Istanbul’s urban landscape is packed with roads and buildings. What it lacks are trees, flowers, bushes—the kind of green amenities we need to be fully healthy.
The city’s Taksim Gezi Park is an oasis in the urban jungle, one of the last green spaces in the Beyoğlu district. When an urban development plan threatened to replace it with a shopping mall, protest broke out across Turkey.
The protests set fire to Turkey’s simmering unrest over the repressive government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Unhappiness grew over censorship, prohibition of alcohol and public displays of affection, and the suppression of freedom of expression, assembly and association.
Government officials sent in riot police, who brutally attacked the demonstrators. That turned peaceful protest into violent conflict, much of it caught on video and posted to YouTube.
Someone else came to Taskim Square, with a decidedly different message for everyone—the healing power of music. Davide Martello is a Dresden pianist who wants to play in every capital of the world. He built a special grand piano and a trailer to house it. The street musician played his own compositions. He kept a smart phone on his piano, to capture whatever new melodies or phrases he came up with as he played.
When news reached him of the chaos in Taksim Square, he loaded his piano into the trailer and drove straight there. In the rough video below, one of many on YouTube, you can see him playing to a rapt audience.
In the audience was Abigale James, an American who had been living in Istanbul for two years. She describes the scene:
Classical music flowed down Sirasiveler Street from Taksim Square. A day earlier the entire neighborhood had been filled with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. I walked up to the square, and saw Davide playing piano. I was stunned. Hundreds of people were sitting on the ground surrounding him. Everyone’s riot gear (police and protestors) was lying beside them.
I can only describe what happened that night as mystical. It was as if Davide was orchestrating the sunrise and making it cast its transcendent rays on the crowd.
The two have done quite a bit of traveling together since then, as you can see on the Stop Killing Tour site. They are visiting cities with violent pasts, hoping to “contribute to making the world a more peaceful place.”
That is a good intention to project into whatever work we are doing. Davide Martello has carved out a special niche for his music, and it is one that gives me hope.