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In conversation with Ceren Türkmenoglu

I'm grateful to be in touch with musicians from the Silk Road Global Music Workshop network, and am constantly inspired by the work from this group. Ceren is a violinist based in Boston who focuses on western classical and Turkish traditional music. In this interview she describes how as a classically trained violinist, she sought to expand her musical language through the study of other cultural traditions, especially her own, Turkish traditional music.

Thank you Ceren for sharing your story with me:

1. List a few words describing your mood and where you are writing this now.

I’m at a coffee shop, it’s a rainy day in Boston bringing somewhat melancholic feelings. (Though I have to say by the time I finished these questions I've changed so many places, I’m finishing in Florida, in a brighter mood with the sun.)

2. Describe your work.

I am a musician raised in western classical music who is withdrawn to the traditional music styles of different cultures around the world. My own culture was my starting point and through the exploration and study of Turkish music, I integrated that into my musicianship and into my work. My project "Music from Where the Sun Rises" explores the Classical Turkish Music of the Ottoman Empire. I focus on the lesser known musical works of this period, presenting them with the unique timbres of traditional instruments. My other project, Strings Around the World, studies the interconnections between traditional string instruments of different cultures. As part of this project I recently made a trip to Tuva Republic in Central Asia, where I researched the culture’s unique instruments and musical heritage. This is a project I want to expand to other regions around the world in the future. Besides these I continuously perform classical music, in orchestras, chamber ensembles and in recitals. In January 2017, taking time off from my orchestra job in Istanbul, I came to Boston to experience the music scene here in the US and have been playing in various classical music ensembles around the country since then.

3. Rant for a bit about your style and describe the sound worlds you love to create.

I feel like my style and the sound worlds I want to create are stretching into different branches. My goal has always been to grasp music to its fullest, free from categorizations or distinctions, not being limited to one style or one understanding of music. Two main styles I perform in are western classical music and Turkish music. In addition to these I have been an explorer of different styles and traditions, collaborating with traditional musicians occasionally. Apart from these, recently I began to compose and record short pieces of my own, just for the pleasure of it, which feel like the reflections of all the influences I have inside my mind.

4. What’s in a typical day?

A typical day differs a lot depending on what is on my agenda. Sometimes I have a very busy schedule when different concert projects collide around the same dates, when I would be going from an orchestra rehearsal to rehearsing with my Turkish music ensemble, or travelling to play in ensembles around the country while preparing for a violin recital. Sometimes I have more free time when I can focus on my own things, maybe compose and record a tune that has been on my mind, or practice my instrument. Whatever is on my agenda there is always a time in the day that I spend with my violin.

5. Where could I find you practising/rehearsing and do you have a particular routine?

I can’t really say that I have a particular routine. For the classical music projects, the rehearsals are held in various venues. Sometimes in big halls for the orchestra rehearsals and sometimes in smaller settings if it is a chamber music ensemble. With my Turkish music ensemble, we usually meet at the place of either one of us. For my own practise, I usually like to do that at home.

6. Tell us about a recent collaboration/project you’re proud of.

My latest project was on early manuscripts of Ottoman music. In 19th century Istanbul, Ottoman-Armenian musician Hampartsoum developed a notation system, with which numerous works were documented and survived to this day. Many have been transcribed, and many are still waiting to beunveiled. Collaborating with my Turkish musicologist friend I focused on works which she transcribed from Hampartsoum notation to current notation from these manuscripts, some of which are forgotten today. This was a very special project for me; studying the time period, composers’ lives and finding the interconnections between their lives, as well as learning this repertoire has been great. In the performance I worked together with wonderful colleagues of mine and we presented many different instruments in the performance. On the stage we had a rebab, oud, ney, yayli tanbur, kudüm, classical kemence, violin, bendir, voice and a harpsichord. I was also honored to have the contribution of our Sufi friend with his Sufi whirling. I felt proud of this project for serving the culture by preserving the traditional roots, bringing the lesser known and unknown works to attention, and also for connecting with the audience by giving a short presentation on the subject before the performances. Since most of them were unfamiliar with this genre of music, the talk provided them with entry points which enabled them to enter this world of music easily.

