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May 17 2019

Armenian Modal Singing: The Concentric Circles of Transmission

masterclasses, world-music
Room 1354

Workshop presented by Aram Kerovpyan and Virginia Kerovpyan

The modal system of Armenian liturgical chant is based upon natural harmonies of intervals, as well as a clear correlation between each degree of a musical mode and a sustained fundamental degree commonly referred to as the drone. These characteristics become audible and determine a specific sound environment for each mode. However, this is only possible if one transcends the perception of modes solely as a set of discrete scales and perceives the modal phenomenon as an integral whole. This is the means by which modes achieved their significance and were viewed as impacting the human psyche from the medieval period onwards.

Unlike the Ottoman and Persian modal systems, the modal structures and classifications of which underwent reorganization at the beginning of the 20th century, the traditional Armenian modal system was not subject to such a reorganization, since the Armenians’ social space had already become dominated by a Westernizing movement both in the Ottoman Empire and Russian Transcaucasia from as early as the last decades of the 19th century. That, in return, resulted in the increasing marginalization of modal chant and its concentration in the traditional milieu of church cantors. Nevertheless, the apparent lack of systematization in the transmission of Armenian liturgical chant that can still be observed today actually conceals this music’s inherent complexity.

Recalibrating our perspective from the atomistic approach of "scale and melody" to a more holistic understanding of the ”sound environment" as noted above, allows us to appreciate the long preparation and creative participation required to transmit this music, as well as for its appropriation and mastering by the student. It is with this same approach that Armenian liturgical modal singing reaches beyond its original environment which is characterized by its function, as cultural interaction has become a shared element of many societies in our times. Kerovpyan aims to discuss some of these possibilities, illustrating the process with examples drawn from his own experience.

Aram Kerovpyan was born in 1953 in Istanbul, Turkey. As a youth, he apprenticed under a church cantor. He learned to play the kanun and learned the Middle Eastern modal system with master Saaddeddin Öktenay (1930-1989). After gaining a degree in electrical engineering, he moved to Paris in 1977 and thereafter dedicated himself entirely to music. He co-founded the Ensemble Kotchnak in 1981. In 1986, he became the assistant to master-singer Aramaneak Arabian (1898-1990, born in Eskişehir, Turkey) in the Armenian Cathedral of Paris, Saint John the Baptist. In 1990, Kerovpyan succeeded Arabian as master-singer for the Armenian Cathedral of Paris. Kerovpyan is founder and director of the Center for Armenian Modal Chant Studies of Paris and the Ensemble Akn (1990 to present). He holds a Ph.D. in musicology (2003, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris) and publishes, lectures, and performs, and directs workshops on Armenian modal chant with his wife Virginia Pattie Kerovpyan.

Sponsored by The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music Departments of Ethnomusicology and Music

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