Music touches the hearts of both young and old, and in the case of Feridun Obul, 47, it can change lives.
Obul, a Turk of Circassian origin, produces musical instruments, some of which belong to the 6,000-year-old history of Turkish music, with its origins in Central Asia.
He produces these instruments quickly with his dexterous hands and has sold them all over the globe.
Ancient Turkish music has affected many parts of the world, from Asia and Europe to South Africa and Latin America. The music of the Turks has even had some influence on old English and Inuit civilizations. Over the centuries, the basis of some Turkish music was influenced by spirituality.
Upon the acceptance of Islam by the Turks, Sufi music was created. Some feel that Sufi music strengthens the feelings of love, friendship, solidarity and overall humanity. With this principle in mind Obul decided to produce instruments that give life to this extensive history.
"One of our relatives, Oruç Güvenç, was the head of the ethnomusicology department at the Cerrahpaşa School of Medicine," Obul said. "At the time, I was working at the university, repairing the roof. One day while working, he asked me to join him at a concert of a group that came from Central Asia. I went to the concert and -- from that moment on -- was not the same Feridun.
The following day I did not go back to my old job. Instead, I set up a new bench to produce some instruments that were not built in Turkey. Güvenç had said that there was no master who produced these old Turkish music instruments. That inspired me to be the first."
"It may be odd that I make old, rarely seen instruments," continued Obul, who is skilled enough to reproduce an instrument from a single photograph. "I am good at art. I was carving little tables and chairs when I was not working for someone. I can say that my secret ability has come out. Also, the group that gave that concert affected me deeply. They were playing so sincerely that they seemed to adore their instruments."
While on the journey from a repairman to a craftsman, Obul did not know any musical notes and says he did not see the necessity of learning them because he thinks sounds of instruments lead him in his pleasant way of music.
Obul has given life to over 800 instruments in his little workshop in Sultanahmet. When asked if the only thing that changed a repairman into a craftsman is inspiration, he said without hesitation: "If it isn't, how can I explain my situation? I didn't even know any notes. I was not interested in music. Every single instrument is like my child. When I sell them, I feel a bit of resentment."
When the university received a new rector, a decision was made that the department of ethnomusicology was not part of the school of medicine, and it was subsequently closed.
It was then that this university adventure came to an end, meaning he could no longer produce instruments with Güvenç and his students. Nevertheless, Güvenç continued his career at another university and Obul opened his workshop. He has been producing instruments for 20 years and is now a unique master of old Turkish instrument production. Although sad that he has been unable to find an apprentice to carry on the work, his daughter Gökçe, who graduated from İstanbul University, will carry on his legacy.
While playing his çeng, an Asian harp with either 14 or 24 strings, he tells of how he had a dream and then built several instruments. "I dreamed about many instruments whose names I don't even know. For example, this çeng does not have a tuning system, but after a dream I thought about it for 15 days or longer and devised a tuning system. Lecturers at the university were really very pleased with the discovery."
Many foreigners have an interest in old Turkish music. They visit Obul to see how he builds the instruments, and most of them return home with a newfound love for Turkish music. The most-wanted instrument is the "rebab" from Asia. Its body is made of a fish skin-covered coconut and its strings from horsetail hair. It is said that Mevlana Muhammed Jelaluddin Rumi played this instrument.
The reason the rebab is so popular is the sound it makes -- a sound said to be the closest to the human voice. "The naturalness of the instruments affects many foreigners. For example, tourists from Europe often don't know any sounds except for electronic ones. They themselves even express that they don't want to hear what they are accustomed to."
There is no other master in the world who can build such instruments. Obul stresses that "each master makes only one or two types of instruments professionally. But what I make is over 800. I don't always make Eastern instruments -- Western instruments are well represented as well."
As can be understood from his style, modesty is his worldview. His words prove this: "You ask me if I am very proud of myself or not. I really don't know. What am I supposed to do? This is my life. The key is modesty; if you are not modest enough, you can change the dynamics of the world. I do not insist that I am, but I know this is the rule."
Obul's work ethic has led him to make instruments that are not widely known, including the rebab, the çeng, the dombra (also known as the dutar), the kılkopuz, the gubuz (sangobız), the koray, the sıbızgı, the mazhar kudüm and many others. He also introduces these instruments abroad and has participated in many exhibitions. One of his products is currently being exhibited at the Austrian state house.
Obul is currently working on a book that will introduce the instruments to a wider audience. The book will provide information on the history and characteristics of each instrument. "I didn't expect so much interest in my book, but I have to finish it in a short time. It has become an obligation," Obul says.
His workshop is like a museum, and he has dedicated himself to his work so much that his house is right next door.
Photos of Obul's instruments can be seen at http://www.turkishmusichouse.com/