We go to Istanbul for today's Global Hit. It features an American who lives in the Turkish city. He's there because he loves the saz, one of Turkey's most popular musical instruments. Reporter Will Everett has this profile.
Bob Beer performs on saz, the traditional folk instrument of Turkey: photo: Will Everett
I was in Turkey interviewing some of the country's best saz-players when one told me, "You should go find this American, Bob Beer. He keeps a pretty low profile, but he's a great musician."
Forty-eight-year-old Bob Beer lives in an old-fashioned brick house surrounded by high-rise apartment buildings. I follow him out to the shed where he chops old window frames into kindling for his wood stove.
BEER: "One thing I hear a lot, they say, We all want to go to the States, why the hell would you want to come here? You know, economically, I mean, sure, it would certainly be easier to have a cushy job."
He used to have a cushy job at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Whenever he could, he'd vist Turkey to study the saz.
Then seven years ago, his passion for the long-necked stringed instrument got the best of him, and he moved to Istanbul for good.
Beer cradles the saz in his lap, strumming and tapping along the instrument's bowl-shaped body. The saz is a folk instrument found throughout this part of the world.
Long ago minstrels used it to accompany songs that communicated the news of the day.
The instrument has also been adopted by Shi'ite Muslims known as Alevis.
At a time when most Turks were illiterate, Alevis used songs to pass along their religious teachings. To this day, saz music is a central component of Alevi worship.
Beer says he's heard the saz referred to as the stringed Koran.
BEER: "But there are songs as well that are just about everyday life too. This one is one where a man is talking to the woman, the girl, who he's been in love with, who's been married off to somebody else."
You would think an American with Beer's passion for Turkish music would have Turkish roots, but Beer's family hails from Greece. His parents are classical musicians and Beer was a student of the French horn.
As a child, he would listen to his mother's collection of Greek records, but it was an an LP by some Turkish saz players that really caught his interest.
BEER: "I really didn't know what it was at the time, but at 8 or 9 years old it influenced me so much, moved me so much, that I decided right there, I'm going to play this music."
He bought his first saz as a university student and began playing by ear.
When he moved to Istanbul, he studied with Erol Parlak, one of Turkey's foremost saz players.
Years ago, when metal strings began replacing sheep-gut strings, saz players began playing with picks.
Parlak helped bring hand-picking or "shelpeh" style of playing back into prominence, and taught Beer how to do it.
Studying any instrument can be an intense, solitary vocation, but now and then Beer gets together with other saz players.
In a small apartment in the heart of the city, Beer and several friends sit barefooted around a pot of steaming tea.
In awhile a man and a woman take up their instruments and play a piece that simulates a conversation between two sazes.
You have to be born an Alevi to be an Alevi. This doesn't deter Bob Beer.
He says he can love their music as much as they do. He's spent 25 years studying it, and has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
BEER: "At one point I felt like, I'll never get anywhere with this. I'll just be spending my entire life trying to catch up. And sometimes I still feel that way. But it doesn't bother me as much anymore."