An Apprenticeship in the Armenian Duduk

As an internationally lauded artist (receiving the WOMEX lifetime achievement award in 2002, multiple accolades from UNESCO, and a Grammy nomination this year alongside collaborator Hossein Alizadeh for the album Endless Vision), master duduk musician Djivan Gasparyan is often credited for being one of the most important exponents of duduk in the world during the 20th century and today, with over one hundred active, accomplished students throughout the world, cultivated since he served as a professor for 25 years while at the Yerevan Conservatory in Armenia.

Celebrated in 1973 by the Armenian government as People’s Artist of Armenia while developing intercultural and crossover collaborations with composers and musicians including Alizadeh, Erkan Oğur, Kronos Quartet, Peter Gabriel, Lian Ensemble, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Brook, and Sting, Gasparyan has “devoted my life to the perfection of the instrument. Duduk is my soul, my child, and my best friend. Duduk and I are like fish and water.”

As a current master artist in the Alliance’s Apprenticeship Program, he shares this impassioned devotion a little closer to home with apprentice and 25-year old grandson Jivan Gasparyan Jr. – referred to as “Little Jivan,” respective to “Big Djivan” – at home in Los Angeles County’s Sherman Oaks. Having taught his grandson from the age of 10, with more concentrated studies in recent years, Djivan is “confident that [Jivan] will keep this tradition alive.”

During their apprenticeship, the two have focused on Jivan’s mastery of technical “secrets” of the duduk, including breathing techniques, fingering techniques, performance ability and circular breathing. Jivan articulates that “it is my dream to become a master musician in duduk in general and in Armenian music in particular.” Learning up to ten to fifteen songs and key melodies from traditional Armenian folk song repertoire during the apprenticeship involves not only memorizing them, but also how to “learn the songs by yourself,” by applying phrasing and musical principles which determine melodic structures and ornamentations. As an advanced student who was raised in both Yerevan, Armenia, and California, under the watchful tutelage of his grandfather, Jivan’s apprenticeship focuses on some of the most difficult phrases embedded within each song learned, phrases Djivan himself has learned, refined, and interpreted over the course of over 70 years of playing the instrument.

Djivan’s active performing schedule has yielded opportunities to share the stage with his grandson playing by his side, and most recently, they played together at major concerts at Los Angeles’ Kodak Theater and Hollywood Bowl before thousands, showcasing material which was learned during the apprenticeship. Recognizing that his septuagenarian grandfather is considered a “living legend of this instrument,” Jivan reflects that “for anything to become good, time is necessary,” spending time outside of their frequent lessons carefully studying nuances in his grandfather’s extensive recordings, and hoping to play alongside his grandfather again in years to come.