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Research Guides@Tufts

Khalil G. Gibran Instrument Collection

The Lilly Music Library and Department of Music house a collection of instruments collected and/or constructed by Khalil G. Gibran and donated by Jean Gibran to the Department of Music at Tufts University in 2019.

The Sāz and the Sculptor: Instruments by Kahlil Gibran (1922-2008)

The Boston-based Lebanese American sculptor Kahil Gibran (1922-2008) drew seemingly boundless influences from the world of contemporary artmaking. In works of Christian imagery, such as his renowned iron welded Pieta (1959) to his modern architectural bronze Javelier (1972), Gibran’s artwork speaks to the versatility of a sculpture’s mind and career. He was able to code switch between methods, materials, and mediums alike. A student of the painter Karl Zerbe at the School of the Museum Of Fine Arts, Boston, Gibran began his career as a painter in the Boston Expressionist style and gradually extended his artistic abilities to include sculpture, drawing, bas-relief, and instrument building. Whichever medium he chose to engage with, Gibran brought it to a vision of innovation and adaptivity.

Kahlil GibranA suitable project for Gibran’s artistic ideology, the sāz (also known as bağlama) is a shapeshifter, the outcome of diverse cultural and historical practices. A relative to the long-necked lute family of instruments found in various musical practices in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and south Asia, the sāz finds its home primarily in Turkey. Its history encompasses a wide range of Turkish traditions thatreflexive of the region's historyextend beyond any singular time, place, or practice. The sāz can be heard in various regional folkloric traditions such as the wandering minstrel poetry of the Alevi aşik duo, Central and Eastern Anatolian dance music, Sufi religious hymns, and even rock music. In each, performance style is dependent upon the region, repertoire, and local cultural contexts.

Common features of the sāz include up to seven metal strings (in groups of two or three) and movable frets in order to accurately perform in the makam quarter tone modal system. However, much like the performance style, the build and size of the instrument corresponds to the region and genre in which it is used. Five distinct sāz-s–the cura, dedesaz, tambura, cögür, and divan–can be found throughout the different musical practices in Turkey. The type of each is often determined by the length of the bowl, or tekne. Following suit with this type of material and performative availability, Gibrani’s sāz-s suggest a melding of several Turkish styles in combination with his own contemporary sculptural interpretation.

(Image credit: Skyphoenix6, "Kahlil Gibran Artist at Work," CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.)