Posted by: alwanforthearts | August 3, 2010

Hakan Ali Toker

I sat down with Hakan Ali Toker (Visit Hakan’s Website) from Istanbul, Turkey before his performance on Saturday, June 19th to talk about his musical background, influences, goals, and thoughts on Alwan for the Arts. A passionate and innovative musician who musically draws upon many sources of inspiration, Hakan shared some equally passionate insights on the importance of sincerity and synthesis in meaningful art. He was especially thrilled to be performing solo, a rarity that allows him the full range of artistic expression to musically convey his unique goals.

This talented pianist first encountered music through a small, electronic keyboard bought for him by his parents, the best toy since “you could make up your own thing with [it].” Hakan has kept the spirit of improvisation alive in his playing since that time, believing music to be his favorite game rather than a grueling responsibility, a spirit he recommends to any musician, particularly those students who are just beginning (and their parents). “Discipline ought to come out of passion – committedness to the game,” he says. Hakan feels that passion and sincerity are the most important aspects of his musical performance, whether simple or sophisticated, and in his own performance, stating, “the thing I strive for is the product of sincere self-expression supported by craftsmanship.”

His craftsmanship is extensive, with his musical study and ideas spanning a wide range of genres. After coming to the United States to study classically, Hakan was surprised to meet many musicians born and raised in the United States with a great interest in his own musical heritage, Middle Eastern music. Similarly, Hakan is pleased that Alwan for the Arts fosters interest in Middle Eastern arts in New York, stating, “it’s nice to find a Middle Eastern cultural center in the middle of Manhattan.” Though he began as a Western classical pianist and composer, he became interested in world music partially as a result of seeing American musicians interested in learning traditional Arab instruments like the ‘oud and nay, so he taught himself to play the qanun along with Middle Eastern music and studied jazz.

Self-proclaiming his music to be a synthesis of East and West, Hakan believes that “everything is a synthesis,” even the genres of music we so easily categorize as one thing or another. He believes that thorough mastery of even one genre of music, requires musicians to study more than one genre – in his words, the “history and geography of music” – so they can perceive what they’re trying to accomplish in better perspective. This means, having an understanding of what came before this focal genre, and what was happening around it, at the time of its birth. He cites many classical composers as musical influences, from Rachmaninoff, Chopin, and Strauss to Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, yet he also considers representatives from the last period of Ottoman Court Music from the early 20th century like Tanburi Cemil Bey and Sadettin Kaynak in addition to jazz greats Oscar Peterson and Fats Waller.

Though he cites musical influences as the sources of his inspiration, Hakan also shares, “I almost exclusively write when I’m in love.” He has written pieces for particular women, and shares the true stories on his website (

As for his future musical projects, he is extremely interested in Geoff Smith’s fluid piano, a piano with pitches capable of being altered by the performer, making them suitable for playing the microtones characteristic of Turkish music. He would like to bring this piano to Turkey, record an album, and tour with it. He additionally plans to record a second album this fall with his group “Tanini,” made up of qanun, nay, and piano, to be released this winter.

Finally, he hopes to record a solo album this summer, as he misses the opportunity to play solo piano with full artistic license. Hakan believes that his solo piano performances, like the one he was excited to play at Alwan, grant him full freedom to explore the personal synthesis he strives to convey to his audience, which is the pinnacle of sincerity, “the most important thing in music-making.”


  1. Thank you for spending a time on sharing such informative writings to us. I will bookmark your page and looking forward to read some more of your writings soon.

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