The Ceng: Not Your Average Flute

Alexander the Great on his horse Bucephalus. Wikipedia/public domain.

Seattle has always been a musical hub. Everything from classical, jazz, hip hop and grunge have all been shaped by, and have helped shape, this city. Seattle’s music scene has of late been influenced by Alexander the Great and international instruments you likely haven’t seen much of in local performances, including the Turkish ceng.

On Saturday, April 21st, the Boston Camerata and the Dunya performed at Town Hall. While many think of Nirvana or Kanye West when they think of concerts, the Boston Camerata and the Dunya collaborated in a performance commemorating the life of Alexander the Great. Using various forms of the traditional angular harp, these two musical groups brought a more historical flavor to Seattle’s already heavily international music scene.

The performance was a conglomerate of prophecy and commentary in multiple languages from writings ranging from the Book of David to a text from the 17th century, and from a variety of countries including Turkey, Greece, France, England, and Italy. The text was spoken or sung to Ottoman and Sufi music as well as Koranic, Hebrew, Byzantine, Gregorian and Greek chants as the performance chronicled Alexander the Great’s life, education, political rise, and prowess in battle (and as a lover).

The angular harp was a prominent instrument in the performance and has been used for centuries. It is often known as the ceng in Turkey, the oud in the Middle East, and the kugo in Japan. The ney and saz, instrumental cousins of the angular harp, were also featured in the performance. The Dunya, a Turkish ensemble group, provided much of the instrumental variety while the Boston Camerata performed many of the vocal parts of the concert.

The fascination and success of this program came from the combination of so many unique international instruments and historical texts. The Boston Camerata and the Dunya, while based in Boston, perform around the world. Never before have they combined their expertise to bring such a historically-rich performance to Seattle’s musical stage. Given local bands’ propensity for musical innovation, perhaps we’ll see the ceng more often.

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Blog post by Emily Phillips

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