The Ney and Sufi Music
Ney is an oblique rim-blown flute in Arab countries, Central Asia and Iran. It is originally made of bamboo. Turkish ney is an instrument used in Turkish Art Music, besides it occupies an important place in the ensembles that play at the ceremonies of the Mevlevi order of Sufis established by Mevlana J. Rûmî.
Ney has a long historical relationship with Sufi Islam and Sufi Music. It is said that the sound of ney represents the longing and dense love felt for God when the human soul combined with human body craves for the love of God. The Mesnevi includes metaphors referring to ney and explains well the symbolism attached to ney. So, as for Mesnevi, the ney is the symbolic representation of the human. The Mesnevi immortalizes the ney as the perfect man (insan-ı kâmil) who is attributed with embodying divine forces. Even this man cries as if soul is separated from his homeland. Like the soul is separated from God, the reed is separated from the reed-bed and ney whispers this longing. The pain of seperation from God is at the core of Sufi music and lyrics and hence the intense longing to dissolve the physical realm and transcend into the spiritual universe with Sama's the practice of listening to music, chanting and whirling, and finally culminating in spiritual ecstacy. Sound and music is central for the core exprience of Sufism, since music is regarded as a means for the believer to get closer to the divine. Additionally, Ney’s song is not just a sound, it carries a voice-like character.
The image of “whirling dervishes” in sema reminds the best the Mevlevi Sufi order. From the 1500s until 1900s this order had a political and artistic importance and dervish lodges were the places where a considerable amount of sacred and secular music was created. Sufism is a form of Islamic mysticism that takes many forms around the world. Among its essential rituals are zikr (meaning “recollection of God” in Arab, a practice involving the intense, rhythmic narration of the names of God) and sema, the whirling done by the devotees known as “dervishes”. These practices are a means of self-discipline, spiritual accomplishment and for reunion with God.
In Turkey, sema is a visual spectacle; dervishes wearing long white robes turn for a half hour or more in perfect circles, one hand raised towards god, the other pointed towards Earth with musical accompaniment. Dervish lodges were closed in 1925 after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey and when they reopened, they functioned primarily as spaces for urban art-music performance.
In Sufi order practice, for the rituals (called ayin) comprised of both zikr and sema practices Sufi music has a significant part. Many Mevlevi composers composed secular and sacred Sufi music and Mevlevi sacred music is considered to be a form of Turkish Art Music. The ney has a special significance to Mevlevis as Mevlana J. Rûmî played and wrote about ney. The first neyzen (ney player) we know is Mevlâna J. Rûmî. In the 18th century Istanbul, the majority of the ney players were Mevlevi dervishes. Dervishes also taught their pupils how to play ney, thus neyzens have been raised in lineages throughout the centuries.
The ney has become the essential accompanying instrument in the rituals together with the kudüm (kettledrums) and the rebab. At the beginning of the ayin, the ears and souls are tuned with the performance the primary ney improvisation (baş taksim). This part also constitutes a sophisticated, independent art form. The Mevlevis’ vocal and instrumental compositions very elaborate and elevated pieces to be played on the ney since they are the most sophisticated expressions of the classical repertoire. These compositions are regarded the as the top example taken by Ottoman music.
For further information please see our Ney Collection