Cellist composes US native.hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;}.hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;}ISTANBUL - US native Jeff McAuley has made Istanbul his home and inspiration for the last seven years playing cello in the city's orchestras and teaching music at universities around town. He says what he has gained here musically is invaluable

What started as a bluff on the heels of 9/11 has turned into a life of music and serendipity in Turkey for the last seven years for U.S. native and cellist Jeff McAuley.

"It is a funny story of chance," the 35-year-old performer and professor of music at Haliç University told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review from his Cihangir apartment in Istanbul where he lives with his fiance, whom the corner grocer introduced him to, and two cats.

In 2001 after finishing his degree in cello performance in Illinois, he planned to move to New York to join the music scene, thinking, "if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere," he recalled. Around that time, his father, a 77-year-old retired mathematics professor, announced that he was taking a math teaching position at Bilgi University.

"I thought he was bluffing and it was nonsense," said McAuley. So he went along and bought the tickets. McAuley remembers how some friends questioned him and his father’s choice exclaiming, "You’re going to go off to the Middle East?" "I said, ’It’s not like that!’ I had traveled enough to know it’s not just camels and tents," said the musician.

A few months later he found himself living with his father in an apartment in Kuştepe, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, teaching music at Bilgi University.

Orchestra is like army
"I learned a lot of Turkish on the streets, talking to taxi drivers," said McAuley.

Since he arrived, McAuley has taught cello and music at the undergraduate and graduate levels at various universities across town and has also played with most Turkish orchestras as well. But he said here he has discovered that one of his real passions is composing music.

"I’ve played with just about every orchestra there is in Istanbul," he said. "Orchestra is a different game and as a composer I like to play my own stuff and I like chamber music. Orchestra, it’s a little like the army."

McAuley said he does not slight playing in orchestras and as a matter of fact continues to do so, but for over a decade he has been composing music and had never promoted it until very recently. In the last year a publisher put out four of his pieces, and last month he had the chance to hear them on stage for the first time at Istanbul Technical University under the direction of Hakan Sensoy.

"My pieces have a strong Turkish influence," said McAuley. "I like how it found its way into my work. I didn’t do it consciously. It came in from being here, walking the streets, listening to the musicÉ then all of a sudden my stuff started sounding Turkish to me."

Ready for battle
While watching a DVD of the orchestral performance of his work with the Daily News, McAuley described how nerve racking it can be for even a seasoned performer to play on stage or, in his case hear his compositions on stage.

"Sometimes before I go on stage I pretend I’m getting ready for battleÉ musicians sometimes do strange things before concerts. It’s for the nerves, something to take the edge off."

Looking back at his decision to come to Turkey instead of New York, McAuley said he doesn’t have regrets, although every year he is here he wonders if it will be his last in Turkey. "[Being in Turkey] has done worlds for me," said McAuley. "It’s immeasurable what I’ve taken from it musicallyÉ coming here really gave me a taste of the east."

When asked what he would miss from Turkey if indeed he were to leave, he says the baked sweet drenched in syrup, Şekerpare, would top his list followed by fresh squeezed juices easily found in the streets.

"There’s something else," he says. "The people here, there’s something about their warmth and friendliness. I’ll miss conversations with the corner grocer. I won’t find that in the U.S."

The longer he has stayed, the more he said he has felt like a third-culture adult, and although he insists that he is 100 percent American, he says those who know him joke that in his last life he probably had some Ottoman blood in him.