Ney (an end-blown reed flute) maker and player Gökhan Özkök, born in 1971, is among the names that has learned the traditional ney making from Niyazi Sayın through practice.
Özkök, who also owns the first ney workshop, which was later centralized within the Research and Education General Directorate of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, takes place in the UNESCO’s ‘Living Human Treasures’ list. Özkök, who has a corporate background focusing on tourism, sales, and marketing between 1988-1989, quits when he realizes that the ney making process is the sole thing that makes him feel content and fills his work hours practicing in this field. The neys made by Özkök are preferred by many ney artists both in Turkey and around the world today. We met Gökhan Özkök at his workshop in Küçükyalı, İstanbul.
The only student that was ratified by Niyazi Sayın
Gökhan Özkök expresses that his enthusiasm for the ney began when he tried blowing a ney at a family friend’s house and couldn’t play a note when he was 11 years old. Explaining enthusiastically that he bought later a ney from a souvenir shop in Unkapanı and started to practice with it only to achieve making one sound after a whole week of trying, Özkök said, “At first, I was searching how to hold it and how to play it in music books at the library. Later, when I was about 19-20 years old, I made the acquaintance of Ömer Erdoğdular, among the ney players of the state choir. He was among the most brilliant students of Niyazi Sayın. I practiced with Ömer Erdoğdular for about 3-4 years. I wanted to own a really good ney. I was saving for it. However, the one I got was not as well as I was expecting. Thus, I decided to make my own. Ömer Erdoğdular had given me preliminary instructions on this. Later, thanks to our family friends, they brought Niyazi Sayın and me together. He shared his knowledge in ney making with me. I was around 24-25 years old at the time. I have been the only student Niyazi Sayın ratified for ney making. This became my first step into professionalism. The musicians surrounding Ömer Erdoğdular and Niyazi Sayın began using the neys I made. Nine out of every ten ney notes that you hear on the radio or a CD are the notes played by a ney I made. The ratio of my neys owned by professionals is 99 percent. I also work with various conservatories abroad, including Berkeley.”
“Every work produced represents its master”
Having been conducting scientific research on physics of sound and vibrations of reed, and developing devices that is used and owned by him and no one else, Özkök said, “Taking place in UNESCO’s Living Human Treasures list contributed a lot to me morally. I possess the title of being the person who has made the most number of neys in the world. I have designed about 16,000 neys throughout the world until today. My professional neys, in particular, carry serial numbers. These serial numbers contain information in regards to where the reed came from, the date it was cut, applied measurements, to whom it was given. When it comes to how I decided doing this… I read the life story of the famous violin maker Stradivarius. When I realized that he gave serial numbers to his violins, I decided that I wanted to be Stradivarius of ney making. Long after, I began to be called as the ‘Stradivarius of ney’. My ney designs are spread all over the world from China, Japan, the Balkans to America, Europe, and the Middle East. Every work produced represents its master. My neys contain special traits unique to my ney making. For instance, my style of drilling holes, neatness, the line I draw in the middle of the reed… For an object to be called as an antique it must be at least 100 years old and its master must be known. My target in this field is to have my knowledge on ney making reach larger masses through the lessons I received from my masters, their vision and my knowledge. I would like organizing certificate workshops both in Turkey and abroad in cooperation with an establishment.”
Making a ney usually takes about 3 days
Highlighting the ney being an interesting instrument, Gökhan Özkök continues to his words, “Ney resembles a human. Being a reed represents the spiritual world. We cut it apart from the spiritual world having it enter into our world. We heat it to straighten it up. The level of how much it is bent tells us the largeness of its ego. We free the reed from its ego and clear it out. Then we open 7 holes. There is only one unique reed and it calls out for reuniting with its beloveds. As every human being has a talent, every reed has also a talent. We categorize the reeds according to their talents. If it can sing the three octaves comfortably then this means it is a professional. Some are more talented at singing low notes and some others are better at singing the high ones.”
Assiduous about ney making, Özkök said that he can complete making a ney sometimes in a day and sometimes in three days. Designing all neys by considering the person who is going to play it, Özkök said, “I add the energy of mine and the person who is going to play it into my ney designs. One of the important rules of ney making is to know how to blow it. Otherwise, you cannot tune it because ney is tuned only once. This is why the person who is making it must know seconds, modes, and how to blow it correctly. I usually begin working around 14:00 in the afternoon. I am most productive in the small hours. The most suitable reeds are found in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Reeds are supplied from Antakya Samandağ, Çukurova and the Söke Plain. Only about one or two reeds among thousands of reeds can be found in suitable measurements for ney making. Reeds cut in December, January, or February can be used for ney making. Reeds are never cut during a full moon.”