MEHTER AS ACT OF POWER AND PERFORMANCE
by Eugenia Popescu
The institution of mehter has been associated from its inception with the House of Osman. The history of the mehterhane provides us with data about the rise and significance of mehter music in the military, political and social life of the Turks. A complex cultural structure with an entire array of significations and wide-range ramifications reaching from the spiritual to the warfare, mehter music combined military, ceremonial and entertainment activities with religious overtones. The philosophy of medieval ah"ler military guilds and the ceremonials of the dervish fraternities have influenced, to a certain extent, the contents of the mehter organization and its set performnces. Conversely, the impact of mehter music has been felt in many areas of musical activities and above all in the everday life of the Turks. The expanded dimension of images included in the mehter event shows the absorbtion of all aspects of life into a cloud of allusive symbols and conceptual abstractions. All together the mehter act of performance has been a forceful spectacle of majesty and grandiloquence matching only that of the ancient theatres. By definition mehter is considered "Türkün milli" sazidir" (Eren 1959: 4).
The ethnography of mehter has been analyzed by various Turkish musicologists in their writings, such as the valuable studies written by Mahmut R. Gazimihal (1957), Haydar Sanal (1964), and Ahmet Tezbaßar (1975). It is not my intention in the forthcoming pages to add anything to the already existing references but to discuss the interrelation of meanings in the semantic framework of the phenomenon.
The dynamics of the Islamic faith have broadened the idea of military conquests with the exaltation of the Holy War and the elan vital of the believers fighting under the green banner of the Prophet. The Ottomans added to the spirit of conquest the magic of davul music and the fascination of the tuÛs carried ahead of the army. In the expansionist period the sound of mehter was a voice of terror to the non-Muslim peoples and a cry of awe for the entire population. The mystique of the Turkish marching band remains an example rich in significances among the emblems of Ottoman power. It is my view that as a feature of Ottoman life style, the mehter has reflected for centuries in a musical metaphor the professed identity of the people within the corporate unity of Islamic universal community summarized in the theological term umma. By and large, the concept of umma merges the entities of nation, community, people and religion, all fused into the characteristic Islamic quality and ideal. As one unique though unitarian event the Ottoman mehter is interrelated with the semantics of umma. On the other hand, mehter is a cultural wholeness which encasts complex dimensions because of its broad range of denotations and connotations. Interacting with other strands from the cultural flow of ideas, mehter carried on an inventory of meanings and meaningful external forms (musical and extramusical) that spread out and made accessible to the subjects of the Ottoman empire for many centuries.
Unlike other categories of music, mehter music was played for everybody and was heard by the largest community of peoples. Folk music has always been created for and passed on to the peasant society of Anatolia and Rumelia and possibly to other regions of the empire. The ince s?z music, defined also as klasik musiki, was confined to the halls of the palaces and mansions and was played for an elite formed out of connoisseurs, aficionados and members of the upper class. Apart from those circles, the tekkes of the Mevlev" dervishes were real music schools where consummate musicians were teaching the arcana of religious and secular art music to their confreres and pupils. In contrast to those, mehter music was performed for all the social layers of the empire, from the sovereign down the scale of social hierarchy to the lowly people, in brief, for the entire spectrum of Ottoman communities. Symbolically, mehter appearances and performances brought together into one communal voice and at a unique time of the day the entire population making up the social fabric of the Ottoman empire. The mehter culture emerged and cohered as a result of the accumulation and aggregation of significations