Duduk: Reconciling Man and Reality

 The duduk is an amazing musical instrument; it seems that the duduk itself decides for whom it opens its universal secrets. Of course, anyone can learn to play the duduk, but not all are gifted to pass on the thoughts and emotions of the duduk. From that aspect, duduk player Vahan Harutyunyan is one of those chosen for this.

He is a remarkably endowed musician, but unfortunately, in today’s reality, his fate has been such that his name is not well known. It is possible to listen to him mainly on the Internet. His expressive virtuoso performances are heard worldwide, mainly on non-professional recordings. Those that have heard Vahan’s playing record and film his duduk by the handiest tool around—the cell phone—and place these recordings on YouTube. In contemporary Armenia, everything is owned, and no exception is made in the different musical spheres. There are now several excellent duduk players, and new names find it difficult to crack that barrier that has been placed in front of them. It happens that one’s success gets in the way of another’s development or rise. To build one’s career, and create a wider base of fans and listeners, methodical steps need to be taken, on a consistent basis. Many duduk players follow this path, but this seems alien to Vahan. He isn’t one to take these steps, simply, he is a musician. He sees the duduk not as a weapon, but as a continuation of his being. How can one be his own weapon? A person can only be himself, in his entirety. And Vahan’s being is made up of his chosen instrument, connecting him with the land and with his ancestors.

His family has been duduk players for generations. Vahan was born and raised in Armavir, which he still calls home. He inherited his extraordinary talent on the duduk from his ancestors. His father and grandfather couldn’t picture their lives without the duduk, not as a way to make a living, but as a way of life. Armenian folk songs and their construction were always passed from generation to generation, that part of our intangible cultural heritage which was passed on by word of mouth. Talking about the birth of folk songs today, Vahan says, with conviction, “These songs can’t be created on asphalt. If nature isn’t a part of you, the duduk also won’t resonate. Nature gives that energy, that peace, from which the sound of the duduk begins.”

The elegant duduk, in reality, is a male-oriented instrument. Vahan adds, “In the hands of a man of taste, whose head and heart are full, the duduk becomes something profound.”

In recent years, the duduk has become an instrument that is in style; it is often used, or exploited, in estrada, jazz, and symphonic works. Vahan Harutyunyan attributes this to the unique resonance of the duduk: “It seems to whoever listens to the duduk that there is a universal, deep history in the sound of the duduk. The plain, pure duduk has a very impressive effect, and for that reason it is used in almost all musical creations.”

By nature an expert at improvisation on the duduk, Vahan believes that the duduk shouldn’t be used in jazz, at the most weaved in as a short “intrusion” to give the piece color.

Vahan is now preparing to perform with the Shoghaken Ensemble on September 4, about which Shoghaken soloist Hasmik Harutyunyan (not only a fantastic singer, but an interesting conversationalist) adds, “It always seemed to me that the duduk was the best way to reach one’s deeper instincts, his nature, his memories. Wherever you want to go, even far from reality, it’s one and the same, the sound of the duduk will penetrate you, as an X-ray machine would, and the rays will show our limitless universe. The penetrating duduk will reach one’s depths, and will cleanse one from the daily noise and reality. As a singer, I have felt that when accompanied by a duduk, people happily start to sing along with me, in their minds. The duduk compliments the song, underlining the song’s theme, even more than the voice. When I am singing a capella, I always want to have at my side the duduk or another Armenian wind instrument.”

Vahan also considers the duduk as an instrument to speak with, to converse with: “In reality the duduk isn’t an instrument, but the continuation of the human voice. When you are “talking,” using the duduk, and are performing a song (if, of course, you have understood, digested the song’s words), you are telling your story in your mind, and putting emphasis in between the song’s words. But if you have nothing to say, it’s better to not play the duduk. The duduk won’t forgive you, and the sounds, the hues, it gives will be false.” Hasmik Harutyunyan pictures it this way: “A newborn baby is only given pure water to drink; only someone crazy would give a newborn Coca Cola or another carbonated drink. The same is with music. First, let’s “drink” what’s pure and clean, and later, when the organism is hardened, we can drink any color of drink, and not be afraid of being poisoned.”