7. What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I have always loved travelling and experiencing different cultures, meeting people and sharing values with them. I’m lucky that through music I am able to do these. Music brings people together by creating bridges in between different cultures and touching on the innermost feelings of everyone. No matter what language one speaks, everyone understands the language of music, therefore music eliminates boundaries and connects people. That’s what I enjoy the most about what I do, finding a common ground with people from everywhere through music, being able to communicate with them and share values. I am reminded of a memory from my trip to Central Asia, Tuva, which I made in order to research about their traditional music and string instruments. My interpreter was supposed to meet me and translate Tuvan to Turkish for me during our rehearsal with Tuvan musicians. She didn’t show up, so we couldn’t talk with the musicians, so we just kept on playing instead for two hours or so. When she finally arrived, she asked, ‘so, what have you been talking about?’. One of the musicians shrugged and said, ‘we didn’t talk, we just played’.

8. Do you have any musical or life advice you would give to yourself this time five years ago, and that you would also like to share with young musicians?

If I could go back five years in time my musical advice to myself would be to go beyond the boundaries of classical musician mindset and to trust more in my creativity. Though providing the musician with a strong basis in musicality and technique, classical music education defines your field as a musician strictly, and therefore what you are supposed to do, which sometimes might become limiting, as well as favouring one style of music more than the other. After a long, disciplined education one begins to think that singing is for singers, composing is for composers, this type of music is to be played by these musicians and that type of music is the job of that other type of musicians. However, that is not the essence of music. Music is whatever expression that wants to come out of our chest. Certainly, mastering our craft is one of our biggest goal however while doing that we shouldn’t limit ourselves and refrain from trying different things in spite of our impulse to do so - otherwise many things that we could create might remain unborn.

9. Who are your big 3 influences right now (musicians and/or non-musicians)?

I am very influenced by cross-cultural and interdisciplinary projects, especially those that focus on traditions and bring them together. The album works of Jordi Savall, in which he brings music from different traditions together through early music, have had a great influence on me. I also admire the works of Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Project. Having participated in their workshops have enlarged my vision, where I had the chance to collaborate with many musicians from around the world. My other influences are the artists who continue to make their art against the suppressions the come across in their lives, by their countries’ political attitude. I respect their persistence and commitment in their art very much, their stories always impress and inspire me.

10. What are you continuing to learn as you develop as an artist?

I’m learning the importance of collaborating with other artists, being inspired by their work and creating together. Also, I am learning the importance of explaining the work I do. Us musicians, most of the time, find it hard to talk about the things we do. Music comes to us naturally and we don’t think in words about what is it that we do, why we do it and how we do it. Having put effort into explaining my work and art have brought me more clarity in my vision and purpose as an artist.

11. Do you think about your practice as continuing to preserve a certain aspect of culture/tradition, or modernising or adding twists into new forms?

I think, in my Turkish music projects, my work is mostly about preserving the traditions. However, I like to do that by bringing a new approach. My next project is going to bring eastern and western music instruments together, but by keeping the music style loyal to the historical and traditional aspects of the era.

12. When you’re having a bad day/week/month, do you have any strategies you like to use personally, or people you like to turn to?

I used to keep my concerns, confusions and bad mood to myself. Over the time, I learned the importance of reaching out to my friends and family and sharing my feelings with them. Friends and family are the most valuable things we have, and it is very important to cultivate in our relationships with them and stay connected. Through the perspective and advice of another person, our biggest dilemmas can sometimes come to a resolution. Another essential approach would be to embrace the bad times and mood as opposed to having a pressure to feel good or to act as if everything is ok all the time. That doesn’t do any good since it doesn’t solve the origin of the problem, as well as denying that side of the equilibrium of feelings would be to undervalue our happiness too. Happiness in life is a point of balance, and we sometimes need to move to another point, whether physically or mentally, in order to acquire a new balance point.

13. How have you used social media in the past to invite audiences to explore your work?

I use social media to spread the word about my events. Creating an event page, I share it on music events groups and other relevant groups on the platform, and invite people. This enables the events to be seen by many people, and it is possible to reach larger audiences through promoting the post. Besides the brief info and details of the projects, I find it helpful to share short excerpts from previous performances or rehearsals, to let the audience know about what to expect. I upload videos of my performances on the internet creating a portfolio and on my web page, I make sure all the information and media about my projects are available.

14. When’s your next performance and how can we hear more about your work?

My Turkish music performance just went by. Upcoming concerts are with Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and then with South Florida Symphony Orchestra. In April I have a chamber music and a violin recital coming up. I’m also negotiating with some venues to present my Turkish music project in spring. Usually I share the dates of my upcoming performances on social media and on my web page.

Read/see/hear Ceren's performances and past projects at her website, here.

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