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?”