Report of the Symposium on Armenian Music

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The program for Armenian musical studies established in 1979 at the University of Southern California organized the first Symposium on Armenian Music which was held on the University campus May 23-26, 1980. The purpose of the gathering was to explore ways in which the proposed research and study program in Armenian music at USC could be implemented as an area of specialization in the School's existing degree programs. In addition to invited guests and the general public, a distinguished group of scholars from academic and research institutions was assembled to present papers, take part in panel discussions, and make recommendations. Almost all the participants of the symposium are members of the Program's International Academic Advisory Council (IAAC). The Council is a consultative body which, with the USC Music Faculty Steering Committee and the Program Staff, is to lay the academic foundations and set the general guidelines of the Program.

The Program is now in the second year of its three-year planning and development phase. It is expected that present activities will lead to the establishment of a permanently endowed Chair of Armenian Music at USC. The Program is currently supported by USC funds and from substantial contributions mainly from the Los Angeles Armenian community, which is one of the fastest growing centers of the Armenian diaspora.

Present day Armenia, one of the fifteen federated republics of the Soviet Union, comprises only a portion of historical Armenia, whose frontiers have always been vulnerable to invasions and subject to change. The legends say that the founder of the nation was a descendant of Noah who settled in the Ararat plain. Historians agree that Armenian origins can be traced to the thirteenth century B.C., to Thraco-Phrygian populations which came to Asia Minor from the Balkans and settled in Urartu—between Lake Sevan in present-day Soviet Armenia, Lake Urmia in Iran, and Lake Van in Turkey. At various times in its long and convoluted history, Armenia has been invaded by the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Mongols, the Persians, the Ottomans, and the Russians. At various times in their history, Armenians have had to be displaced through immigration.

The musical culture of Armenia, especially its secular traditions, may reflect the links of those invading dominant cultures and may preserve the elements of earlier traditions which in themselves have not survived elsewhere in any extant form.

Armenia adopted Christianity as its official religion in A.D. 312. From the ninth century onwards, the music of the church was notated in an ecphonetically derived system called the neumes or khazs. But by the seventeenth century the old system was forgotten and since then it has been virtually impossible to decipher accurately and reconstruct the medieval codices. In the last hundred years or so this area of Armenian music has been the subject of intensive research primarily by the Armenian ethnomusicologist Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935) and more recently by researchers in Soviet Armenia. A simpler and more accessible system of New Neumes was adopted in 1817. It is in this system that the great wealth of Armenian church music of the Golden Age (952-1064) has been handed down and made the basis of present-day liturgy. Currently, these sharakans are being transcribed into Western musical notation.

Although Armenian music has been studied and researched by musicologists writing primarily in Armenian, this vast and diversified body of musical thought and practice remains essentially unknown to the world community of scholars. When fully instituted, the USC Program will provide researchers with the possibilities for the systematic study of Armenian music. It was the intention of the organizers of the symposium to utilize the expertise and knowledge of the participants in the identification and application of historical and ethnomusicological resources and methodology as these apply to Armenian and related music. The activities of the symposium included closed sessions for the principals, lectures and panel discussions addressed to the general public, a formal concert, and an exhibit of Armenian music. The participants of the symposium were drawn from a wide array of expertise. The nucleus of the group were the members of the International Academic Advisory Council, listed below.

Grant Beglarian, University of Southern California, Chairman
Gerard Béhague, University of Texas
Robert Garfias, University of Washington
Jean Jenkins, London, England
Ruth Katz, Hebrew University, Israel
Kenneth Levy, Princeton University
Albert Luper, University of Iowa
Bruno Nettl, University of Illinois
Ates Orga, University of Surrey, England
Gilbert Reaney, University of California, Los Angeles
Bryan Simms, University of Southern California
Leo Treitler, State University of New York, Stony Brook
Milo Velimirovic, University of Virginia
Bonnie Wade, University of California

Other invited guests were:
Sahan Arzruni, New York
Edmond Azadian, Detroit
Gilbert Blount, University of Southern California
Hasmig Injejikian, McGill University, Canada
Loris Tjeknavorian, Institute of Armenian Music, London, and Armenian International College, La Verne, California
Gabriele Winkler, St. John's University, Minnesota

The following was the program for the symposium.

 

Saturday, May 24, 1980

CLOSED SESSION No. 1, Morning (IAAC, USC Program Steering Committee and invited guests), "Current Issues and Available Resources in Armenian Musical Studies and Definition of USC Program in These Matters."

GENERAL SESSION No. 1, Afternoon, Ates Orga, The Status of Research in Armenian Music in the West; Kenneth Levy, The Present State of Research in Early Christian and Byzantine Music; Panel Discussion on "Historical Studies and Research in Armenian and Related Music," by Luper, Reaney, Treitler, Velimirovic, Wingell, and Winkler.

