Turkey is often spoken of as a place where East meets West. Tonight, Stephanie and I had the rare pleasure of seeing that definition come to life right before our eyes.
Most of you are probably aware that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim nation. Yes there is plenty of secularism to go around, but percentage of Turkish nationals that are Christians is extremely low, below 1%. And though these things are true, we had the pleasure of enjoying a Christmas concert with real actual Christmas music performed by professional Turkish musicians and it was one of the greatest treats I have received while being here.
As I walked into the theatre where the show was about to begin, I noticed the set list was quite good filled with a number of my favorites, Joy to the World, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, What Child is This, and even Silent Night, but I still had no idea what to expect.
The visionary of the event spoke to the crowd before the performance started about this being his dream, Turks playing American music, Turks playing Christmas music in order to honor American culture. Within the next two years, he is working to bring Americans here to play Turkish music. The plan is even to bring the Ethnic Dance Theatre, straight from Minneapolis! His dream was about to come true. A band of eight along with a professional female vocalist (who happened to be the visionary’s wife) took the stage and it was a blast.
The woman’s voice was something to behold. It was very Turkish, a low register voice that provided a style like none I’d ever heard before for Christmas music. The instrumentalists ranged from cello, keyboard, violin and clarinet to more traditional Turkish instruments: the ud, kanun and garmon. One was a guitar like instrument, the other was more like a harpsichord that the guy laid in his lap and played with his fingers – an amazing feat and the others were percussion instruments I believe. (I do think there were a couple people listed in the program who were not playing however.)
It truly was the epitome of East meets West as this Turkish woman sang the first stanza of What Child is This then changed suddenly to a Turkish folk tune that had the entire crowd (minus the foreigners of course) singing along with her. This happened in a few other songs as well and it was a beautiful thing to behold. The only song that they translated into Turkish was It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year and that was an experience as well. I kept singing along in my head in English as this woman sang in Turkish of “Parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting and caroling out in the snow…”
It was a great show done for a great cause: to bring Americans and Turks closer together. This group, called “Group Istanbul” will be touring the states with a similar show in December 2010. So far they have shows in New York, DC, Las Vegas and Houston. I’m not sure if they’re planning to book anything closer to home, but I would highly encourage you to try and see the show if they do. It is well worth it. They are an extremely talented bunch and are undoubtedly worth every penny.