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TURKEY: Istanbul muezzins struggling to hit the right note get voice lessons

May 15, 2010 |  9:36 am

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After residents filed a flood of complaints over lack of sleep and discomfort due to ill-sounding calls to prayers, Istanbul's high-ranking Muslim cleric Mufti Mustafa Cagrici decided it was time to take action on the city's tone-deaf imams.

His solution: singing lessons for all of Istanbul's preachers, or muezzins, struggling to hit the right note.

"For some reason, these imams were hired even though their voices are not good; they just can't sing! We're doing our best to help our imams and muezzins to improve their singing," Cagrici was quoted as saying by the BBC.

In some Istanbul neighborhoods, muezzins are now reportedly getting together once a week to practice and improve their singing skills with more experienced colleagues.

"I never learned how to sing. When I was training they had me sing in front of the others a few times but that was all. Today they place more importance on it in the training," Mustafa Önder, one of the imams enrolled in these classes, told Deutsche Welle TV.


The DW report above shows the muezzins of Beyoglu, a neighborhood in Istanbul, located on the European side of the Bosporus, sitting around a table and practicing their singing with a teacher.

After a warm-up session, each of the prayer leaders sings the call to prayer before the rest of the group. Judging by the facial expressions of the teacher and the other imams in the room, some muezzins appear to be in need of more training than others.

Seyfettin Tomakin, one of those providing voice training to the imams, said he is determined to put an end to the cacophony caused by dissonant muezzins singing out the azan, or call to prayer, five times per day from Istanbul's more than 3,000 mosques. 

"The azan is music, beautiful music that brings people to God, that's why it's so important to sing it well," he was quoted as saying by Britain's The Telegraph newspaper. "Sure, there are some people who find it harder than others, that's why some come here for a year. But my job is to find their voice to enable them to sing." 

Cagrici appears to have been successful. Complaints from residents are said to have dropped from hundreds a month to only dozens since the preachers began their singing lessons.

But the high-ranking cleric acknowledges that not all the muezzins will be able to improve their singing skills and make beautiful calls to prayers despite receiving voice training. For those special cases, there is a high-tech backup plan.

"Lessons don't always help. In these cases they shouldn't be allowed to sing. The loudspeaker in these mosques should then be linked to a central recording system broadcasting a professional voice," he said in the Deutsche Welle report.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut twitter.com/alexsandels

Photo: Muezzins receiving singing lessons in an Istanbul neighborhood. Credit: Deutsche Welle TV.

Video credit: Deutsche Welle TV/YouTube.

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