Melody makers: Istanbul’s instrument ateliers
Another timeless Istanbul sight is the whirling of the Mevlevi order dervishes, who aim to reunite with the creator through their dance. This ritual is accompanied by drums and the breathy sound of the reed flute known as ney. In his poetry, the 13th-century mystic Rumi often used the ney as an image of man’s separation from the divine, asking, “Whoever saw a poison and a cure, a mate and longing lover like the reed?” Young ney master Rıfat Varol proves that these traditions live on at his workshop in Sultanahmet.
“The ney is a very simple instrument,” Varol told The Guide Istanbul. “It has nine sections, according to the natural joints of the cane, and the player’s fingers use seven holes. People wonder how a ney player can create such a complex sound from such a simple instrument – but there is depth in the ney’s simplicity.”
The plant used to make the ney is called the giant cane, and it is native to the area around the Mediterranean, especially Adana, Hatay, and Antalya. It was during Varol’s military service in Hatay that he first learned the art of ney production, cutting and drying the cane himself. Later moving to Istanbul, Varol studied under ney masters to perfect his methods. “It doesn’t take long to make one ney,” said Varol. “Once the cane is dried, you can make a ney in about three hours. The person for whom you’re making the ney must be with you throughout this process, because everyone’s way of playing is different.”
When The Guide Istanbul visited Varol’s workshop, he was hosting a ney player from Israel. Despite the ney’s reputation as a difficult instrument, Varol says the ney receives a lot of interest from people in Europe, America, and the Middle East. “Some people say learning the ney is very hard. Actually there’s just a small amount of technique required,” Varol explains. “Making a note is hard at first, but within 10 minutes you can learn the right blowing position.” Varol himself performs with an ensemble once a month at the Galata Mevlevihanesi, which is Istanbul’s oldest Mevlevi lodge and now a museum. To make an appointment with Rıfat Varol, reach him at email@example.com or find out more at www.neyneva.com