Turkish luthier Ekrem Uğurlu plies his busy instrument-making and instrument repair trade in his 9 year old instrument-making and repair shop studio, Seren Violin, in the neighborhood of Çengelköy, Istanbul, on the Uskudar (Asian) shore of the Bosphorus. He specializes in making violins in addition to repairing other stringed instruments, including the guitar, along with an incredible array of traditional Turkish folk instruments.
Uğurlu who studied business administration at Anadolu University is a musician, a singer of traditional folk music at Kültür ve Turizm Bakanligi Devlet Türk Halk Müzigi Korosu. Uğurlu also studied with singer and composer Gökhan Temur, the founder of the choir who also established its presence with the Ministry of Culture. Temur has the distinction of studying with the music department lecturer and coach at Harran University with Atik Sahil, one of the foremost scholars of folk music in Şanlıurfa. In addition, Uğurlu served as a vocal soloist at Şanlıurfa Il Kültür Sanat ve Araștırma Vakfı. Uğurlu’s wife, classical guitarist Tangül, assists in the studio and teaches guitar at the music school they have founded together, called Timya Sanat. In fact, Seren Violin first opened in Istanbul’s historic Fatih district but after Ekrem and Tangül married, they decided to combine their two respective workshops and relocate them to the Çengelköy district.
Uğurlu was born in 1977 in Şanlıurfa (pronounced Shan-leh-urfa), a town in Southeastern Turkey and he started his music career when he joined the Şanlıurfa amateur music group. He later won first place in singing contests for Turkish folk music and became a professional soloist in the Turkish folk music state youth choir.
Uğurlu began his studies in the art of luthiery while continuing his work as a professional vocal soloist. Ten years ago, he relocated to Istanbul to study violin-making at luthier Cengiz Sarıkuș’ workshop in Aksaray, Istanbul before he established his own luthiery studio.Tangül Hacısalihoğlu Uğurlu says, of her husband’s work, “Ekrem doesn’t play the guitar but he definitely makes repairs on them. His repair work specialty is with stringed instruments, such as the violin, viola, cello and contrabass as well as traditional Turkish folk music instruments like the oud, kanun, bağlama, kemence and the squash kemane, which is often referred to as ‘the pumpkin,’ because it is made from a gourd.”
“Şanlıurfa is a very historical town in Turkey, where locals are renowned for their beautiful singing traditions,” Tangül says. Ekrem’s brother is a master at the darbuka (hand drum) and his brother taught him to play the instrument. Since childhood, Ekrem has been devoted to music. It is so very much a part of his identity and it is an art steeped in incredible history and culture in this part of Turkey, which descends from the original Turkmen of Mesopotamia.”
Turkish music carries a strong tradition in using stringed music, especially in the form of various folk instruments, the most popular being the three and four-stringed kemence, which is generally made from the wood of mulberry trees and also, plum trees. The three-stringed version of the instrument is tuned in fourths and fifths and the four-stringed version shares the same tuning as the Western violin.
As a quick overview of traditional stringed Turkish folk music instruments, the oud is a lute-like instrument of Arabian origin that is played with a plectrum. The kanun is an ancient, Middle Eastern version of the autoharp but is played laying flat. It bears several sets of fragile skin insets that pick up on the vibration of 26 courses of strings. The bağlama, or saz, is like an elongated lute with a long, skinny neck and fret board. It can be played fingerstyle or with a plectrum. The kemence is like a bowed dulcimer and is a traditional folk instrument from the Black Sea region. “The kemence can be either 3 or 4-stringed,” says Tangül.
And the kabak kemane or “pumpkin,” which looks like a long-necked, 4 stringed banjo played with a bow, is used to accompany the singing of poetry. “The pumpkin is not a guitar at all,” says Tangül. “It is a lot closer to the violin for being similar in timbre. 0.20 0.30 strings are used as the thinnest. The front cover of the pumpkin fiddle is covered with a membrane of paper and the neck is made of the pear tree, also referred to as the ‘butterfly tree’ because the tree itself attracts butterflies. The front of the fret board is ebony or rosewood with various jewel or shell inlays. Often, Turkish classical music consists of makams, a type of modal scale. Western music is 12-tone while Turkish music has a 24-tone, or quarter tone, range. These modal anthems were written originally in the Ottoman court with the motivation to keep the soldiers in peace between wars,” she explains.
Luthier Ekrem Uğurlu demonstrates one of his hand-crafted kabak kemane instruments at his work bench:
Other notable, more contemporary Turkish violinists include:
Hakki Derman, Istanbul, born in 1907, was a Beşiktas native and pharmacology graduate who turned into a musician known for his unusual bow technique. Violinist Turay Dinleyen is an improviser-extraordinaire. Ilyas Tetik of Izmir is a contemporary violin virtuoso.
A glimpse inside the Seren Violin Workshop:
Tangül Hacısalihoğlu Uğurlu started her music education during secondary school in Istanbul in 1980 with the piano and she started playing classical guitar at age 14. In 1998, she won a scholarship to study classical guitar at Müjdat Gezen Sanat Merkezi and Okan Universitese Konservatuari and graduated at the end of 4 years as a student of Hüsrev’s scholarship. “After graduating, I worked as a classical guitar instructor for 4 years at Müjdat,” Tangül says. “My favorite composers are Albéniz and Villa-Lobos. I love Albéniz’s Granada very much. His arrangements and transcriptions for his folkloric piano pieces are very good for guitars, in my opinion. For example, his Asturias Leyenda was originally composed for the piano but it sounds so much better on the guitar. “What is it with these piano playing composers who also write for guitar? When you open the lid of the piano, you find what looks like a guitar inside!”
Tangül graduated from the management faculty in 2010 and, at present, is studying at Okan Universitesi Konservatuarı for her graduate degree while continuing to lecture and run her guitar school, Timya Sanat and Seren Violin, founded by her and her luthier husband.
Tangül has worked with guitarists Zoran Dukiç, Cristina Azuma and Ricardo Moyano during their visits to Istanbul. “I’ve have the opportunity to work with many musicians in the field. Zoran Dukiç and Cristina came to Turkey to perform concerts and give both a workshop and masterclasses and I joined them.” Tangül, who has been teaching and performing since 2002, has enjoyed seeing her student, Hayal Deniz Ozer, win guitar competitions in Italy and become a finalist at the Istanbul Pera Guitar Festival.
“I first met Ekrem when I went to buy one of his violins,” Tangül says. “I do not know how to play the instrument but I love it and feel that the sound of it is very relaxing. Ekrem is very talented and is the expert in the realm of traditional Turkish art and Turkish folk music. He has a knack for being able to pick up and play everything with ease. I am hardworking, by contrast, and play Western music on the guitar.”
Seren Violins start at $800 and are also made to order. Uğurlu provides free repairs on his violins for the life of the instrument.
Seren Violin address: Akgüngör Sokak, Küçüksu, located in the Çengelköy district of Istanbul.
Phone numbers to reach Luthier Ekrem Uğurlu’s workshop and Tangül Hacısalihoğlu’s Timya Sanat:
011 90 05424678706
011 90 05358324133
* * *