Garden gate of Kasturiya synagogue, Istanbul. Reproduced by permission from the collection of Maureen Jackson.
In my research I focus in particular on the social history of the music – how Ottoman and Turkish Jewish music and musicians were embedded in the ambient urban life in its social, economic, and political dimensions. A number of faculty members and graduate courses at the UW inspired my historical approach, including an original year-long seminar, “Re-envisioning the Ottoman Empire,” designed and taught by Reşat Kasaba, Sarah Abrevaya Stein, and Selim Kuru, in addition to theoretical courses with Ramonda Modiano in her innovative Textual Studies program. For my doctoral research I spent a year in Istanbul (2005-6) focusing on Jewish religious music within its wider cultural context. The specific topic of my dissertation, book, and the upcoming program at the UW on February 10th is a vocal repertoire, the Maftirim – a sacred suite of songs with fascinating musical and social interconnections with the Ottoman court suite performed and cultivated in the Sultan’s palace.
Q. Is preservation of endangered musical traditions one of your goals as a scholar? What kind of resources or tools are necessary to ensure that Ottoman-era Jewish music, or similar disappearing traditions, can be studied and enjoyed by future generations?
A. A recent publication by the Istanbul Jewish community, Maftirim (Istanbul, 2009), makes available archival recordings of these religious songs, as well as Hebrew lyrics, notation, and translations into Turkish, Ladino, and English. It is a tremendously valuable project that documents over 60 Maftirim songs sung by those considered to be the last three masters of the music. If you look at the labor-intensive process involved in publishing these songs, you can appreciate the kind of resources needed for such high-quality productions – knowledgeable musicians, music historians, notators, translators, among others, not to mention state-of-the-art remastering technology for the recordings. I think it was the will, knowledge, motivation, and funding among Jewish and non-Jewish musicians alike in Istanbul that spurred and sustained this effort. An individual can carry out such demanding work, but institutions, in this case the Ottoman-Turkish Sephardic Culture Research Center, directed by a musician, Karen Gerson Şarhon, can often provide much-needed funding and sustained support.