Evening of Turkish Sufi music coming to Mount Shasta Dec. 7

Lauren Steinheimer
The whirling dervish shown before a mitrip of musicians at a previous performance of traditional Turkish Sufi music.

A ceremony honoring centuries of traditional art and music is coming to Mount Shasta Dec. 7

The evening of Turkish Sufi music at the city park features Turkish musicologist Dr. Timuçin Çevıkoğlu, general director of the Classical Turkish Research and Performance Ensemble in Ankara and founder of the Mevlevi Order of America School of Music.

The concert starts at 7 p.m. with a suggested donation is $15 to $20 at the door to cover the cost of travel for the performers.

Event organizer Alan Berkowitz said no one will be turned away due to lack of funds, and greater donations are most welcome.

Çevıkoğlu will be accompanied by a mitrip, or ensemble of musicians, and whirling dervish dancers in a symbolic performance of Turkish tradition.

“This ceremony is very symbolic in that it depicts the stages of the spiritual journey of the human being,” said student musician Mahmud Burton.

Rumi and the striking

sound of the ney

He explained what the audience can expect from the performance and tied it in to a rich cultural background originating from the teachings of world-famous 13th century poet Jelaluddin Rumi.

In addition to familiar instruments such at the cello and violin, Burton said the audience will be treated to traditional Turkish instruments, most notably a reed flute known as the ney.

Burton, who will be playing the ney along with Çevıkoğlu, said the wind instrument holds particular spiritual significance in Turkish tradition because the reed is symbolic of the perfected human being.

“It’s a very simple instrument in that it’s only a piece of cane reed,” Burton said, “but it’s difficult to find a suitable reed to use for making a ney. There might be only one cane reed out of a thousand that would be the proper dimensions.”

Burton said Rumi started one of his most famous works of poetry with the line, “listen to the sound of the ney.”

“The sound of the ney is very striking,” Burton said, “and the poem is talking about the longing to be united with the source.”

The rest of the ensemble will consist of percussion instruments such as the bendir and the kudum and a stringed instrument called the oud, which he described as an ancestral relative of the lute without frets.

The music will have a strong vocal contribution as well. Burton described his teacher Çevıkoğlu as a renowned vocalist who has performed in countries all over the world, including the Vatican.

Çevıkoğlu will sing in a couple of different languages, with much focus on Ottoman Turkish. Burton said Turkish speakers might understand some of it, but it would be analogous to English speakers watching a Shakespearian performance.

Whirling dervish dancers

and the Mevlevi Order

Whirling dervish dancers of the Turkish Sufi tradition will accompany the musicians.

“The story goes that the whirling came about when Rumi heard the sound of a goldsmith’s hammer and began turning around in rhythm to that hammer,” Burton said. However, the whirling didn’t develop into its current form until about 30 years after Rumi’s death in 1273.

Following Rumi’s passing, his son established a school to carry on his teachings called the Mevlevi Order.

“Rumi was a very important teacher,” Burton said, “His teaching was so universal that when his funeral came, not only Muslims but Jews and Christians felt the teachings needed to continue.”

Students of the Mevlevi Order would study languages, arts and science for 1,001 days to become experts that are now called dervishes.

Usually a performance will include 10 whirling dervishes, but the one in Mount Shasta will only have two.

Çevıkoğlu’s musicology research focuses on uncovering and transcribing compositions of the original Mevlevi Order. The majority of the pieces featured at the Dec. 7 performance will be from the 18th and 19th centuries, with the earliest from the 16th century.

“This is a very rich tradition,” Burton said. “It’s much older than what we know as classical music.”

Burton has been studying Turkish Sufi music for about 10 years, and said the first step in his journey of learning this style of music was to forget everything he’d already learned.

“The Turkish music system recognizes many more notes in the base of an octave than American music,” he said. As an example, Burton referred to the keyboard of a piano. “In between two white keys, there’s one black, so there are basically three divisions within that whole tone. The Turkish system can recognize about seven.”

The concert in Mount Shasta is one of four stops on a west coast tour for the performers. The final destination is a special ceremony in Portland, Ore. called shevi arus. The ceremony honors the anniversary of Rumi’s death on Dec. 17.