Aka considered me his student and I considered him my teacher, but in our two years together, we never sat down for a lesson. I don't remember his giving me a single tip on how to play the ney, although he did pretend to give me a tip once for the benefit of a newspaper photographer in Konya (left). I just absorbed his style by hanging around at his rehearsals and performances at Istanbul Radio Station and elsewhere in Istanbul, Konya, and the United States.

This learning method contrasted with the traditional meşk Turkish music training method which I observed, for example, at the home of venerable ney player and former dervish, Halil Can. Students sang composed melodies while beating out the usul (rhythmic cycle) on their knees. Aka's teaching also contrasted with Western-style lessons with lots of scale exercises I received earlier from another ney player.

After months of this kind of exposure, Aka told me that he would perform at a concert at Topkapı Palace and he wanted me to play the ney alongside him. From then on, Aka invited me to perform with him on record dates, radio broadcasts, and in 1971, onstage at the annual Mevlana Festival in Konya. After I returned to the U.S., I was invited to join the first U.S. tour of the Mevlevi ("Whirling Dervishes") in the fall of 1972 as ney player and interpreter. Aka was Serneyzen (head ney player) for the tour.

Submerged in ensembles, I rarely played an important part on these occasions; on one record date, I played dem (drone). In the broadcast studio at Istanbul Radio, the microphone for me and an elderly dervish was turned off. But my goal was not to become a journeyman ney player. Rather, it was to play the proverbial fly-on-the-wall to try to understand how musicians thought and played the music.

Had I stayed longer and my playing developed further, I suppose Aka would have invited me to gradually play more prominent roles. Maybe Aka acquired some prestige from having a disciple from America following him about. But I think he also genuinely wanted to help me in my research. He was by nature a generous person.

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last revised 21 September 2008