The depiction of a çeng in a book illustration

My journey with the çeng, the historical harp of the region roughly encompassing Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq which is inherited from Mesopotamia has turned around a new corner with a beautiful çeng made by Ardival Harps in Scotland in the winter of 2016-17. I have been involved with the revival of the çeng since 2008. Graham Muir got interested in this lap harp while I was at the International Edinburgh Harp Festival in 2016. The çeng I had, perhaps the 7th we had done in Turkey through three different instrument makers was suffering structural deformation, to the point that I was barely able to play it at the IEHF concert. Looking to have it repaired, I met Graham and saw the amazing medieval lap harps he exhibited  at the festival. It was Dave from Starfish, the maker of my lever harp who, seeing me in despair, said: “Graham can do it” Go for it!”. Graham took careful measurements and wrote down his notes about the structural problems the çeng was suffering from. It was then a matter for me to send him some images from miniatures paintings, the Islamic art of illustrated books where most images about instruments can be found. Although inspiring those images are not always reliable because illustrations can take away from the real image. Anyway, they are lovely to look at and be inspired from.

The çeng in the making

Graham started at a good place I felt. He hasa good examination of my structurally failing çeng with actually had a decent sound and one which I had recorded my “Çengnağme” album with. It was the seventh done in Turkey, and although there are very fine Turkish instrument makers, nobody is a harp specialist like Graham. While Graham was refelcting on his design, I started looking for funding. Two chapters of the Rotary Club of Istanbul, namely, Maslak and Acarkent liked the project and offered their support.

Then it was a matter of me sending the leather which covers the soundbox over to Scotland, something that comes to Turkey from Pakistan. Graham and I talked about a few details, such as the number of strings. Having now played the çeng since 2008, I realized that the Ottoman repertoire I was playing from did not need me to use the lowest two strings. An A and B. We could thus have a C for the lowest string (the middle C of a piano) and have a slightly smaller harp, making it lighter. Graham made a prototype and all through we stayed in communication through whatsapp. Whatsapp was never so much fun as as receiving images from this instrument being born with a new structure. Bill Taylor who is the harpist who tuned and played and checked everything with the çeng before it was shipped over to Turkey sent me some wonderful videos and it was fascinating for me to hear somebody else other than me playing a çeng.

Finally the çeng arrived in Turkey late March. And the result is a sturdy, beautiful sounding, beautiful looking, reliable harp.  I already performed on it at several concerts and I am truly overjoyed with this collaboration between Turkey and Scotland. Who knew it? I feel this is a moment in history. I hope to be able to take this collaboration to new horizons between our respective cultures, through a common element: the harp!

I made a video at home a few days after it arrived, here it is.