Rhapsody for the Armenian Diaspora

Currently under consortium premiere: available for pre-order only!!
Scores will be delivered by December 31st, 2024


“Ararat: Rhapsody for the Armenian Diaspora” is an homage to the musical traditions that ethnic Armenians have built
in the United States and other areas outside of the present boundaries of Armenia.

Armenia (called “Hayastan” by Armenians) is a country in Western Asia. However, the country itself only represents a
small portion of Armenian history: ethnic Armenians have a deep cultural tradition dating back over 4,000 years, and
historical Armenia included a large section of present-day Turkey and at times expanded to include areas of Iran, Iraq,
Georgia, Syria, and Azerbaijan. Likely due to its location (the land route connecting 3 continents, on the historical Silk
Road), Armenia has been frequently invaded and Armenians have spent the majority of their history under the rule of
others. This has led Armenians to be resilient, adaptable to new environments, and fiercely protective of our culture
and traditions.

Due primarily to the Hamidian Massacres of the 1890s and the Armenian Genocide of 1915-17, the majority of ethnic
Armenians now live outside of Armenia. My family history is a typical one for Armenian-Americans: four of my great-
grandparents fled to the US from Diyarbakir and Malatya - cities in present-day Turkey that historically had large
Armenian communities. The Armenian diaspora has attempted to maintain our traditions, but unsurprisingly we have
also created new ones as well. To me, this is one of the most fundamental Armenian traits: sustaining a distinctly
Armenian culture while existing in an environment with a different set of norms, expectations, and priorities. Our
ancestors have been practicing this type of cultural preservation through adaptation for thousands of years.

Like most other musical traditions in Western Asia and North Africa, Armenian music utilizes makams (which are
often compared to scales but have several significant differences). Most compositions primarily utilize one central
makam, but “Ararat” is intended to present a broader and more varied depiction of what Armenian music sounds
like, so it heavily utilizes two makams: Hüseyni and Hicaz (which are among the most frequently-used makams in
Armenian music).

Whereas the European tuning system divides an octave into 12 equal parts, the Ottoman tuning system utilized in
much Armenian music divides an octave into 53 equal parts. For this reason, Armenian music may include “microtones”:
pitches that aren’t given a name in the Western tradition and don’t exist on Western keyboard instruments or fretted

Non-Western music is usually thought of through the lens of an “authentic” tradition: the idea that there is one
singular way to accurately experience a culture’s music, with the implication that the culture is unchanging,
permanently frozen in time. Vast, complex, and ever-evolving musical cultures are often distilled to a few folk
melodies, which typically end up being stripped of their original context and then harmonized in the European
tradition with triads and functional harmony. This is certainly the case for Armenian music, whose representation
in the global West almost exclusively consists of arrangements of folk melodies transcribed and/or composed by
Komitas Vardapet.

Komitas is certainly revered by Armenians, but his music only represents a small portion of the “folk melody”
tradition, and that in turn comprises only a small portion of Armenian musical culture. Armenian music is vast, it is
varied, and like any other culture, it is constantly evolving. My main goal for “Ararat” was to write a composition
that reflects the vastness, variety, and evolution of Armenian music.

Mount Ararat is perhaps the most enduring symbol of Armenia, but it stands in present-day Turkey. My hope is that
(like Ararat), even though this composition currently exists outside the boundaries of the country of Armenia, it will
still be instantly identifiable to Armenians as something that is our own: full of fiery expressive passion, deep soulful
mournfulness, and intensely energetic resilient joy.

back to Wind Band

main page