provided by a complex network of sign systems. Its development shows indices of mutation throughout the ages sustained in the Turkish world by symbolic forms and social arrangements proper to its structure and purpose. The resulting mutational forms had a pervading and enduring effect as long as structure and meanings interacted in their contact with one another and had a dynamic vector. The validity of mehter music has never been questioned by religious scholars. The themes of their heoric marches and hymns of praise to Gazis sprung out directly from the dynamics of cihad philosophy. Unlike the ambiguous opinions expressed by the ulema on the permission or prohibition of instrumental music which gave vent to contradictions and lengthy polemics in Islamic theology, there has never been disagreement on the acceptance of mehter vocal-instrumental music included in their ceremonies. The existence of davul music has been consistently recorded since early periods. Historical evidence acknowledges that this style of music is related to the pre-Islamic traditions of the Turks. The davul-zurna music, for purposes of display, can be traced to the Turco-Mongols living in the north of Chinese land (Picken 1975: 501). Ancient Turks have been mentioned as responsible for the predominance of the davul-zurna style of music. At the Gök Turks the davul was played in the presence of the Khan at times of watchrounds and military processions (Tezbasar 1975: 15). The first mention of this connection comes from the Great Seljuks. In 1065 Sultan Alparslan (1063-1072) accorded to the nevbethane the privilege to play the tabl three times a day at prayer (Turan 1969: 114). By the twelfth century, the tabl was played whenever the Sultan was mounting and dismounting from his horse. Moreover, five nevbets (nevbet-i pençgane) were performed for the Sultan at the gates of his residence and three in front of the mansions of the imperial princes. The Selçuk official music band or nevbet was formed of davul, zurna, nakkare, and nefir players. The ensemble was named also nay-i Türki or burk-i Türki when it performed at special ceremonies. On the folk scene the davul-zurna type of music has been the traditional dance music in Turkish villages since the earliest settlements in Anatolia.
The meaning of davul music was raised to a higher signification with the emergence of the Ottoman state. In 1284, the Selçuk Giyaseddin Mesud II (1281-1297) gave to Osman Gazi (1284-1326), the founder of the Ottoman imperial family, authority over the territory extending from Eskisehir to Yenisehir as a sancak, according him exemption from taxes. The ferman, confirming his territorial rights, was presented to Osman with the insignia of beylik alametleri. These included among other objects also a tug, alem, and a tablihan (davul and nakkare). A historic account recalls that the ferman proclaiming Osman's authority arrived at the time of ikindi. The Gazi was holding divan with his assembly. Osman rose to his feet, and the music played the nevbet. Since that day it became customary for the early Ottoman Sultans to rise when the mehter played its set music. This rule has been abolished by Sultan Mehmed II Fatih (1451-1481), and after him the Sultan listened to the music seated.
The gesture of Osman Gazi to honor the nevbet played in his presence has institutionalized the davul music and made valid the act of mehter conjoined with the ascendancy of the reigning monarch. Thus davul music was not only a ceremonial decoration dedicated to the sovereign but the very expression of his title and active power, emblematic of dynastic symbolization. Turkish folklorists have overemphasized the analogy between the symbol of the tuÛ and the davul music and have made both terms synonymous. Though this hypothesis is merely linguistic conjecture, the connection between tug and mehter is of substantive matter. The tug, as well as the sancak, symbolizes the political and military jurisdiction of a territory. This suggests the space covered on a horse ride as the sound of a drum reaches the limits of that space. At the same time, the number of tugs indicates the number of warriors placed under the command of a ruler and his subsequent power. The davul is also thought to have magic power and to be the link to the sacred realm inherited from Shamanistic tradition.
