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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 Aram 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 anywhere.

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 (sharakan -- 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. Hear them.

Copyright © 2 March 2005 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada


USA concert schedule:

Saturday 5 March 2005, Fairley Dickenson Wilson Auditorium, New Jersey
Sunday 6 March 2005, Armenian Society Hall, Little Neck, New York
Friday 11 March 2005, Boston (The Hall TBA)
Sunday 13 March 2005, St Sarkis Church, Douglaston NY

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