Clarinet master Ahmet Özdemir
Wilco Van HERPEN
Ahmet Özdemir is an 81-year-old clarinet maker living in the Black Sea province of Ordu. He also plays it.During my trips in Turkey many times I have been, pleasantly, surprised. But this story is one of the highlights of my trips. It is the story about Ahmet Özdemir, a very modest and kind man who lives in Ordu. Ahmet is a gifted man; according to him that gift was given by Allah. So what impressed me so much about this humble man? I am in Ordu, the Black sea. About half an hour’s drive away from Ordu is a small village. People in this village live from producing hazelnut and making cheese or butter. Just outside the centre of the village I see a house, nothing special, it is just one of the many “modern” ordinary houses you can see here in the area. In front of the house is a little wooden shed, small and most probably made by the owner himself. This is not a normal shed; this is a magic shack where miracles happen. This is the workplace of Ahmet Özdemir, an 81-year-old clarinet maker.
A skillful child
As a young kid Ahmet was a skillful and studious kid; he always made toys from wood for his friends, using a pocket knife. Ahmet was the kind of youngster you wanted to have as a friend. You wanted a pistol made of wood? Ahmet made it. Did you fancy a flute? Ahmet was the guy to ask for it. Once Ahmet got older he started to develop a love for music. One day, at a wedding in Ordu, he saw a musician playing the clarinet. Fascinated by the sound of the instrument, he observed the man; how he was playing, where the musician put his fingers, how the instrument looked like and of how many parts they made the clarinet. At the end of the evening Ahmet had gathered enough information. It was the spring of 1949, a year not to forget…
With all the information in his kind he sat down at home, took his pocketknife and started cutting and shaping the different parts of the clarinet. I can imagine the result of his first “clarinet” was not what Ahmet had hoped for but he never gave up. Improving the models, refining and retuning every clarinet he made, Ahmet slowly developed the perfect clarinet; not bad for a boy who just attended primary school. The first clarinet Ahmet sold was a stimulant to continue with this work. He earned enough money to buy a suit so he could play at weddings in order to collect extra money. But quickly after that people started asking Ahmet to make clarinets for them and it was not long before he could earn a fair living from just making clarinets for customers.
Clarinet-making as an art
At a certain moment Ahmet changed the production of making a clarinet into art. Every clarinet he made was better, the sound deeper and more refined. Famous people like Alain Damiens, Sarah Elbaz and even Woody Allen heard about the craftsmanship and are playing their music with the clarinet of Ahmet Usta. Then, one day, Ahmet found a new challenge, one that he really needed. If he only could make something like that then the world would hear about him. It would be something nobody ever would have done before. Ahmet thought, made designs, corrected his plans and then, after 15 years of thinking, he started with his project. So what is it that Ahmet Usta made? This man, this master, this modest craftsman gifted by Allah, made a clarinet of marble.
With pride he showed me his masterpiece. It was carefully protected and put away in a small case. Once Ahmet opened the case it was as if he had opened a sacred box. One by one, as if he was holding a little baby, he took the different parts of the clarinet and with love and respect he put them together. “Do you want to hear my clarinet?” he asked and who was I to say no. I was almost literally dying to hear this instrument. He took the reed, wetted it a bit and put it in his clarinet. Then… then he started playing.
After the short private concert Ahmet took me to his little workshop. It was a small place with just one window and a lot of tools scattered around in the place. At one site, a number of unfinished clarinets were waiting for their last finishing touch. Next to the master was one place for a master in success. Notwithstanding his age I hope Ahmet is going to make many more clarinets because people like him are rare in this world and there is a need for musical instrument-makers like him. Everybody remembers Stradivarius, I hope one day everybody will remember craftsman Ahmet Özdemir.