Speghani Choir: Bearers of Armenian Song

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Speghani choir delights me with its artistry. I love listening to this choir, because of the hint of confession and introspection - so inherent in Armenian song - that is present in its singing.

Tigran Mansuryan, composer, 2004 Grammy awards nominee

The beginning
The Speghani girls' choir has been called "the choir of angelic voices," "the bearers of the purest Armenian music," and "a phenomenal occurrence". The choir's huge repertory combines the music of various nations, currents and periods - from medieval spiritual works to works by contemporary Armenian and foreign composers.

The choir's professionalism is, above all, the result of hours of painstaking work each day. It is made up of children who had no previous musical education or relation to music. These children, who had lost their fathers to the Karabakh war, were united in song ten years ago.

Sarina Avtandilyan lost her husband, Gagik Osipyan. He was killed in 1992 during the liberation of Shushi. On June 4 of the same year during the expulsion of Armenians from Martakert her mother, grandmother and grandfather went missing and their house burnt to the ground following a missile attack.

Four years later Sarina Avtandilyan founded a choir made up of orphaned children. That is how Speghani (which in Grabar -Ancient Armenian- means "balm for the soul") was born.

"I believed that the art of the choir would indeed serve as a balm for their wounded souls and alleviate the pain of their loss. The choir was created because it was necessary to survive," Sarina Avtandilyan said.

More than a hundred children responded to the announcements she had posted on the walls of military registration and enlistment offices. Sarina selected eighty children - all under the age of ten. The youngest, Marina (Sarina's daughter) was five years old. They taught the children to sing, and fed and clothed them as well. Many mothers and relatives perceived Speghani as a source of assistance. And few people believed the choir would survive for so long and what is more, would reach such heights.

In the beginning Speghani performed only in military units, singing monophonic patriotic songs.

Now, many choral works by Armenian and foreign composers have been heard in Armenia for the first time thanks to Speghani. In memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide, on April 24, 2005 the choir performed Komitas' Requiem at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior of Shushi, the first time the work had been performed in Artsakh. Works by such composers as Bertrand, Animuccia, Marenzio, Costeley, Rautavaara and others were performed in Armenia for the first time by Speghani. And recently the choir amazed the audience with its performance of the work called Sirius by contemporary Armenian composer Yervand Yerkanyan.

In 2004 Speghani was awarded second prize at the Concorso Polifonico Internazionale in Arezzo, Italy. Before that they had given concerts in Beirut, where only Speghani's vocal quartet was able to travel. The quartet performed three concerts a day.

Sarina Avtandilyan remembers that the audiences were so captivated by the singing that they couldn't applaud after the concerts.

"By the end of the concert tour the children's voices were hoarse," she said. "They all got sick. But their willpower astonished us; they are twelve-year-old kids, after all."

In May 2007 Basel, Switzerland will host the European Youth Choir Festival. Speghani is one of only twelve groups, of a great number of European choirs selected by the jury to perform. From Switzerland the choir will travel to Germany to participate in another International Choral Festival; the Armenian group has been selected as one of thirteen best out of 63 choirs.

Ten years without anything
Speghani has grown and now consists of two groups - a junior and a youth choir.

Today Sarina Avtandilyan exclusively recruits talented children who see their future in music. It couldn't be otherwise - the choir works under very hard conditions.

The choir has survived the ten years since its formation thanks to the devotion of Sarina Avtandilyan and her pupils.

It has become more and more difficult to conduct systematic rehearsals. The choir lacks a permanent rehearsal space and has been forced to move to a number of halls over the ten years.

Today Speghani rehearses at the House of Architects. The building is not heated in wintertime because of a lack of funds, but this does not interrupt rehearsals and lessons.

"The Speghani choir was created in memory of those who fell for the independence of Armenia and Artsakh," Avtandilyan said, " and I do everything I can to honor their memory."

In the past ten years the choir has appealed to many organizations and state agencies for assistance. Some NGOs have responded, but their assistance was "one time only," for example, paying the concert hall rent on concert day, or printing programs, or for releasing CDs. Such assistance is, of course, invaluable but it doesn't solve the main problem.

To perform in Germany and Switzerland the choir needs proper costumes, money for visa fees; there are a number of other problems to solve.

Choral school
Sarina Avtandilyan speaks about choir's sorrowful situation with bitterness.

"Isn't our principal goal to preserve, develop and popularize Armenian choral art? In Europe choral art has existed for more than ten centuries. And we, after having just introduced choral art into the Armenian national music at the end of the 19 th century, are already destroying it. In Soviet times each school, university or factory had its own choir but now that's all gone, unfortunately," the choir director said.

Sarina Avtandilyan dreams of having a separate choral school. "I hope the government will allot us a piece of land for the choral school. This is the cause initiated by Kara-Murza, Yekmalyan, and Komitas and we are obliged to continue it. I dream of a choral school where really talented children who are unable to pay tuition fees will study. We need a Mantashov to lift the choral art created by Komitas out of this sorry plight," she concluded.

P.S. On the occasion of the 15 th anniversary of the liberation of Shushi, on May 8, 2007, Speghani will perform Komitas' Requiem at the Komitas Chamber Music Hall.

By Hasmik Hovhannisyan, "Hetq" reporter -Source: www.hetq.am

Copyright © 2002-2007 Hetq Online. All rights reserved.

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