Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Giving Voice festival in Wroclaw, Poland, turned out to be a revelation of different styles of musical theater and folk, sacred, and contemporary music from Armenia, Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Palestine, Iran, Kurdistan, the USA, Africa, and various European countries. Armenia was represented by Hasmik and blulist Norayr Kartashyan, in a concert of Armenian lullabies, and Mher Navoyan, a musicologist from the Komitas State Conservatory, who lectured about Armenian monodic music and the life and work of Komitas. Hasmik also presented master classes in Armenian folk music and dance.

The St. Anthony Cathedral, an acoustically perfect structure from the late Middle Ages, was the setting for the lullaby concert. Small statues of saints looked down from the altar and around the church as Hasmik sang lullabies from her Armenian Lullabies CD and several lullabies she discovered in various archival materials, including songs from Moush, Musa Ler, and Nakhichevan. Although singing basically a capella, her songs were intertwined with the echoes of Kartashyan’s blul, shvi, and duduk, as the lullabies of Armenia’s historic provinces, included those recorded by Komitas and Toumajan, resonated in the late night concert.

After the concert, several festival participants, especially the Ukrainians, said they liked, in particular, the epic nature of the lullabies. They mentioned “Nani Bala,” “Oror Jojk Em Kapel,” “Akna Oror,” “Arnos,” and “Shatakhi Heyroor,” all of which turned out to be from Van and Shatakh (Vaspurakan) and Akn, in Kharberd. I found out later that Akn has a connection with Vaspurakan, as the Ardzrunis of Van settled in Akn sometime during the Middle Ages.

After the concert, and after a quite successful presentation of Ukrainian folk songs acted out in theatrical form, I was reminded of the unfortunate fear Armenian directors and film makers have in presenting Armenian folk music, lullabies in particular, as a theatrical presentation. I remember one of Armenia’s best known directors, when Hasmik proposed such a presentation, saying, “I’m not sure if this will work, if people will listen to lullabies for an hour or more,” etc., etc....

Also interesting were the political overtones that periodically arose, mainly centered around the Georgians and their ensemble. A musician from a Middle Eastern country told me, “To tell the truth, their polyphonic music is getting on my nerves. And all the praise they’re getting, it doesn’t stop. Perhaps they were brought here on grants, due to Georgia’s current favored status in the West. I guess Westerners don’t know that the Georgians, for instance, as their own historians write, used to hang their dead from trees and eat them, up until the 17th or 18th centuries.”

A highlight of the week was the final party, held in the forest near Wroclaw. There, participants and guests were treated to a musical presentation of the story of Mary Magdalene by Theater Zar, which had co-organized the Giving Voice festival. During dinner, festival participants from Georgia, Palestine, Wales, and Theater Zar members took turns singing, after which Hasmik led the many guests in singing “Janoy,” as they danced “Gyovend,” and the song “Hambartsman Yerkushabti,” with festival guests learning and singing the songs and dances with surprising ease.

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