Armenian musicians share folk tradition at Beall Concert Hall

Oregon Daily Emerald, OR
April 1 2004

Armenian musicians share folk tradition at Beall Concert Hall

Courtesy The Shoghaken Ensemble will present traditional Armenian
folk music at Beall Hall Sunday.

An octet of performers will visit campus this weekend to perform
Armenian music
By Natasha Chilingerian
Pulse Reporter

Few are familiar with the culture and history of Armenia, a small
Middle Eastern country surrounded by Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and
Georgia. The Armenians have a past which was both successful and
tragic — they produced original architecture, literature and
inventions, but they were victimized during the Armenian Genocide of
1915, in which more than 1 million Armenians were killed by the Turks
of the Ottoman Empire. But through the area’s ups and downs,
Armenians’ traditional folk music has persevered as a strong part of
their culture.
The music of Armenia will arrive at Beall Hall on Sunday with the
Shoghaken Ensemble, an octet of native Armenian performers who are
committed to keeping their ancient folk tradition alive. Radio show
host Gil Medovoy, who airs the group’s music regularly on his show
“Crossing Continents” in Davis, Calif., said the group displays a
high level of talent and knowledge.

“If they were put alongside the top Western classical musicians, they
would all stand at the same level,” Medovoy said.

The most prominent instrument used in Armenian folk music is the
somber double-reed flute called the duduk. Constructed from the trunk
of an apricot tree, the duduk sounds melancholy, ancient, and/or
biblical when played. New York City record producer Harold Hagopian,
who records the Shoghaken Ensemble on his record label, Traditional
Crossroads, said Armenians don’t always believe that the duduk sounds

“To Western ears, the duduk is on the dark side,” Hagopian said. “But
it sounds joyous to Armenians. (The Western world) often uses it to
depict something tragic or sad, and Armenians respond to that with,
‘What? This song is about a birth!'”

Other instruments played by the Shoghaken Ensemble include the
kamancheh, a fiddle which is bowed while resting on one knee, and the
kanun, a 72-string harp that is played while resting on the lap.
Armenian music employs a musical mode called “makam,” which is
characterized by organized ascending and descending melodic lines and
is typical throughout the Middle East. It generally uses a single
melodic line but is sometimes accompanied by a background drone.

There are distinct differences between the music of Eastern and
Western Armenia. The Eastern tradition, which the Shoghaken Ensemble
follows, normally uses a 6/8 rhythm and focuses on the duduk, while
the Western sound uses a 10/8 and features the ud (a short-necked
plucked lute instrument).

Armenians traditionally play music specifically for an event , such
as field plowing, funerals, baptisms and weddings. Wedding songs are
especially important, as Armenian weddings follow an elaborate series
of traditions, with a designated tune for each.

“Music is an integral part of their everyday life,” Hagopian said.
“Hardly any activity in Armenia doesn’t have music.”

Medovoy said most Armenian folk music exists today thanks to the
research of Komitas Vardapet, an ethnomusicologist who recorded and
taught the traditional music in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“(Vardapet) saved the essence of folk music from back then, and the
tradition is richer because of that,” he said. “He was able to
capture things first-hand.”

University Assistant Professor Mark Levy, who chose the Shoghaken
Ensemble as the third installment of the School of Music’s World
Music Series, said the show will give spectators a chance to
experience a culture most likely unknown to them.

“It will present beautiful music, and it will also be a geography
lesson and a window to a culture that people are not familiar with at
all,” he said.

The Shoghaken Ensemble will present historic music with all lyrics
sung in Armenian. The members will be in traditional village costumes
and will perform two lively folk dances. The show starts at 8 p.m.
and tickets are only available at the door for $10 for general
admission and $8 for students and seniors.