The Next Generation of Armenian Musicians

A topic of continued discussion has always surrounded the “next generation” when it pertains to industry or when discussing the future of just about anything. Music is no stranger to this conversation as a matter of fact, it is imperative when discussing all forms of historical music. Folk music is the music of the people, handed down by generation to generation. This is the best way for this type of music to survive. We can document and record the music but it needs to be played in order for it to sustain for years to come.

Armenian folk music has been in jeopardy of disappearing for several years. Music that was performed pre-Armenian Genocide and traveled with the survivors, this style of music has a questionable future given that the generation that listened and danced to this style are getting older and passing away. However, it is my opinion that the music has a chance of survival if you have a few important (this shouldn’t come as any great revelation) components in place – musicians that love the music and perform it actively and an audience that wants to hear. Out of these components, I feel we will always have an audience that will appreciate the music. It may be a different audience, but I can tell you that when I perform music to a non-ethnic, non-Armenian crowd – they are appreciative and curious of the music. This audience vary in age. Our bigger issue will involve the musicians preserving the music. Often I am asked “Who else is playing this music?” or “Who is teaching the next generation?” The good news is there are teachers out there that are helping make this music survive and have given their time to teach the music. Armenian musicians such as Ara Dinkjian and Mal Barsamian are just two artists that actively teach students Armenian and Middle Eastern music. There are others out there and I am sure many that I am unaware of that are teaching the next generation this form of music.

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Alek Surenian (dumbeg), Michael Kamalian (clarinet) and Datev Gevorkian (oud)

Over this past Labor Day weekend, I witnessed (joyfully) a small group of young Armenian men that want to play music and be heard. So they set up ( a few) an impromptu “jam” session in the hotel lobby. One amplifier to share between the clarinet and oud and sitting off the side by a wall, playing music. No signs up, no loud sound equipment, dressed casually for the purpose of doing what they enjoy and hoping they can infect others with their passion.

These musicians were Datev Gevorkian from Massachusetts (oud), Michael Kamalian from Wisconsin (clarinet) and Alek Surenian from Illinois (dumbeg). These young Armenians are indicative of the next generation of musicians that want to preserve traditional Armenian and Middle Eastern music and love playing it for anyone that is interested in listening. These musicians should be encouraged to continue our traditions.

So in the spirit of helping promote the next generation of musicians, I wanted to shed a little light on them and allow their voices to be heard as they describe their impressions and importance of the music.

Michael Kamalian: “Growing up watching him (his father, Vahan Kamalian) play oud and listening to his favorite Armenian musicians, I fell in love with the sound of our music. I picked up the dumbeg at four years old and as I got older, I realized that by playing our rich and soulful music, I can keep the Armenian heritage alive”.

Datev Gevorkian: “It is important for me to play this music In order to continue on the culture and eventually pass it down to the next generation. It is also without a doubt very enjoyable”.

Alek Surenian: “Playing Armenian music is important because it allows people to connect. Music is a universal language and can be understood across a wide range of people. I knew from an early age I could play Dumbeg, and it didn’t occur to me until I was a teenager that creating music is a special skill which I shouldn’t take for granted”.

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