Regarding the original davul which Osman has been presented with, Evliya ?elebi recounts a tradition according to which the tabl-i kebir, wrapped in a red cloth kit, hangs by the tomb of Orhan Gazi, son of Osman (1326-1359), at his burial site in Bursa (1896: 622). The story has the merit to underscore the significance given to the relationship between the davul object and its image as a symbol of the jurisdiction and authority of the Sultan. Whence the metaphoric sign in this story has a semantic reference to three interfaced symbols, davul (space reached by sound), tug (territory reached by a horse ride) and sancak (jurisdiction and territorial emblem). Already in the fourteenth century the Arab traveller Ibn Battuta mentions having listened to many tabilhane and to the traditional davul-zurna music throughout Anatolia. The organization of the Ottoman mehter evolved with the formation of the Janissary corps in the time of Murad I (1360-1389). The music band became a military institution auxiliary to the Janissaries, identified with the house of the Ottoman Sultans. The mehter would march and play in time of war on the battlefield, and take part at the assault of enemy cities. All the nevbet ensembles were reunited under the supreme command of the Ottoman Sultan. The mehter musicians were recruited through the devsirme system and they belonged to the kapikulu army, as were the Janissary forces. Actually, the mehter ensembles were divisions of the Janissary corps though were not confined to garrison life. As their role grew out with time and their activities excelled, the mehters were assimilated into other army organizations beside the Janissary troops. Every army corps owned either a mounted band or a band on foot. Every fort, army headquarters and Vizier ranks, as well as every city and town or village had an organized mehter takimi of a certain size with an assigned number of instruments in every kat. The mehter bands appeared at holiday festivities, played at bayrams and weddings serving the communities. Apart from the units directly subordinate to the Sultan, other ensembles were assigned to pay their services to the high dignitaries who were entitled to have their own mehterhane in their retinue. The size of the ensemble was directly related to the number of tugs awarded to the respective rank and position. Though it went through mutations, mehter music has retained a plethora of meanings which all have reflected upon the institutionalized forms of ceremonial expression in the Ottoman society. The original concept asserts that the mehterhane has been, from its foundation, associated with the power of the Sultan and the regalia of his authority. In times of peace, the mehter takimi performed its regular exercises in the presence of the Sultan and escorted him in procession, proclaiming his absolute power in their songs and prayers. They escorted the Sultan in his alay to ceremonies, played at the accession to the throne, at the procession of girding the sword, at court festivities and ceremonials, at the receptions of foreign ambassadors. They also played on holidays and victory celebrations, and at the feasts given in the honor of imperial princes. Definitely, the mehteran-i tabl-i alem-i hassa was a symbolic dimension of imperial authority, inseparable from the display of imperial emblems. Evliya ?elebi relates an anecdote about a rhetorical argument engaged between the mimarbasi and the mehterbasi on the occasion of the guild procession and the right of precedence in the parade. The mimarbasi stresses the merits of his craftsmen. In his reply, the mehterbasi argues with the mimarbaßI that his players deserve to march ahead of the others and makes a statement which summarizes the mission and the by laws of the military band: Bizim hizmetimiz padisahima her bar lazimdir. Bir canibe muteveccih olsa mehabet, sevket, salabet, söhret içün dosta, düsmana karsi tabl-i, kudum, nefir dögdürerek gider. Hususile cenk yerinde gaziyat-i müslümini tergib içün yüz yirmi koldan cenk tablina ve kus-i hakanilere turreler vurmaga saffa baslayarak asker-i islami cenke kaldirmaga sebep oluruz. Padisahim bir seyden elim zede oldikda huzurinda on iki makam, yirmi dört su'be, yirmi dört usul, kirk sekiz terkib-i müsik" fasli idup padisahimizi mesrur ideruz. Hükema-i kudema kavlince saz, söz, hanende, mahbub adamin ruhuna safa verir. Biz de ruha gida verici esnaflardaniz...Ba husus ki nerede alem-i resulullah olsa orada tabl-i Al-i Osman dahi bulunmak gerekdir (1896:620-1). In his description Evliya views mehter's duties on two planes. As a sign of the sovereign's majesty and power displayed in a musical performance, the mehter fulfilled ceremonial and military duties in relationship to the world of opposites. Second plane concerned its spiritual purpose. Their proficient musicianship accomplished a pshychological function in playing classical fasIls to lift up the spirits of their monarch in moments of weariness. The mission of their trade guild was an acknowledged spiritual nourishment for human hearts. Continuing the praise of the çalici mehteran Evliya stresses that her gice ba'del 'asa üç fasil, bir cenk-i harbi çalup padisaha du'a iderler. Seher vakitlarinda, sabaha üç saat kadar kaldiginda, erbab-i divani divana ve cümleyi salata uyandirmak içün yine üç kere fasl-i latif iderler ki bidar olanlara hayat verir, kanun-i Osmanidir (1896: 621).
