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Music in Turkey

Turkey has a rich musical tradition of varied and often contrasting styles. From the folk music which originated on the steppes of Asia to the refined music of the Ottoman court; from the strident military music of the mehter takimi, the Janissary band, played with kettle drums, clarinets and cymbals to the mystical sound of the ney or ‘reed pipe’ which accompanies the Whirling Dervishes as they dance.

Classical Turkish music is monophonic, meaning all instruments essentially play the same tune. There are a number of instruments commonly heard such as the kemence or violin; ud or lute; kanun, which is similar to a zither; zurna similar to an oboe; and zil or cymbal.
With the formation of the Turkish Republic, a form of modern polyphonic Turkish music began to develop and there are now numerous successful classical composers. At the other end of the spectrum, there is also a thriving popular music industry in Turkey boosted by the MTV style TV channels playing non-stop music videos. There are a number of prominent music festivals in Turkey including the Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival which is held in June and July and the Istanbul Music and Jazz Festivals.

Folk dancing

Turkey has a rich tradition of folk dancing with dances performed at all social occasions, from weddings and celebrations held for young men leaving for military service, to national and religious festivals, or local festivities. Each region has its own dances which reflect the cultural life of that region. Some of the most famous dances are the bar, originating from the province of Erzurum, the halay in the East and Southeast, the hora in Thrace, the horon in the Black Sea and the spoon dances in and around Konya. Recent developments in Turkish folk dance have seen the emergence of River-dance style troupes performing modern variations on the traditional dances in elaborate, spectacular, stage shows such as the Fire of Anatolia.

Mevlana – Whirling Dervishes

The order of Mevlevi, better known in the west as the Whirling Dervishes, was founded by the 13th century Sufimystic, Celaleddin Rumi, who was also known as Mevlana. He was a poet, who believed that music and dance provided the means to enter a religious state of ecstasy thereby discovering divine love, and formed a religion, or philosophy based on tolerance. His most famous poem represents the central beliefs of Sufism:

Come, come, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire-worshipper or idolator, come!
Come even if you have broken your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is the door of hope, come as you are.

Every year, thousands of people descend on Konya for an annual event in December to commemorate the Mevlana and watch the mesmerising whirling dervishes in their spiritual home.

Central to the philosophy is the sema ceremony, the climax of which is the whirling dance. It is performed in traditional symbolic costume of a conical hat or sikke, which represents the tombstone of the ego, and white robes or tennure, which represent its shroud. The dervish whirls with his right hand pointed upwards towards God and his left pointing down to the earth to the accompaniment of the ney or reed pipe.

Karagöz Shadow Puppets

A sort of Turkish Punch & Judy show, Karagöz is a shadow play performed by traditionally designed puppets, made of translucent stretched and painted camel skin. There are two main characters the eponymous Karagöz and Hacivat. Karagöz is a down-to-earth type who frequently finds himself at odds with his friend, Hacivat who is well educated in Islamic theology but ultimately unreliable.

The plays are humorous, drawing on double entendres, caricatures and mimicry. There is a strong element of satire, which was used during Ottoman times to provide a humorous critique of those in authority. During this period, Karagöz was one of the most important forms of entertainment with shows performed at festivals and feasts.

Nasrettin Hoca

Nasrettin Hoca was a popular scholar born in 1208, whose tales are famous throughout Turkey for their satire, wit and humour, beneath which lies a serious message. He has acquired such mythical status, however, that fact and fiction have become muddled in the stories surrounding him and the anecdotes attributed to him. His stories refer to everyday situations amongst the common people of Anatolia and his wisdom opposes the stricter elements of Islamic law with humour, as he baffles those around him with his logic. Many of the stories feature his donkey, itself a symbol of suffering, which was an everyday part of village life.


Turkey has a very ancient folk dance tradition, which varies from region to region, each dance being colourful, rhythmic, elegant and stylish. The following are among the most popular: “Çayda Çıra” from the Sivas region in Central Anatolia is performed by young girls dressed in silver and gold embroidered kaftans who dance in the dark with lighted candles in their hands. In the “Silifke Yoğurdu” from the Mersin region in the South Mediterranean, dancers click wooden spoons together above their heads. “Şeyh Şamil” from the Kars region in the East, is a beautifully dramatised legend of a Caucasian hero. “Kılıç Kalkan” is an epic dance performed with swords and shields from the region of Bursa, and “Zeybek” from Izmir is another epic and vigorous folk dance performed, by male dancers who bang their knees on the floor in between steps.

Folklore has also had a considerable influence on ballet. First imported from Europe and Russia, ballet became institutionalised in the Republican era along with other performing arts. The Turkish State Ballet owes its momentum and development to the great British choreographer Dame Ninette de Valois. The State Ballet in both Ankara and İstanbul has, for decades, performed many world classics. Several new foreign and Turkish productions have been introduced into the repertoire over the years and a number of modern dance groups like the infamous “Fire of Anatolia” (Anadolu Atesi) have recently begun to give performances all over the world.

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Turkey Tour Guide
Kucukayasofya Mh. Sultanahmet Istanbul9034122 Turkey 
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