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AT ONE TIME, our next door neighbors were a cymbal salesman and a violist. She played professionally and, as I recall, he also had gigs as an orchestral percussionist. They were both very nice people, and we were sorry to see them move away.

She knew all the viola jokes and told some very good conductor jokes as well. I believe they both would have enjoyed the recent ”Words on Music” here at SimanaitisSays.

It was he who taught me about Zildjian cymbals. And much of this came back to me in reading “A 400-Year-Old Musical Secret Still Rings True,” by Lara Pellegrinelli in The New York Times, August 5, 2018. Here are tidbits from my recollections, this article, and some Internet sleuthing.

This and the following images by Kayana Szymczak from The New York Times, August 3, 2018.

Zildjian Origins from 1618. Cymbals have been around since the Bronze Age. But in the early 17th century, an Armenian metalsmith and aspiring metallurgist named Avedis discovered that mixing tin with the copper produced a rich, robust sound, albeit from a cymbal with glass-like brittleness. Then he devised a complex—and, 400 years later, still secret—forging process that made the alloy durable.

Osman II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, was impressed with these new cymbals. He granted Avedis the surname Zildjian, from the Turkish, Zil (cymbal) and dj (maker), and Armenian, ian (son of). Among subsequent Zildijians, Avedis is known as Avedis I.

Osman II, 1604–1622, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire until his assassination. He is known in Turkey as Genç Osman, Osman the Young.

The Zildjian shop produced cymbals for the mehter, expanded drum-and-fife corps of the Ottoman Empire’s janissary military. Belly dancers in the sultan’s harem played finger cymbals, also likely of Zildjian fabrication.

Mehterhâne, miniature, 1720, the Topkapi Museum, Istanbul.

Ups, Downs, and Ups. Turkish cymbals, along with other Ottoman fashions, entered European culture in the late 18th century. Mozart’s opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, 1782, and Piano Sonata No. 11, Alla Turca, 1784, are examples of this.

Later, as noted by Lara Pellegrinelli in The New York Times article, “The janissaries, meanwhile, having assassinated one too many sultans, were outlawed and executed in 1826—as were their mehter musicians. The Zildjians lost a significant portion of their market.”

An enterprising Avedis II built a 25-foot schooner to transport the first Zildjian cymbals to London’s Great Exhibition in 1851. His brother Kerope assumed leadership in 1865 and established the K Zildjian line. K Zildjian cymbals can be heard today in the Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Metropolitan Opera Orchestras.

Avedis III left Turkey just before the Armenian genocide of 1914-1923, and established himself first as a Boston candy maker. In 1927, other family members persuaded him to take over the cymbal business.

What’s more, he came with a vision: Evolution of American dance bands would offer an entirely new market. Avedis III learned from drummer and band leader Gene Krupa that cymbals needed to be thinner and livelier than the existing variety, all the better to cut through other big band sounds.

Zildjian responded, as subsequently did the likes of Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, and other percussionists. In time, a fellow named Ringo Starr perfected his style on Zildjians.

This replica of Ringo Starr’s drum kit resides in the lobby of Zildjian U.S. headquarters in Norwell, Massachusetts.

Today, the company is guided by Craigie Zildjian, a 14th-generation cymbal maker and the first woman as its chief executive officer. Her perspective: “My father always said that the name is bigger than any one person in the family. In other words, you have this little piece of 400 years. Don’t screw it up.”

Not hi-hat likely. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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