Though anecdotic the story displays the significance of the mehter as inseparable feature of the Ottoman Sultan's glory and the legality of its privileges required under Ottoman law. The players were rewarded with respect and honor. The emblems of military power were almost considered sacred objects. After a victory they were marked with an inscription of the date and treasured as war trophies. In case of defeat, it was really unfortunate and shameful for the musicians to leave their instruments in the hands of the enemy.
The association of mehter with the person of the Sultan invokes the identity of the sovereign as Sultan and Caliph of Islam within the ideology of the Islamic Holy War. In Sunni theology the religious-political authority found its focus in the person of the Caliph and the concept of his office. The Caliphate stood for the fundamental axiom of Islamic existence "that the state is the sign and surety of the faith and the faith is the ground and seal of the state" (Cragg 1975: 78). From 1517, when the Caliphate fell to the Turks and until its termination by the Turks themselves in 1924, the Ottoman Caliphate dominated western Islam with broad regions within its authority. Consequently, the glory of Islam acquired an assertion of Turkism that over emphasized the sociological function of religious and cultural institutions. The well-balanced Sunni philosophy of the Ottomans put its humnanistic trademark on every aspect of secular and spiritual activities. This attitude entailed a spirit of tolerance that reconciled with restraint the ideological tensions between culture and religion.
A significant dimension of mehter's function in the state ceremonial is suggested by the relationship between the daily prayers and the nevbet performances. The daily performing duties of mehter occurred after the regular daily prayers, at least at ikindi, yatsi and seher prayer time. The juxtaposition of these different activities heeds to the opposition between sacred and secular time and the virtual lapses in-between. The domains are not so separated as it may seem. The mehter event was to happen after the frame of the sacred time has been set up by the namaz act. Yet their military and political act of performance was not completely out-of-frame. The mehter act was a symbolic representation of the Sultan's spiritual authority and power as the Caliph of Islam and Ottoman Sultan that stood in parallel to the daily prayer without conflict. In fact the Sultan unified in his person the notion of state and religion. As Evliya put it, wherever the banner of the Prophet was flying the mehter was there. The contents of the mehter concert involved also a specific prayer for peaceful days (eyyam-i adiye gülbanki) and for battle time (cenk-i gülbank). Another religious feature was the prayer for the Sultan's sake performed at certain moments. The utterances of praise to Allah, frequently shouted during their set performance, echoed the profession of faith of all believers: Allah, Yallah, Allahu Ekber, haydi Allah, Yektir Allah, Ya Fettah, and the spiritual exclamation Hu at the end of reprises. The presentation of mehter performance in its regular framework can be viewed as a complex theatrical event involving diverse means of expression. The actants presented themselves to one another and to the others, consciously displaying themselves in time and spcace. Their performance holds all the qualities required to be considered a theatrical event which occurs in various contexts. The mehter theater can be a war theatrical event as well as a ritual celebration or an entertainment theater in time of peace. In any case it is not a simple concert but a theatrical spectacle which includes various sign systems of acoustic, visual, linguistic and kinetic categories. The prevailing system is vocal and instrumental music, completed with recitations, bits of simple dialogue in question and answer form, movement and placement in space, costumes and paraphernalia. With regard to the movement executed in space, one may distinguish the proxemics referring to marches and displacement within larger spaces, involving also animal transportation, from the kinesics concerning the small motions of the performers while playing the instruments. The costuming has a uniform strict code. The typical form of the concert is dramatic. The stage is the place where the players perform or the route they march along while playing. Although the performing space is not delineated by a physical structure, the spatial surface is virtually separated from the spectators like the magic space in ancient rituals or in the archaic theater in the round. The actants are symbolically isolated, and the space where they stand or march becomes their theater stage. When performing in a place, the standing performers are positioned in order of instrumental sections in an open circle, vaguely reminiscent of the crescent. When marching and performing along the road, the players pace the ground with a solemn stride almost similar to the zeybek war dance step. Pausing now and then, and turning halfway to the side, the players mark the rhythm with the verbal invocation "Rahim Allah eyisün." The protagonist of the play is the mehterbasi who acts as master of ceremony. A brief exchange of salutations follows the declamation to begin the performance "vakt-i sürur-u sefa". This formula separates the virtual theatrical time from the ordinary chronological time. The time of celebration and enjoyment is that of mehter theater. The salutations between the chief and his players set up the protocol to enter the virtual time ad to establish the frame of performance. Now everything occurs within the staging area separated from the watchers by an imaginary line. It is to note that the mehter takimi has always maintained the magic separation, in time of war as well as in time of peace. The dynamics of the spectacle depends on the outward forms of activity rather than on a metaphoric action. Though the principal activities are musical, the intention of dramatic action is presented in the words of the heroic songs. The dramatic conflict between armies takes place in the very verses of those songs. Moreover, the dynamic structure of the scenario is underlined by the musical progression and the modal and temporal variations within the sequences. The spectacle is highly formalized and unitary yet versatile as arrangement and contents. The pursuing action of the spectacle unfolds in the succession of musical pieces. In particular the drum beating was meant to raise the level of attention causing considerable intensification of action. The musical sequences move along through the rising and falling pace of tensions to reach the climax in a dramatic explosion of acoustic signals.
