In our final article we look at Mehter Bands that were part of the Janissary section of the Turkish army.
Some readers will have heard Fethiye’s Mehter Band playing around town – the guys in the funny historic costumes amongst whom the wind players, if we’re honest, sometimes don’t quite hit the note.
Mehter Bands were part of the Janissary section of the Turkish army and their function was to terrify the enemy prior to an attack and, when a city had been conquered, to lead the victory parade into their new territory. The Mehter music is said to have inspired Mozart and Beethoven and, when played well, it is very impressive.
The Military Museum has the best Mehter Band in the country and they play every afternoon at 3pm.
As you can see from the photo, it is a very popular performance. However, we were there on a winter Sunday afternoon, and if you go on an out of season mid-week afternoon it may not be as crowded.
The man standing alone to the right of centre is the ‘mehter başı’ or the band leader who has his own way of the conducting the music.
In the right hand lower section you can see the singers (we never knew mehter music had lyrics prior to this) and out of the picture are at least another dozen players blowing on zurna (the horn like that played by a snake charmer, de rigeur at all village weddings) and on a weird brass instrument that looks a bit like a trombone.
There is a taped explanation in English that is played part way through the performance and tells you all about the history of the mehter. And it really is a performance well worth attending.
In the summer they play outdoors in the Museum grounds, so that you can listen without even paying the entry fee.
Next time you’re in Istanbul head to the Military Museum.