 

Sunday, May 25, 1980

CLOSED SESSION No. 2, Morning, "Proposed Curriculum and Research Activities at USC in Armenian Music."

GENERAL SESSION No. 2, Afternoon, Bruno Nettl, Studies in Music of Minority Groups; Jean Jenkins, Documentation of Folk Music and Instruments; Panel Discussion on "Ethnomusicological Issues and Procedures Applicable to Armenian Music," by Behágue, Blount, Garfias, Injejikian, Katz, and Wade.

 

Monday, May 26, 1980

CLOSED SESSION No. 3, Morning, "Future Plans of the USC Program for Armenian Musical Studies."

 

During the first and second closed morning sessions, the IAAC, the USC Steering Committee, the Program Staff and invited guests discussed major academic and scholarly issues related to the implementation of the Program. The participants considered the project feasible and of substantial benefit to musical scholars and students. There was general agreement that the task at hand involves the identification and location of primary and secondary source materials and the designing of a comprehensive curriculum.

The afternoon sessions were comprised of two lectures, each followed by panel discussions on the topics presented. Although some of the participants admitted their lack of specific knowledge about Armenian music, their papers dealt with topics related to the development of a systematic study of Armenian music. This was in keeping with the general atmosphere of the symposium which was organized to explore possibilities and formulate alternative approaches to an evolving field of study.

The papers presented during the afternoon public sessions dealt with methodological and contextual issues. In the opening paper, The Present Status of Research in Armenian Music, Ates Orga, University of Surrey, England, summarized the effort of the Institute of Armenian Music in London and noted that the IAM has a large collection of documents. He emphasized that much work needs to be done in order to complete the holdings of the IAM. He said that the success of the Institute's "MusicArmenia '78," which he directed in London, is evidence that Armenian music can generate broad scholarly and professional interest.

The second paper of the afternoon of May 24 was specific and procedural in content. Professor Kenneth Levy, Princeton University, drew parallels from his field of expertise in Byzantine music to illustrate the methodological means by which the modern scholar can go back in history and establish the characteristics of musical cultures which have changed so radically over the centuries that their present form seems to have little resemblance to their ancient origins. His comments about deciphering the neumes of Byzantine and early Christian music have a direct bearing on the study of Armenian music because the khazs have been one of the most persistently enigmatic issues facing the scholarly community.

The two papers presented on the afternoon of May 25 dealt with contextual questions. Professor Bruno Nettl, University of Illinois, has done extensive research in Iran and elsewhere about the music of minority groups within dominant cultures. He drew on his own field work to propose a working definition of the elements which make up minority music. His presentation was complementary to those presented earlier in that it dealt with the relationships between music and social life. This kind of approach to the study of music might be especially relevant to the more recent developments in Armenian cultural life both in Soviet Armenia and in the diaspora.

Jean Jenkins, consultant ethnomusicologist to various museums, presented the final paper. By means of slides and field recordings, she underlined the need to study characteristics of musical instruments in relation to their cultural contexts. Using illustrations from field work which she has done in Asia Minor, the Far East, the Middle East and the Soviet Union, she described the construction of several instruments and emphasized that socio-political forces are transforming and standardizing the musical diversity of many ethnic communities. She said that the improvisational quality of these musical cultures is giving way to "official" and "homogenized" folk music. She urged qualified ethnomusicologists to engage in documentation of the remaining pockets of genuine folk music, especially of Armenians in the Middle East and elsewhere, before the process of. cultural uniformity eliminates its practice by folk artists.

At the concluding closed session, the symposium participants recommended the following actions:

  1. Compilation of a functional library
  2. Appointment of a qualified librarian/archivist
  3. Organization of field work to record musical activities in the rapidly changing setting in North America, the Middle East and elsewhere
  4. Organization of a lecture series by qualified specialists
  5. Translation/publication of significant scholarly works and articles on Armenian music
  6. Presentation of concerts or recitals of Armenian music to introduce and increase general awareness of Armenian music

In thanking the participants for their careful consideration of a large array of issues and for their wise counsel, the chairman of the symposium, Dr. Grant Beglarian, Dean of the USC School of Performing Arts, assured that USC personnel will do everything possible to maintain the current level of activity and financial underwriting from USC and external sources and simultaneously work toward securing an endowed chair to assure the permanence and quality of the Program. He said that the Program Staff will give serious attention to the proposed recommendations and embark on the challenging task of implementing those which are of primary importance.

The Program of Armenian Studies issues a newsletter which is mailed free of charge to persons interested in the project. Inquiries and suggestions are welcomed by the Program Coordinator, Dr. Ohannes Salibian. Communications should be addressed to him at the University of Southern California, 950 West Jefferson Boulevard, Room 253, Los Angeles, California 90007.

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