Relevant factors governed the dramatic act of mehter. Particularly important was the locale, such the battlefield, the background of a city or the watchtower. The sound of the music was projected against the noise of the canons and the rattling of arms, or against the reverberating spaces of urban landscape. All these elements contributed to the context. The entire performance, from the beginning to the end, was a continuum of a temporal image in which the particular moments of individual pieces were framed. The mehter suite of songs displayed less strictures and allowed more versatility in the choice of pieces than the formal suite of classical music. Other distinctive factor was the double perception of the mehter theatrical communication, the auditory and the visual. Both systems of perception though independent interacted in creating the overall image of the spectacle. Sound and form and color blended into a dazzling visual and aural experience.
The mehter band consisted of two major sections, wind instruments (zurna, boru, kurrenay and later klarnet) and percussion (davul, kös, nakkare, def, zil and çevgan). The number of performers could reach 200 people depending on the size and the rank of the official dignitary the band was affiliated to. In times of war their number doubled. Every instrumental section could range from 3 to 12 instruments of the same kind in a kat. The dokuz katli mehter was the regular size of the imperial ensemble. The mehter repertoire comprised mainly pesrevs and semais with the predominant rhythmic cycle düyek that formed the core of the traditional military marches. A particular form created by mehter was ceng-i harbi. Beside marches, the mehter takimi played a variety of melodies like ilahis, folk songs and dance tunes on festive occasions for the entertainment of serhad communities. The diversity of contents reflects the wide populariy of mehter music across all social layers. In fact mehter music integrated urban and folk songs with pieces of classical music and military marches within the same theatrical event. Broadly considered, the mehter musical culture established in time a repository of the basic materials of Turkish music and thus contributed immensely to the shaping of the character of Turkish national music. The musical pieces were learned orally and a part of the repertoire has been lost. However, a good number of melodies created by old mehter composers have survived thanks to the notations left by Ali Ufk" and Kantemiroglu, and have been transcribed and analyzed by Haydar Sanal along with other famous melodies (1964: 171-295). Many of the traditional melodies have been absorbed in later military marches.
