ARMENIAN MUSIC IN AMERICA
by GORDON RUMSON
The history of Armenia stretches into the most distant past. It is said
that Noah's Ark rests on Mt Ararat which has long been a symbol of the
Armenian nation [view a 24 hour webcam].
The people of Armenia are said (by
Herodotus) to come from Thracian/Phrygian stock having an Indo-European
language, and their religion, which dates from the earliest days of the
Christian church connects them again to Europe, though their country is
surrounded on all sides by Islamic nations.
In the twentieth century Armenia was a part of the Soviet Union and became
independent after its dissolution. During the communist era one element of
Armenian culture received support and encouragement: classical music. With
a conservatory in the capitol of Yerevan, Armenian musicians achieved
considerable eminence. Perhaps most famous is the composer
Khachaturian, though there are many other
important musicians whose attainments far exceed the small physical
boundaries of the country (for example, at the
Living Composers Project --
search by country).
It might be suggested that the Armenian nation (as opposed to state, which
has suffered many political setbacks and changes) has survived through the
unifying force of the Armenian church and the Armenian language. One aspect
of the church has been its great tradition of music which rivals say, the
Gregorian chant tradition of European. Building upon this solid foundation
modern musicians can draw upon some of the most beautiful sound ideas found
During March several performers from Yerevan will appear in concert in the
United States. The dramatic soprano Seda Odabashyan, Seda Tumasyan -- mezzo
soprano, Vahagn Hovhannisyan -- bass, Suren Mkrtchyan -- tenor and Rusanna
Grigoryan -- violin, will perform concerts on the East Coast, the Boston and
the New York area (see below).
Seda Odabashyan, is a very experienced musician, having graduated with
degrees in both viola and voice. She has performed in Russia, Hungary and
Latvia and is also experienced in the tradition of Armenian religious music
consider it like the repertoire of chant in Western Europe).
These musicians' connection with America are also strong on two counts.
First, because, while Armenia is a state in the Middle East, there are large
populations of Armenians in numerous other countries due to what is known as
the Diaspora. The concerts in the United States are being supported by the
'Hamazkayin Armenian Educational & Cultural Society', and its New Jersey
Chapter. This organization was established 76 years ago in Cairo, Egypt and
the New Jersey Chapter was formed 36 years ago with the task of promoting
Armenian culture. There are 8 chapters in the east coast of USA, 6 chapters
in the west coast of USA, 3 chapters in Canada, and also in England,
Australia, Lebanon, Syria, Greece and France.
A strong connection between Armenia and America is the musical legacy of the
composer Alan Hovhaness.
He created his
distinctive style in response to his studies of Armenian music and there are
few composers who have combined modern ideas with ancient methods to produce
music of such depth and beauty. Fortunately, Alan Hovhaness is well
remembered in his ancient homeland and a new museum is currently being
organized in his memory. Seda Odabashyan and her husband Alexan Zakyan, are
both involved in the Alan Hovhaness Chamber Orchestra which performs
frequently in Yerevan.
In a world grown smaller through electronic communication and effective
travel, but which has also grown larger through different world views
defiantly held, it is important for cultures to connect and rediscover the
unifying meaning of humanness. Music has long been held to help this and
there can be little doubt that the musical culture of Armenia, firmly placed
in the East, but with deep ties to the West, can aid us in this urgent task.