Saturday, August 21, 2010

Jora Grigoryan lives in a village of Aparan. His grandfather, Grigor, taught Komitas six songs, when Komitas came to his village in 1913.

“My ancestors came from Moush in 1829. When they came to Aparan, there was no population at all. The villages were in ruin. When they say somebody is native Aparantsi, they’re wrong. They all have roots in Moush, Khnus, Bulanukh, and different villages from the Plains of Moush. Sure, I tell people I’m Aparantsi. But my dreams are of Moush. My heart is there...

“In May of 1918, the Turks came from the north, and tried to come through Aparan, on their way to Yerevan. But they were turned back, so they tried to pass Aparan on the slopes of Aragats, just above our village. My grandfather’s generation made sure they didn’t make it. And in Soviet times no Turk ever lived in Aparan, even though Turks were all over Armenia.

“Over 250 of our boys died during the war of liberation in Karabagh. That’s a huge number for a few villages. All were volunteers. One was my son. That’s his picture on the wall behind you.”

Jora began singing a version of “Sona Yar” different from the well known version. “I learned this version from my mother, who was an encyclopedia of folk songs. She learned it from her parents, who learned from theirs...all the way back to 1829 and before, from our ancestors in Moush. Once the Turks claimed the song was theirs. I proved to them they were wrong, and they’ve been silent since then.

“My songs...actually, they’re not my songs, they’re my peoples’ songs...but they’re songs I’ve learned, collected, arranged, and written down. I don’t mind teaching these songs to others, but I do mind when they say they found the songs in this or that village, or from some book, and don’t at least mention my name. The pop stars are good at doing this, which isn’t a surprise, as they’re trying to make a name for themselves...I don’t want money, as they’re not my songs. Just a little common courtesy...”

I asked Jora about the song “Gulo,” which Hasmik has sung and recorded. He said that the song is also known as “Gulizar’s Lament,” Gulo being short for Gulizar, and that it is a song of Moush. Hasmik asked Jora about “Garun Batsver,” which we knew as a folk song from Moush.

“I wrote that song,” he said. “I woke up one day and wrote ‘Garun Batsver.’ Maybe some day when I’m forgotten it will be considered a folk song.”

Note: Due to upcoming personal and professional changes, Yerevan Journal will be taking an extended break, starting again in the future as circumstances permit. Not that I haven’t enjoyed my communication, so to speak, with Armenians and non-Armenians around the world, which I have, but life’s dictates require bringing at least a temporary end to the journal.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Two members of the ancient Laz nation visited us recently, and made remarks that may interest readers.

Walking through the Vernisage, the male said, “I notice something you might not notice. It comes from the difference of having a nation or not, or having a nation that is insecure, and has to invent things in order to feel important. For instance, I see in Armenia a secure people, who knows they are ancient, who are sure of themselves. This is good, but can do damage too. Your neighbors, the Georgians, Turks, and Azeris, are spending fortunes to prove to the world, scientifically, that they are old nations, with architecture, music, culture...while you Armenians think you don’t have to prove anything, so are doing very little. The world sees what your neighbors are doing, publishing, about their supposed ancient cultures, so they believe what they are reading...”

At our home, while watching one of the several music competitions, in which Armenian youth were singing folk and ashoughagan songs, the female visitor began laughing.

“What are they trying to prove? Don’t they have teachers? They aren’t singing like Armenians, but like Turks, Moslems. Why are they doing this?”

We told them the story of how someone with a music school is forming a youth folk ensemble, and trying to find a singer, so far without success. It happens that this person has been sending young boys and girls to our home for tryouts, to see if we could find someone to sing in his new group. I watch as Hasmik listens and advises these youth, who seem to me almost hopeless. Each comes from one of the ashoughagan schools in Yerevan, and each sings in a strange, nasal style, often twisting their mouths to the side for some unknown reason.

The parents, thinking their sons and daughters sing wonderfully, call us later, complaining that we’re interfering with their children’s future by not suggesting they are good enough for the new group. “He doesn’t sing nasal,” one parent said. “What do you mean, he twists his mouth,” another said.

A director of one of the ashoughagan school called our home, after his student wasn’t accepted into the new ensemble.

“You should have made it good for the boy,” he said. “You should have said he was good enough for the ensemble.”

After telling him the boy sang nasally, and didn’t know any folk songs, just unknown ashoughagan songs, inappropriate for youth, the caller simply said, “You are working against us. Who do you think you are?”

Related, a professional singer, born and trained in Yerevan, and working in recent years in Russia, returned to Yerevan with the hope of working in music here.

“I was shocked at how things have changed here,” she said. “People who were laughed at in the past, who can’t sing at all, are now teaching at the Conservatory. Remember our friend who wanted to be in Akunk in the past, and he couldn’t sing or dance? I found out he has a folk dance group now and gives lessons. And someone told me that an actor who can’t sing at all teaches vocal at the theatrical institute. And what’s this about our (folk musician) friend who is musically illiterate, whom we laughed at in our student days at the Conservatory, and now he has his own ensemble...what’s going on here?”

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Gohar Gasparyan had a concert in Turkey, in Istanbul, after which a high government official stated:

“You sing so well. But your eyes are very sad. Why is that?”

Gasparyan answered: “You, especially, should know the answer to that question.”

Friday, August 6, 2010

As a film crew from Echmiadzin’s Shoghakat television interviewed Hasmik for an upcoming series about folk music, and occasional phone calls were received from a youth ensemble director asking for advice about which youth to accept as singer for his group, an interesting call from Public Radio came, asking Hasmik’s opinion about what singer/songwriter/bard Rubik Hakhverdyan had said in an interview in Istanbul. According to the caller, Hakhverdyan had said that Armenians have no folk music of their own, that what is performed in Armenia has roots in Anatolia, the music originally created in Istanbul. As Hakhverdyan recently sold some of his songs to Turks, some think he said such things to please his sponsors, as, basically, his knowledge about folk music is considered quite minimal.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Today Armenians said farewell to their beloved friend, opera singer Arax Davtian. At the Komitas Chamber Hall, hundreds gathered to pay final respect to Arax as her voice resonated in the hall, with recordings of Schubert, Verdi, Komitas (“Havoun, Havoun”), sharakans, and Armenian lullabies being played. Pianist Svetlana Navasartian played classical pieces in memory of her cousin.

I remembered Arax telling Hasmik she regretted not learning Armenian folk songs, and wanted to include some in future repertoires. She recorded and sang Ganachian’s arrangement of “Koon Yeghir Balas” and, later, “Agna Oror,” which Komitas had transcribed. Both recordings were miraculous, as was "Havoun, Havoun."

Arax sang on the most famous stages of the world, with the world’s most famous orchestras and conductors, but never forgot her homeland, and lived in a simple apartment with her sister. Arax was loved by the people because she was one of the people. She spoke her mind. She had problems with the current government in Armenia, and sided with the Opposition, hoping things could change for the better.

Arax was an honest person, and a good friend. She was the best living Armenian opera singer. Today, we bade her farewell.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hogihangist for Arax Davtian will be held today at St. Hovhannes Church (Yerevan) at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Opera singer Arax Davtian passed away today in Moscow. Armenia has lost a great singer and a great person.

Arax had the title People’s Artist of Armenia and was very well known in Europe and the Soviet Union. Recently, she taught at the Moscow Conservatory of Music, after leaving a similar position in Yerevan. She was, it is safe to say, Armenia’s best soprano.