restricted the freedom of the performer: based on a strong merit principle, musician’s loyalty to the mashq and his master and the supervision of the gathering that directly reflected its taste. Ottoman music was taught by a master to his student. The way to learn is to practice called “mashq,” which also refers to a way of or- ganizing the teaching of applied arts. The teacher was transmitting “the new thing” to the student by referring to some “constants” and “variables”. The constants were the maqam and style while the variables were the lyrics. “The new thing” was the melody,which is the musical work itself, would be loaded directly to the memory. The performer will re-create the work of the composer, with his own musical knowledge, playing skills and emotional motives –and can repeat this process again and again in his repeated performances. It is not wrong to name such a performer as a “creative performer”

Ottoman Musical Culture • Mashq (Situated Music Learning) • Musical Gathering • Creative İnterpretation • Music Enthusiast

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