Rhapsody for the Armenian Diaspora

Join the consortium:
Ararat Consortium Membership

Consortium members will receive:

-A PDF copy of the score and parts (delievered in March 2024)
-Name and institution listed in the inside cover

-Exclusive performance rights through Fall 2023

“Ararat: Rhapsody for the Armenian Diaspora” will be a ~12 minute band piece (Grade 5 difficulty) based primarily on the musical traditions that ethnic Armenians have built in the US and other areas outside of the present boundaries of Armenia.

Many Armenian songs begin with a slow, lyrical, improvisatory solo called a taksim. “Ararat” will begin with such a solo: it was written with the duduk in mind, though it is scored for either soprano saxophone, oboe, or muted trumpet. Solo parts will also be provided for duduk and other traditional Armenian instruments in case a performer on one of those instruments is available.

Armenian weddings often entail music played by the zurna (a piercingly loud and nasal double reed) and dhol (a large two-headed drum). Also common at celebrations is the tamzara, a lively dance in 9/8. Both of these styles of music will be depicted in “Ararat”.

Armenian music in the band world almost exclusively consists of arrangements of folk songs transcribed and/or composed by Komitas Vardapet. While Komitas is venerated by Armenians, many other gusans and ashughs (such as Sayat Nova, Sheram, Shahen, and Grigor Narekatsi) have also written beautiful folk melodies. “Ararat” will contain original folk melodies influenced by their music.

Russia’s invasion of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in 1920 and the ensuing Sovietization led some Armenian composers to write classical music: Aram Khachaturian is the most famous, but composers such as Alexander Arutiunian, Sirvart Karamanuk, and Alan Hovhaness also wrote wonderful Armenia-influenced music in the Western tradition. Their scoring and harmonic language will influence this work.

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. Four of my great-grandparents fled to the US from Diyarbakir and Malatya: cities in present-day Turkey that were historically heavily Armenian. A common rhythm in those regions was the curcuna (3+2+2+3/8): that rhythm is still quite popular among the Armenian diaspora, and it will be utilized in “Ararat”.

In the US, the diaspora created kef music (party music), which fused Armenian music with elements of jazz. Kef became very popular among the Armenian diaspora, headlined by groups such as The Vosbikian Band, The Nor-Ikes, and my personal favorite, Kef Time Band. Pan-Armenian and Pan-Middle-Eastern music became more common as well. These will all be heavy influences on “Ararat”.

Like most other musical traditions in the WANA region, traditional Armenian music is often based around makams, which are often compared to scales but have several significant differences. “Ararat” will utilize several common makams, such as Huseyni, Hicaz, Hicazkar, and Kurdi. There will be sections in “Ararat” that have quarter tones, though they will be used in a limited and practical way for each instrument and precise intonation in these sections will be neither a necessity nor a benefit.

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.

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