YEREVAN and NEW YORK — When master pianist Sahan Arzruni spent the majority of June working with music students in some of Armenia’s rural towns, he was interested in learning about the state of musical education outside of Yerevan. He wanted to commune with the youth, but admitted he wasn’t completely sure he’d be able to “speak their language.”
As it turned out, he could, and what he found during his three-week journey was a plethora of small communities rich with young people actively engaged in music.
This was the second time Arzruni had visited Armenia’s music schools. He had already done a similar, but less extensive, tour in 2017. This trip, which took him to five provinces as well as Artsakh, was coordinated by Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) in partnership with the Armenian Ministry of Culture.
Armenia is still filled with music schools and conservatories, a positive vestige of the Soviet period. Teaching methods at these schools, however, are still very much in the Soviet style, which means highly prescriptive and disciplinarian instruction, according to Arzruni. The curriculum is a bit insular as well. Instructors still focus very much on primarily Russian composers — mainly those they studied themselves as students.
Arzruni visited Arkavand, Ashtarak, Berd, Dilijan, Goris, Kapan, Vanadzor and Stepanakert. Spending two days in each location, he spent a full day listening to several students from different schools play. He then selected a few outstanding pupils who participated in the concert Arzruni would give the second day. Students included pianists, string and wind players, vocalists and folk instrumentalists.
Without upsetting the current course structure, Arzruni set out to introduce them to new methods of thinking and learning about music, and to further stimulate their aesthetic values. He used alternative methods of trying to help students understand ways of playing music. “This was why I was there,” he said. “To show them a different way of playing and doing things.”