Hasmik Harutyunyan

Young Shoghaken Soloist Keeps Tradition and Spirit Alive through Her Music


By Lilit Nurijanyan

YEREVAN (Hetq) — Shoghaken Ensemble soloist Hasmik Harutyunyan was born in Yerevan into a family of emigrants from Moush in Western Armenia.

It was a family in which folk song and dance were both desirable and mandatory and at the same time a kind of nourishment, or sustenance. Everyone in the family had his own song.

The ashoughagan (troubadour) genre was reserved for the parents; the children sang folk songs especially for children. “It didn’t even cross my mind that there were homes where there was no singing or dancing, where family members didn’t gather and sing and dance for hours. Later, when I grew up and went to my friend’s houses and saw that no one was singing or dancing, I was astonished,” Harutyunyan said.

Harutyunyan never thought about becoming a singer, especially, that she would be paid for singing. As the “pride” of her school, she came to believe that she could accomplish anything she wanted. And one day, while walking with friends past the Arno Babajanyan Music College, as a “matter of pride,” stated that she would be a student at the college. “Of course, everybody laughed, because they knew I was studying at a mathematics school, and they knew that besides solving problems, I couldn’t do anything else. But later I decided I would become a student at the music college.

“My family went into shock, as our family members were all expected to study at Yerevan State University. I was accepted into the college, and I studied there. But, I didn’t really feel it was my place, as the methods they were using to teach singing seemed strange to me. There, they were artificially changing the way they opened their mouths and were imitating people in strange ways, causing me to laugh out loud at what they were doing. I was also lucky that my Mshetsi ancestors ended up in Aparan, as I picked up the Aspirants ‘stubbornness,’ which didn’t allow me to stray, to ruin my voice. I always sang how I wanted to sing.”

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Even after graduating from the music college, Harutyunyan wasn’t thinking about becoming a singer. At home, she was taking care of her brother’s children. She sang lullabies for them.

“There came a time when they starting demanding new songs, and I was ashamed that I didn’t know any more songs to sing for them. I began looking for songs, checking different sources. I sang the songs I had found, and by singing them near the cradle, I understood how they should be sung. But I didn’t have the opportunity to sing these songs on stage. Also, there was no place where I could go to learn these songs. We have a huge, fantastic inheritance in all genres of folk music, especially lullabies. The thing is that they’re not all gathered in one place, where one can go, pick up a book, and learn our lullabies. And there was nowhere I could go and have someone teach me these songs. You have to search for them, to dig, to excavate. This has become my life’s work. And I’ve searched a lot, collected old recordings, and wherever I go, I ask people what was sung for them,” she said.

Harutyunyan says that people often don’t understand that what was being sung for them were lullabies because in Armenian lullabies the mothers sang about their lives, their homeland. “The lullaby creates a bridge between the generations, between the mother and child. In lullabies, the people speak, and who can be more knowledgeable, wise, than the people? And from what can that bridge be created now, with television becoming nothing more than a trash bin?” the singer indignantly asked.

So began the singer’s journey into the world of lullabies. She considers the lullaby the purest folk genre. In her words, people are so culturally stained or corrupted, that they can’t understand or accept the pure, clean music of the lullaby.

“This generation is separated from its roots and the connection between the earth and the universe. In the lullaby, they say ‘what the mother has brought you,’ not ‘whose girl are you, how many rings to you have, what kind of car you drive?’ On the other hand, the meaning of the lullaby is asking what kind of inner world the mother has given to the child. Now that is purity.”

She herself does not have children.  “Due to marrying late, I didn’t have children, but I have a wonderful husband, and consider myself quite happy. He is a foreign-born Armenian, and when they ask him what keeps him in Armenia, he answers, ‘tolma, tuti oghi (mulberry vodka) and Harutyunyan’s voice,’” the singer noted.

From Akunk to Shoghaken

In the 1980s, Harutyunyan sang for the Akunk Ensemble, founded by the well-known singer and historian Hayrik Mouradian. Although gaining good experience, Hasmik again found it difficult to find her place in a group or choir setting. And she couldn’t establish herself as a solo performer. After the death of the group’s leader, Maro Mouradian, Akunk never again regained its footing.

