I have always been surrounded by artists, as long as I have known myself. Musicians mostly of course but also artists. Musicians are so diverse usually, because they are all very specialized. What one does, the other doesn’t do. Unless you are an orchestral musician with a corps of strings you are part of, most smaller musical productions take one of a kind. Well, this is not how things were always. It is a fairly recent thing in music that composers do not perform by default. Or that performers are not expected to compose.

My musical life consisted of performing what others wrote until a few years ago. Performing, it goes without saying is wonderfully mysterious always, especially trying to figure out what now deceased men and women wanted to hear when they composed! One day I started composing with the push of a colleague. He sent me some lyrics as he was boarding a plane. “See what you can do and send me what you have done so I can see it when I land” he said. I started reading the poetry loud out and suddenly I heard the notes and rhythm hidden within the lyrics. There you go.

Composing, even a tiny bit is a very liberating way of moving with music I find. Thereafter, I managed to compose some tangos, some hymns and some solo instrumental pieces, in western and traditional Turkish styles. Both come to my ears. They are modest attempts at putting together what is between my ears and in my mind.

Every now and then, something comes to mind and I sit down and I write it. I write things which are playable by myself at least on a certain level. But with so many other less fun tasks my musical career is demanding of me, I am left wanting more but for that I need to make time.  I am dreaming of a day when I have more time for this exercice. It is certainly a different part of the brain that works when composing, compared to playing. The two together, along with improvisation makes me feel more whole as a musician.

But there are people who are born composers, who do not need special time or circumstances to compose, that is how powerfully music comes out of them, uncontrollable I think. Some of them are known to the history of music and transcend it, while others are lost in the complex trails of the wild forests. Some are probably lost for good while others surface some day. Recently I witnessed an event worth thinking about.  Have a listen to “Selanik Marşı” (Thessaloniki March) by İsmail Zühtü Kuşçuoğlu, if you wish.

The work is attributed to Kuşçuoğlu, a composer who passed away in 1924 in Izmir. One day, I was called to attend a meeting with Kuşçuoglu’s heirs at the attorney’s office. Curious of this Izmir composer (having moved to Izmir recently I took a special interest) I attended the meeting. There was a good amount of manuscripts with pieces of all styles who likely had never been performed after the death of the composer or even never ever and I was asked to categorize the music and attribute a financial value to it! Kuşçuoglu was the conductor of the band of the Turkish parliament when it was formed. From the manuscripts it is clear that he is a very good composer and that his historical importance is huge as one of the earliest examples of western style of composition in Turkey. I was told that he was also the teacher of Adnan Saygun, a prolific composer of the republican Turkey from Izmir, who is credited for the first opera written in Turkish.

Manuscript from Kuşçuoğlu’s (1877-1924) opus

Looking with admiration to loads of dusty music book and staff paper I sat there thinking about the journey of this music. The amount of music to categorize would have required a huge amount of time and knowledge of Ottoman Turkish. But the question of attributing a financial value to something that transcends the idea of value stopped me right there. I recommended that the archives be turned over to a music foundation where they would be scanned, digitally re-written and made into a proper archive accessible to parties interested. Now in the public domain, the scores would open up paths to performances, bring to public attention the real first Turkish opera “Tezer”, to exhibitions and much more. It would open the door to a thrilling discovery I, along with Hasan Uçarsu, a good composer friend who knew the exact “value” of Kuşçuoğlu would back up and follow all our lives. And endless series of events could be planned, needles to say.

I set up an appointment for the family to meet the foundation. A few hours before the meeting would take place they informed me they could not come due to illness they said. But I had my doubts. Now, about the value of sheet music, or an archive in a country like Turkey where music is always the ground of a ideological battlefield, there would not be an option more valuable then being re-discovered and becoming accessible to the society. Having said that I also believe, if we were  in a different country perhaps, there could be interested parties for acquiring the archives for a fee. And this is a good thing for music. But this kind of understanding towards music is not to be found yet in Turkey. Then comes the tough question: if this were a painting, which could be owned, sold again, change hands, only those eyes of its owner would be needed to continue to exist. But with music, which needs so much more, where is “it” exactly? Where is music? Where is its value? Or should I say? What is music?