The organization of mehter has been chartered by state laws. Several important legislations establishing their status and duties have been issued at different historical periods. The first legislation was instituted by Sultan Osman who introduced the mehter at the court ceremonials and meetings at the time of prayer, at watchrounds and at the court assembly, and to escort the sovereign. According to his law, regular nevbet appearances were scheduled at morning prayer and at night prayer, in addition to the afternoon prayer. A prayer for the health and glory of the Sultan was added at the end of the regular function (husrevani). Sultan Mehmed Fatih instituted the second legislation. During his reign, the mehter assumed a greater role as warfare music to rouse his soldiers during the assault of Constantinople. Enforcing the spirit of conquest, the mehter would accompany the Sultan in his campaigns and play in the battles. Fatih developed the court ceremonial after the model of Byzantine pomp, which, by the fourteenth century, used display music to escort the persons wearing the Emperor's robe of honor (Picken 1975: 501). Fatih placed mehter ensembles in different places in Istanbul, in the watchtowers, and in the forts. Additional mehter units were located in the serhad regions (Tezbasar 1975: 24). Music bands were spread throughout the provinces of the empire, in cities, fortresses, and in towns, where the ensembles performed at time of duty rounds made by the guards and in front of the city gates. Also, Fatih created the nevbet houses where the performers made their headquarters. The organization of the fifteenth century mehterhane was largely due to the framework and legacy of the Selçuk tabilhane which existed before the Ottomans (Gazimihal 1957: 12-13). After Fatih the number of military bands increased considerably. In the seventeenth century the splendor of mehter reached the zenith. Large drums called kus or kus-i hakani, originally Chinese, were introduced with their thundering sound and were carried on horses, camels or elephants. Sultan Genç Osman (1618-1622), a valiant general, anxious to restore the glory of the Sultanate, took them to the battle of Hotin (Evliya 1896: 622). From that time on the kös were strictly considered the Sultan's regalia. Later on Sultan Deli Ibrahim (1640-1648) expanded mehter's role in the court ceremonial.
The Western world was to hear for the first time the roaring sound of the Turkish mehter when Fatih Mehmed marched triumphantly through the gates of Istanbul. Sweeping on the land, the peal of mehter reached far away with the Ottoman armies marching westwards. The thundering roar of the drums in battle had the most terrifying effect upon the enemies. European chroniclers often recounted the impact of drum beating upon the Christian soldiers who saw in it some dark, supernatural force. The mehter band was ordered to flank the Sultan and his Viziers, and to play incessantly during battle, shouting in praise "Yektir Allah and Allahu Ekber. When they ceased to play, the Janissaries would take it as an omen of illfate. Whenever the army prepared for some new expedition, the mehterhane would be called in to instill the Janissaries and the army men with the exultation of victory. Turkish lore claims that, when the band was playing on the eve of battle, victory inevitably followed. Obviously, this interpretation related the sound of music to the image of undefeatable army. The sound of the drums was the sign of inexorable destiny and power. Its message of unsurpassed might relentlessy integrated all signifying codes of the cultural and ideological transmutations of all signifying codes.
When the Ottoman conquest era drew to its close, the mehter culture began to expand across boundaries. Early Ottoman Ambassadors to Europe brought their music band to the country they visited. The Europeans were amazed by the majestic splendor of the imperial mehterhane and their exotic costumes. The king of Poland and the Romanian voivodes had their own Turkish band in addition to the official court band. In the first part of the eighteenth century the sound of the Turkish band infiltrated the military bands of Western countries at the same time as a certain taste for oriental fashions in fine arts presented Turkish styles under the name of "turqueries." European military bands of elite corps were formed after the Turkish model with the introduction of percussion instruments. In a very short time there was a Turkish music fad taking a hold of most European armies. For half a century the rage of the Turkish band swept on the continent with a flamboyant throng of exotic features. Majors with baton, blacks wearing extravagant costumes and hats were adding acrobatics and juggling to their parades (Farmer 1912: 71-72).
The mannerism of European "Turkish bands" was a form of mutation that moved the original Turkish mehter into a zone of carnivalization. It permeated the Turkish sound detached from its original meaning and diverted it to new semantinc relations. The old fears inspired by the myth of the Great Turk had vanished making room for a carnival entertainment. The re-created myth depicted the Turk as the protagonist of a popular festival surrounded with colorful imagery. Away from the familiarity of public parades the Turkish sound of music was summarized in the fashionable notion of music "alla turca" which made its way to the dignified areas of Western fine art music and operas with Turkish plots. In a paradoxical way, the adaptation of mehter percussion instruments to European military bands came back to Turkey at the beginning of the nineteenth century in new forms. Now the Western influence infiltrated the Turkish military bands and around 1820 new tambur major bands were formed. One factor that enticed further mutations has been the introduction of harmonization under the influence of Western theory of music. A novelty for Turkish musicians, the application of harmonization facilitated the absorption of European techniques into Turkish military bands.
