Monday 12 May 2014

A Master is Gone

Turkish Romani clarinetist Selim Sesler died on May 10, 2014 at the age of 57. After two years of waiting for a heart transplant, his heart failed in a hospital in Istanbul.

I never got to meet Mr. Sesler, although his music has enriched my life more than I could ever thank him for. He had a touch on the clarinet that was simultaneously powerful and sweet, mournful and driving. The world is a poorer place with his absence.

Here is a small clip from the film Crossing the Bridge, which features Selim Sesler in his home town of Ke┼čan, in Turkish Thrace.

At my weekly gig on Saturday night we were playing the Ukrainian dance tune Trombon Hora, sourced from the fantastic group Konsonans Retro. The solo section consists of a vamp on a single chord similar to what is heard in the Turkish taxim, an improvisational form in which the soloist works through the steps of a musical mode before returning to the melody. I was passed the solo and immediately starting thinking of Selim Sesler, what music would be without him, and what he did while he was here. I thought of the darkness he trimmed with light, the friction in sound he used to generate heat. More than any other experience I've had since I started playing with the band, I felt like I touched on something real while I was playing, something that is more fundamental than technique or style - a conversation with - for lack of a better word - spirit. 

My solo ended, my awareness came back into the room and the song ended with the intoxicated applause and hoots from the room. As we launched into the next song a small dark-haired woman with glasses approached me and tapped me on the arm even though I had already started playing. I stopped playing and leaned in as the band went on. She told me her father, Al Matos, made his living playing Klezmer accordion, and that it would have made him so happy to have been there. 

Music, as perhaps the most ephemeral art form, only exists in the people who make it and those around them. Scores and recordings point to the music but should not be mistaken as the real thing. Selim Sesler's death is a reminder of the fragility of music as an artform and the nobility of its pursuit while we are alive.