Ekin Kurtdarcan was born and raised in Ankara, Turkey. With a background in piano performance, she is currently a final-year student of comparative literature at King’s College London. She writes essays, poetry, short stories and visual arts reviews.
While growing up in Turkey, my journey through classical music merged personal experiences with musical education to develop my understanding of art as a celebration of cultural diversity. As my cultural outlook started to inform my perception of art, I began to view music as a medium of storytelling. Furthermore, my experiences in music proved incredibly insightful when I began studying world literature in London. In a multicultural capital, music as a way of communicating stories and memories reminded me of its potential to initiate dialogue and empathy between people of different backgrounds. Exploring the relationship between music and storytelling could provide a new perspective on cultural tolerance and integration – undoubtedly the most important sociopolitical issue in Europe today.
Although from an early age I was exposed to many different types of music, classical music became the medium that expanded my imagination as a child. I remember dancing around the house to Brahms’s Hungarian Dances and refusing to sleep without my Mozart at Midnight CD, which I still keep as a relic from my childhood. Along with traditional Turkish music, classical music was ever present in our household without being forced on me. My house was an exception compared to most Turkish households, though. As classical music was not the rooted tradition, it was generally seen as elitist. Moreover, music education institutions were declining owing to economic and ideological pressures and most importantly, to unenthusiastic and unqualified teachers.
In this environment, it became a challenge to maintain the same imaginative, idealistic spirit when I was accepted to study piano at a conservatory in my late teens. Considered a late starter, I always felt the resistance of an intimidating and exclusive system, trying to prove my abilities to exam juries. Nevertheless, my piano lessons became a space for me to express my thoughts and creative ideas under the instruction of my truly inspirational teacher. Here, in addition to developing my musicianship, we discussed art, history and literature while my teacher shared personal anecdotes from her musical life in the Soviet Union before moving to Turkey in the 90s. From these conversations, I began to understand music as a process that connected people, enabling them to exchange stories through a common medium.
When I decided to pursue an education in literature, I knew I wasn’t abandoning my musical knowledge. I saw it simply as a change in the mode of storytelling, knowing that I wanted to write the stories of people like my teacher to understand their experiences as different from my own. Moreover, London’s multicultural profile inspired me to explore music as a sociocultural activity. In the end, my piano education made me realise the importance of building bridges between different modes of expression to understand culture holistically, and through that – perhaps more ambitiously – to understand art as a collective experience in creating empathy.