At last, the close association of mehter organization with the Janissary Corps proved fatal. In 1826 Sultan Mahmud II (1808-1839) abolished the Janissary militia and banned the Bektasi order though the order continued to survive illegally. Mehter organizations were fazed out with them too. The reform known as vak'a-i hayriye meant the destruction of old intitutions to give room to new institutions to be built. At the same time the Turkish band was replaced with new asker" bandos fashioned after Western model. A military institute of music called Muzika-i Hümayun was founded in 1831, and was placed under the supervision of the Sultan (Üngör 1966: 31-42).
The period that followed the reforms disclosed contrasting directions: some supporters alleged unshaken fidelity to the old mehter, other advocates felt to sublimate it by attempting to revitalize it. The result of these compromises proved to be rather disappointing. The mehter languished for a good period until romantic intellectuals, who were stimulated by the modern nationalistic awakening, tried to revive it at the beginning of this century. The initiative came from Celal Esat Arseven, an enthusiastic writer, who organized the first concert of mehter music played on piano and violin in 1911. Evidently, the presentation form was a hybrid of mehter music and Westernized harmonization, a style already considered the popular "alla turca" music in the European frame of mind. Soon after, Ahmed Muhtar Pasa, the curator of the Military Museum at that time, reorganized the mehterhane-i hakan" in 1914 within the program of the Military Museum. With this act, mehter music was no longer recognized as a real event of political and military signification within the scope of Turkish life, and was relegated the function of an historical artifact. And it took a retreat to the museum. The last legislation was given by Enver Pasha in 1917 on the occasion of the reorganization of the modern army. The new order was stipulated within a charter which concerned the whole structure and discipline of the new military music. Meanwhile the mehter continued to linger in the shadow. After the end of the First World War the Caliphate had no longer meaning for the Turks. The environment for an active mehter was shattered to the ground. All the same Halil Nuri Bey (Yurdakul) formed a mehter takimi to serve in the Independence War which had yet no real existence. And in 1935 the Minister of Defense Zekai Bey abolished it again on the pretext of being a poor replica of the original. Clearly enough, the mehter could not find its appropriate place and function in the new modern and secular Turkish state. The restoration of mehter was devoid of the original meanings and as such had no link to reality.
The new society was not able to rework into newer forms the traditional patterns that have shaped historically the mehter institution. The old mehter had no justified place in the modern army organization and the historical rift could not be mended. Nevertheless the image of mehter's splendor was deeply implanted in the hearts of the community and did not fade out completely. The myth of mehter was lying dormant among the splendors of the glorious past. Eventually, the memories of its historical significance would be restored. A new mutation came into being out of this quest. Mehter was again revived and reorganized in 1952 under a new guise. A small mehter takimi dressed in period costumes and playing traditional instruments was included in the regular exhibition program of the Military Museum in Istanbul. The modern revival of the mehter represents the folklorization of the event. In the present the mehter performance for museum visitors and tourists occurs regularly at the Military Museum as an invitation to discover and contemplate the historical past. The re-enactment of mehter act has a precise referential purpose, to re-create the event in the span of virtual time and to recollect it recurrently. The performance message is factitious, embodied in a split reality, shrouded in images and metaphors which are extraneous to modern culture. The spectators, however, experience the integrity of the show in order to adhere to its virtual reality and to comprehend the event in terms of a recollected memory.
In the historical periods the mehter event was resting upon the institution of the Sultanate. The performers channeled the glory of the Sultan into ideological fervor with their musical message and rendered images and metaphors available to those who employed them. As a reflection of the corporate unity of Sunni Ottomans mehter drew sustenance from the dynamics of the community of believers in the ordered universe of umma. Historically, mehter is an anachronism with a memorial statement. Now the irrepressible memory of Turkish people expects the historical image of mehter to emerge again into a re-created pattern of spiritual and worldy power. The present mehter takimi assigned to the Military Museum is a paradigmatic avatar of an extinct institution into an exemplary image which bridges the present and the past tenses of history. In the imagination of the community mehter possesses all the magical power to escape from imaginary time and prolong the seemingly historical time.