Type of Armenian: Tsovinar Hovhannisyan

The ��?curtain of time’ becomes thick, sometimes non-transparent and incomprehensible. Everything becomes clear when one hears the melody mixed with the wind of the mountains, with the clear dawn of the shepherd’s reed, the delicate and womanly modulations of the canon and the grace of the wheat spikes.

Hayern Aysor’s correspondent sat down for an interview with professor of Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory, conductor and kanun player Tsovinar Hovhannisyan.

Tsovinar Hovhannisyan has received the Narekatsi Medal of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia, the “Pedagogical Glory” international award and an order. She has also received several diplomas and certificates of appreciation from the Ministries of Culture and Education and Science of the Republic of Armenia.

Hayern Aysor: What made you choose the kanun? Why did you choose it? When did playing the kanun become a lifestyle for you?

Tsovinar Hovhannisyan: The first musical instrument I played was the piano. When I was 3, I started reproducing any melody with an instrument. Later, I got accepted to Sheram Music School #5 in Gyumri. I was 11 when I met my kanun teacher. Perhaps it was predetermined. I felt that I was going to be devoted to the kanun. Indeed, my merited teacher, Laura Melikyan played a huge role, and she still works with the same vigor and dedication.

I continued to play the piano. When I was graduating from music school, besides playing the kanun, I gave a solo concert as a pianist under the direction of my teacher Anahit Hovhannisyan.

Later, I continued my education at Kara-Murza Music School in Gyumri. My kanun teacher was Ruzanna Gevorgyan, and my piano teacher was Nina Osevskaya. When I was in my second year of studies, I took composing classes from Azat Shishyan. I deepened my knowledge of conducting, graduated with honors and conducted an orchestra during my state exams. Robert Atayan noticed me and recommended that I continue my musical education. He also made me feel committed to continue my education at Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory.

In 1985, I got accepted to Professor Alvard Mirzoyan’s class at Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory. Mirzoyan was a brilliant kanun player. Her performances, the depth of the sounds of the kanun and the musicality set an example for me. At the same time, I learned conducting as a second profession and was a student of Professor Karine Atanesyan. In 1993, I obtained my PhD from the Conservatory.

Hayern Aysor: Which performance made you famous as a musician and became Tsovinar Hovhannisyan the kanun player’s ��?business card’ in the world of music?

Tsovinar Hovhannisyan: Starting from my years of study at the music school, I have participated in concerts and republican competitions. During my years of study, I have given many performances. I would perform as part of a self-made ensemble of folk instruments of the palace of textile workers and as part of the orchestra of national and folk instruments under the direction of Jivan Khachatryan. During those years, the orchestra became a state orchestra, and I became a soloist of the orchestra.

The performance that made me famous was the concerto of the kanun by Grigor Hakhinyan during the first Sayat-Nova Competition. I had adapted the concerto to the kanun and won first place at the competition. I received invitations for collaboration, including from the State Dance Ensemble. Unfortunately, I declined the ensemble’s invitation since I was studying at the Conservatory. Later, I performed with the Tatul Altunyan State Song and Dance Ensemble.

Hayern Aysor: The collapse of the Soviet Union, independence, blockade, struggle for the liberation of Artsakh…For many of us Armenians, the war was on the border and in Artsakh. For you, the war was close and tangible. How did you pursue your professional career during and after the war?

Tsovinar Hovhannisyan: During my years of study at the Conservatory, I started a family. My children were small when the war broke out. On the one hand, I faced all the problems and hardships that Armenian women were facing during the years of coldness and darkness. On the other hand, we were in a war. My husband, Gegham Gabrielyan is a heroic pilot (he was the commander of the helicopter detachment) and participated in the military operations until the end of the war.

I started giving concerts when my children grew up. I started giving concerts in Greece and then in France, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Georgia, the United States of America, China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Lebanon, Bulgaria and other countries.

Hayern Aysor: How do you feel when you present Armenian arts to foreign audiences? Do foreigners know about the kanun? Is there any impressive performance or an episode from a concert that you can share with us?

Tsovinar Hovhannisyan: Audiences vary, and so does their knowledge of the kanun. There are people who know little about the kanun. Many people think of the kanun as an Arab or Turkish musical instrument. We explain to them that it is an Armenian national musical instrument with Oriental origin.

In 2000, during one of my concerts in Greece, I had to be on stage for over an hour without accompaniment and without the help of any musician. I had to think about how I was going to play so as not to bore my listeners. I wrote and adapted works and accompanied myself with the kanun. This is how the finger technique was created, that is, the technique of using all fingers with the kanun. This innovation was touched upon in Rita Sharoyan’s film entitled “Ancient Musical Instruments” and dedicated to renowned kanun player Angela Atabekyan. I present the kanun’s finger technique in one of the episodes of that film.

Hayern Aysor: You have released nearly 20 handbooks devoted to the kanun. Those books feature adaptations and your own works and albums. The world famous Vincent Moon has also presented you.

Tsovinar Hovhannisyan: I have compact discs, including the albums entitled “Call of Longing 8” and “Tsovinar and Liana” (recorded with Peria Cultural Center0, “improvisation”, “Me” and “Gusan”. I have also recorded a small disc with Shushanik Saghatelyan, but unfortunately, it has not been duplicated for the time being.

Vincent Moon tours various countries and presents the folk, national and spiritual music of nations of the world. He taped and recorded the album “Voice of Armenia” at our home and produced a short film with Shushanik Saghatelyan and Gagik Muradyan.

Hayern Aysor: You are performing a great and grateful task. Thanks to your dedicated efforts, many children and students are mastering the ABCs of the kanun. You also have an ensemble of kanun players. How do you combine concerts, tours and teaching? What are the achievements and innovations in teaching methods today?

Tsovinar Hovhannisyan: Over the past years, there has been great interest in folk instruments, particularly in the duduk and the kanun. The children attend the lessons with great excitement. My observation concerns not only Yerevan, but also the provinces where I teach, give master classes and hold training courses for teachers.

I have been teaching at the Conservatory since the 1990s. I work with all my students with great pleasure.

Today, I even play jazz with the kanun. In fact, I am the first performer and creator of jazz adaptations with the canon. True, the mission of the kanun is to present and advocate Armenian national music, but this is also an encouraging and inspiring method for children. The kanun has wide opportunities for performance, and we are becoming convinced of that today.

There has not been an ensemble of more than 25 musicians in the Armenian history of the kanun. In 1957, 15 Armenian kanun players performed under the direction of Khachatur Avetisyan in Moscow. In 2010, my ensemble of 25 musicians gave a concert, and recently, 39 kanun players performed during Mary Musinyan’s concert.

I have gifted and talented students who are already successful musicians, including Iskuhi Karapetyan, Liana Baghdasaryan, Astghik Snetsunts, as well as Eteri Hovhannisyan, Mary Musinyan, Kristine Yengoyan and others from the new generation. Upon the request of the Ministry of Culture, I have worked with Narek Kazazyan during the two months preceding the Eurovision contest of classical musical instruments.

Hayern Aysor: What is your advice for Armenian mothers who are still considering taking their children to music school in an age of information?

Tsovinar Hovhannisyan: Many Armenian mothers have had dreams that have not come true for various reasons. Today, their children’s successes in music are also the fulfillment of the mothers’ dreams.

Interview by Aghavni Grigoryan

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