The singer and several musicians got together and formed the Shoghaken Ensemble, which was the beginning of her road to success. Starting in 2000, Shoghaken has appeared in some of the most famous concert halls and festivals. In 2001, Shoghaken recorded an album of traditional Armenian folk dances. Then, from the New York-based Traditional Crossroads label, which records pure ethnic music from around the world, Shoghaken received a commission to record the now well-known “Armenia Anthology” CD. The CD helped open the door for Shoghaken, which was then invited to perform at Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Festival in Washington, DC, in 2002.

The same year, Shoghaken recorded the folk music for Atom Egoyan’s film “Ararat.” The ensemble has had many concerts in Europe and the US, including their 45-day tour of the USA, in 2004, which covered 11 states, and their tour in 2008, in the USA and Canada. Harutyunyan says that there was huge interest for authentic folk music across the country, yet little in Armenian communities. Also, in 2006, Shoghaken performed a solo concert at the renowned “Theater De La Ville” in Paris, France, the first ensemble from Armenia to appear at the hall.

All commissions for Shoghaken’s recordings have come from outside Armenia, as in Armenia, financial means have until now been unavailable. “In general, we never refuse an offer, even if finances are little, as there is no other way to have our music reach the world. Each musician of Shoghaken feels the responsibility to preserve and pass this music on to others.”

Folk music “undresses” the individual


“Today the world is slowly waking up. But that places us directly in front of a troubling question. The entire world is drawn to you, wants to listen to your music, but your own countryman doesn’t want to listen to you. No matter how much you give your countryman, he can’t swallow that clean, pure nourishment. His tastes are already deformed, distorted; his ability to feel the musical hues and colors is ruined. The folk song demands honesty, openness, and who today wants to be open? If they open up, how can they stand in front of us, with their ignorance, their nakedness? The Armenian folk song sends the listener to such depths that your political party isn’t important, who your parents are, what you’ve done, instead you have to stand naked facing your sins. It’s just that that makes people furious, and for that reason, they don’t want to open up, be honest in front of others,” Harutyunyan states.

Turkish ensembles presenting Armenian culture of Anatolia

“How are we going to amaze the world? With our symphony? If I want to listen to symphonic music, I’ll go to Vienna and enjoy their symphony. Every year, the Turks send 30-40 folk ensembles around the world to give concerts. They present the Armenian culture of Anatolia, and for that, people like them. And if one happens to tell somebody what a Turk is, they answer, ‘oh, they play such nice music, how can they be bad people?’ So, go ahead and tell the world what the Turks did, and why they’re presenting our culture as their own. The Turks have seized the stages of the world where ethnic music is presented. And we have completely lost our cultural values,” Hasmik argues.

“If we stand in front of the world and open our mouths and say we have one thing, and that is the grace and talent of Komitas, and then allow the half-educated to go on television and say ‘I am doing arrangements of Komitas…’ Who are you, to say you are doing arrangements of Komitas? Our folk song differentiates in the way the musical sentence is formed, which is from our speech. In that, the entire life and history of our nation appears, our features, our appearance. If a nation has no history, his speech cannot be advanced, and it would be impossible to quickly form a musical sentence. It is impossible that the Armenian woman when creating a lullaby is doing this from emptiness, because in every note, every word, there is deep meaning. Our musical mentality is quite advanced, and logical because we have logically given narrative to each happening, event, and phenomenon of nature. And this appears in the folk song. All of our layers as a people, pre-Christian, pre-historical, and Christian…how can we say ‘this is old, it isn’t modern,’ and leave all this, gift it to others, throw it right in their laps, so we can be more ‘modern?’ The cradle of world music should be right here. We have our part in world civilization. Culture of merit isn’t created in a year, in 10 years, or in a hundred years, but in centuries, in millennia. And the deeper the historical layers, the deeper and richer the national music. For something extra to wear or something more to eat, we are lowering our standards, our cultural values. We, the bearers of traditional culture, are not needed in this country; there’s no crack to squeeze into, all roads are closed,” the Shoghaken soloist laments.

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