Turkish music teacher records traditional song, dance for posterity

Music teacher Emre Dayıoğlu spends most of his time -- and money -- visiting remote villages in southwestern Turkey to document local music and dance in hopes of preserving it for future generations.

Carrying his üçtelli, a three-stringed instrument unique to the area, Dayıoğlu has visited dozens of villages across Turkey's Teke region, recording local performances of traditional music and folkloric dances.

"If I don't record these old songs and dances, they will disappear and be forgotten," Dayıoğlu, who teaches music at a high school in his hometown of Kas in Turkey's Antalya province, told Anadolu Agency.

According to the music teacher, the numerous and varied sub-genres of traditional Turkish music are virtually unknown to modern Turkish youth.

"One of the reasons I decided to embark on this project was because the new generation has become so out-of-touch with its own cultural heritage," he said.

Dayıoğlu was born in Kas in 1988, when, he recalls, "there was no internet, no YouTube -- only cheap cassette players".

Some of his earliest memories are of his parents listening to different kinds of music -- especially traditional Turkish songs -- in the car.

"That's when my interest in traditional music began," he said.

In primary school, he learned how to play the üçtelli -- an instrument that he has long since mastered.

After earning his degree at Mehmet Akif University in Turkey's southern Burdur province, he received a government appointment in 2012 to teach music at a high school in Kas.

"When I received my first paycheck, the first thing I did was buy a video camera," he said. "I wanted to visit remote villages in the region and record all these unknown masters of Turkish traditional music."

"At first, I just wanted to learn from them in hopes of improving my own üçtelli playing," Dayıoğlu said. "But they were so good that soon I began showing the recordings to my students and incorporating them into my lessons."

Upon seeing the recordings, some of Dayıoğlu's more internet-savvy students urged him to upload his archive -- which at this point included hundreds of videos -- to social-media platforms.

When Dayıoğlu took his students' advice in 2013 and uploaded his archive to YouTube, he was amazed by the thousands of positive comments -- from all over the world -- that his YouTube channel received.

"I'm generally not good with technology; I only started using a smartphone a couple years ago," he said. "My students had to help me upload my archive. I never would have thought to use the internet to preserve ancient culture."

"At first, I thought I was the only one who was interested in this music," Dayıoğlu added. "But now I realize that many people, including many people abroad, share my interest."

Dayıoğlu's YouTube channel (which can be found on the video-sharing platform at "Emre Dayıoğlu") currently boasts more than 40,000 subscribers.

Meanwhile, his Twitter account, on which he began sharing his videos last September, already has more than 56,000 followers.

Both of his social-media accounts received a massive boost in April, when Cem Yilmaz, a famous Turkish comedian (and the country's most popular Twitter user with more than 14 million followers), retweeted a video from Dayıoğlu's archive.

Dayıoğlu believes that his efforts are not only helping preserve Turkey's cultural heritage, but have also served to immortalize the many musicians and artists he has captured on film.

"Dozens of elderly musicians that I've interviewed over the years have since passed away," he said. "Now their children, and in many cases their grandchildren, are grateful to me for preserving the memory of their departed forebears."

Dayıoğlu added: "My mission is simple: to transmit our heritage to future generations."

One of the biggest challenges Dayıoğlu faces is persuading the residents of remote villages to allow him -- a stranger -- to record their performances.

"They have their own way of doing things," he said. "They don't just start singing and dancing if someone asks."

"They often shy away from cameras or begin acting differently," Dayıoğlu explained. "But I've learned to overcome this by convincing them that I'm a normal guy, just like they are."

"Once they understand I'm just a high school music teacher from Antalya," he added, "they loosen up and are happy to show off their talents."

Since launching his project online, Dayıoğlu has garnered considerable interest from numerous interested parties abroad.

"Not only Turkish people, but also foreigners from all over the world, have viewed my videos," he said. "Unfortunately, my English isn't good enough to communicate with them, but the English teachers at my school have helped me with this."

Dayıoğlu has already brought several foreign musicologists to villages near Kas to allow them to study the region's musical culture -- and even learn to play instruments unique to the region.

"Because Anatolia [central Turkey] has such a rich and varied musical culture, there is considerable interest by many foreigners," he said.

"They are particularly impressed by the wide variety of local instruments," he added. "In some cases, they see a particular instrument in one of my videos and come here especially to meet the craftsmen who make them. Some have even learned how to play themselves."

"Others want me to take them to particular villages so they can make their own documentaries," the music teacher said.

He added: "If they contact me on social media, I'm happy to help my foreign brothers and sisters learn about our rich culture."

Although Dayıoğlu's project has thus far been confined to the southwestern Teke region, he hopes to eventually expand it to include other parts of the country, and maybe also produce -- time permitting -- his own film-length documentary.

"My goal is to eventually visit every single village in all of Turkey's 81 provinces and document their unique musical and dance heritage," he said. "I want to pay tribute to everyone, in every region of Turkey, who has kept our traditions alive."

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