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Michael O'Toole, University of Chicago, Ethnomusicology

Building Musical Citizenship: The Cultural Politics of Turkish Music Education in Berlin Since 1989

In my research as a Berlin Program fellow, I consider the significance of Turkish music education in Berlin as a contested site in the struggle over educational access, cultural identity, and the politics of citizenship for immigrants from Turkey and their descendants in Germany. Focusing on the period of social and political transformation following the fall of the Berlin Wall, my research explores how musicians have contributed to the expansion and institutionalization of Turkish music education in Berlin since 1989. I consider how developments in Turkish music education have related to broader issues of urban change in Berlin, including the politics of recognition and “multiculturalism,” ongoing transformations in the politics and practices of citizenship, and efforts to brand Berlin as a “global city.”

Since the late 1970s, when public music schools in West Berlin began to offer group lessons in the baglama, an instrument of central importance in the music of Turkey, music education has been an important means for shaping understandings of cultural, ethnic, and religious identity in Berlin’s Turkish and Anatolian diasporas. Since that time, the diverse music of Turkey has become, as former Mayor Klaus Wowereit described in 2013, a “part of the music culture of Berlin.” Despite the increasing recognition that Turkish music is an integral component of Berlin’s music culture, there has been relatively little research on what kinds of meanings and significance Turkish music holds for its students, teachers, and performers in Berlin. What role does Turkish music education play in shaping ideas about cultural, ethnic, and religious identifications in Berlin’s diverse communities with roots in Turkey? How do students and teachers of Turkish music in Berlin situate their musical practice in relation to a broader musical culture in Berlin and Germany, as well as to systems and practices of music education in Turkey? As more musicians in Berlin become interested in learning and performing Turkish music, regardless of their ethnic or cultural background, how does this affect the social meanings that Turkish music conveys and its potential for facilitating transcultural collaboration? My research as a Berlin Program fellow attempts to address these questions and to facilitate collaboration, dialogue, and understanding between music educators and students of Turkish music in Berlin.

Central to my research is the understanding that music education is significant not only as a practice of musical transmission across generations, but also as a practice of defining, representing, and transmitting ideas about the relationship of individuals to social identities, whether cultural, ethnic, religious, or transnational. In order to consider how music education acts as a site of both musical and social reproduction for people of Turkish descent in Berlin, my work is rooted in ethnographic research at several different sites of Turkish music education in Berlin. These include small studios led by individual musicians or cultural organizations and large private schools with a diverse range of faculty members, ensemble groups, and types of musical instruction. Through interviews with teachers and students as well as participation in group lessons and ensembles, my aim is to consider the varied and often contradictory ways in which learning and teaching Turkish music in Berlin carries meaning and significance for its students, teachers, and performers.