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The Carletonian

Bridging the cultural gap with music

< can be the glue that brings separate cultures together in times of political turmoil. Specifically, traditional Turkish music brought Muslims and Jews together over the 20th century, according to Professor Maureen Jackson. On Thursday Feb. 10, Jackson gave a presentation, titled “Dervishes and Cantors: Muslim-Jewish Musical Encounters, Empire to Nation,” that focused on the forging of cultural bonds between the Jews and the Muslims from the time of the Ottoman Empire to modern-day Turkey. The central focus was on the traditional music shared between the two groups. “In this talk, I’d like to look past present day music and look towards the cultural politics of traditional music,” explained Jackson.

Jackson talked about the historical relationship between the Jews and Muslims of the Ottoman Empire. She described how the Spanish Jews settled into the Ottoman Empire during the height of the Empire’s regime in the 16th century. It was with this new mixing of cultures that musical interactions started to happen. In the Empire’s capital city of Edirne, Jewish and Muslim musicians started to interact with one another in the royal courts, which at the time were a meeting ground for the two cultures. As Jackson explained, “Where else would Ottoman and Jewish people meet to make music?” Because of this venue, political or religious leaders seemed to be most active within the Ottoman music culture, according to Jackson. From there, Ottoman classical music was developed that still exists today.

Jumping ahead a few hundred years, to the start of the 20th century, music conservatories became popular and essential to the Ottoman Empire’s culture. They were located in Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s. In these schools, young male students could study under older mentors and learn how to sing or play musical instruments in the classical style. These student – teacher relationships were often multiethnic, since the Muslims and Jews constituted the majority of these conservatories. Jackson emphasized this point. “I think one of the most important characteristics of the [Ottoman music] culture was the student/ mentor relationship,” she said. The relationships between the teachers and students were integral to the function of the conservatories, and thus by extension, paramount to the shaping of the Ottoman Empire’s culture.

As the politics of the Ottoman Empire changed during the 20th century, the music culture did as well. According to Jackson, the classical music from the Ottoman Empire survived because the traditions were kept alive in private home settings. The culture lived on because of the desire to keep the traditions alive. The Muslims and Jews continued to work together to cherish their shared love of music throughout the tumultuous century. “In the 1920s, musicians met in homes on a regular basis when music clubs started to close,” said Jackson. “The musicians were trying to sustain the culture.”

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