Instrument of Masters

Vahan is convinced that the musician first of all needs to have a flexible mind and an open heart, and then, by all means, needs to have the right teacher, the right master. The connection between the teacher and the student is lost in other arts and crafts, but in the case of the duduk, the connection is bright and clear. To the question of whether he plays at weddings or funerals, Vahan’s answer was a resounding “of course.” Years ago, an organization existed that served this purpose, offering the people music for these ceremonies. This was the beginning of the term “rabiz.” For years, this organization was led by Djivan Gasparyan whose name is now synonymous with, and symbolizes, Armenian art. Vahan is convinced that the most brilliant, professional musicians have come from this organization. “No duduk player can say he is far from ‘rabiz,’ as this union is the best place to learn, to become an expert at one’s trade. The duduk is a deep and honest musical instrument, and it’s not by accident that people want to hear the sound of the duduk at their most emotional moments. People sitting around the table, on different occasions, feel this very well, and have the need to open up and be honest and sincere,” he says. It is noticeable, therefore, that our pop music, which is “choked” with duduk music, doesn’t gain anything by using the duduk, as it is impossible for the duduk to be open and sincere when used with superficial music, the uniqueness of the duduk thus lost when used in this music.

Armenian folk music is monadic, and its phenomenal manifestation is with this very duduk, as when it is played, accompanied by the drone duduk, maintains the monadic sound, while at the same time ensuring melodic music. The melody goes forward, progresses, and takes wing, while the drone remains the same. That is an interesting paradox. Only with the duduk is that paradox evident.

Folk Festival

The best way to gain fame in the homeland is to reach success elsewhere…and then return home. Vahan Harutyunyan is preparing to depart for San Francisco this October, where a fantastic cultural exchange will take place. During the course of this festival, Hasmik Harutyunyan will teach Armenian folk songs to an ensemble made up of 20 non-Armenian singers in four workshop sessions. “This ensemble (Kitka Ensemble) travels the entire world, propagandizing folk music. At the festival, the ensemble will perform Armenian lullabies and the works of Komitas. “Vahan and I will take the stage as soloists. I have heard practically all Armenian duduk players, and am convinced that Vahan is the most original and technically perfect duduk player.” This is the first time Armenia will be represented at the folk festival in San Francisco and, let the others say what they will, this is worth dozens of “Eurovisions.” Folklore is not only the fragrance of the land, the wind, and the stars, but it opens wide horizons, a commentary with many genres. But the Americans, who don’t have an ancient heritage of which they can be proud, understand very well the worth of the source of this folklore. For this reason, Hasmik will also be teaching Armenian folk songs to Armenian and non-Armenian children, after which the children will present the songs at the festival. Children black and white, Armenian and non-Armenian, will have the opportunity to sing Armenian children’s songs, such as “Zmpik-zmpik” and “Akh Ninar” at the festival.

“It is as if the Americans want folklore to be accessible and understandable to all, and with different nationalities performing others’ music, this should be evident,” Hasmik says. “And for this reason, they begin with children, to see if in fact children can, and will, sing songs unfamiliar to them, and sing them willingly and happily. I am convinced that the result will be positive, as all over the world, children are playing the same games, and singing about the same things. In all fables, good conquers evil. And in all nations, mothers sing the same songs to their children in the cradle.” According to her, Komitas found the best formula to make our culture understandable to the world, in that he combined the simplest and most difficult of songs, in a splendid manner. And when talk reaches standing as owner of our heritage, she remembers another Armenian paradox: “When there is something we don’t understand, we say it’s not ours, and we don’t try to understand it. But Americans understand very well the importance of education. Now our children are listening to meaningless pop music, and are getting their education from these songs. Go to the village and you will be convinced that the children are singing Armenchik’s songs, and very few know what treasures we had.”

According to experts, with the loss of the secrets of the khaz (Armenian musical notation), we also lost 90% of our songs. Armenian melodies transcribed with European notation suffered, as it was impossible to properly write the quarter tone’s ascents and descents. Even during expeditions to record and transcribe these songs, time wasn’t sufficient to record more than the words of the songs, and the melodies too often weren’t recorded. If it weren’t for the genius of Komitas, many of these songs would have remained only as fragments, songs with no conclusion.

Author: Nune Hakverdyan
Source: http://168.am/en/articles/6797-pr