A Day of Armenian Music

3 min read

Nine years ago, the Armenian Music Program was started with a single student ensemble-in-residence. On Tuesday, May 31, 2022, at 12:00 pm, the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music will host A Day of Armenian Music – Music of Connections. The concert will feature two student ensembles, world-renowned artists, workshops and Armenian music in classical, folk and jazz styles.

“It is really heartening to see how much the program has grown,” said Movses Pogossian, the founding director of the Armenian Music Program and professor of violin. “To begin with such a modest ensemble and to now embrace the scope that we have is gratifying.” For Pogossian, the real thrill is in sharing a full range of artistic cultural forms, from folk to jazz to classical.

Tuesday’s concert is the culmination of nearly a decade’s worth of ambitious work in programming, community outreach and global touring. At the center has been the VEM Ensemble, consisting of the VEM string quartet and a vocalist, composed of UCLA students. VEM, which means “rock” in Armenian, has performed around Los Angeles, North America and Europe to critical acclaim. Most recently, VEM was featured on Modulation Necklace: New Music from Armenia by the Naxos-distributed label New Focus Recordings.

VEM will be joined by the UCLA Armenian Music Ensemble. The ensemble is composed of students who enroll in the two-quarter class; the course is open to any UCLA student regardless of their major. Students who enroll learn to play Armenian music on traditional Armenian instruments.  

Featured in the concert will be special guests. Hasmik Harutyunyan has been a leading Armenian folk singer for two decades. Her voice has been heard on iconic recordings of Armenian music and she has performed worldwide to great acclaim. Jazz pianist Vardan Ovsepian, whose recordings of jazz have been noted for their warmth and improvisational inventiveness, will also perform. Both guest artists will lead workshops discussing their Armenian roots and musical paths.

The concert and the workshops will be free and open to the public, and will be livestreamed. After the workshops, concertgoers are invited to reunite outside Schoenberg Hall for a communal dance class and book fair.

World-famous musicians won’t be the only special guests.

“We are thrilled to have students from Armenian schools in the area,” said Pogossian. “They will be treated to a campus tour, pizza, folk dancing, and the opportunity to speak with our volunteers from the UCLA Armenian Student Association. And, of course, they will be treated to the main event, the big concert at Schoenberg Hall.”

Community outreach has long been an important part of the Armenian Music Program and is part of its mission. Certainly, the program still focuses on cultivating scholarship and art music at the highest level, but this has always included bringing Armenian culture into contact with a wider audience. The recent appointment of Melissa Bilal, an ethnomusicologist working on the intersection of music, memory, and gender in the Armenian community of the late-Ottoman Empire and Turkey, as associate director of the Armenian Music Program, will enhance both aspects of the mission.

“Our concert is possible not only thanks to the wholehearted support that we’ve received from the very inception by my colleagues in Ethnomusicology and by the leadership of the School of Music, but also thanks to our generous donors and numerous partnerships with various Armenian organizations,” said Pogossian. These supporters include the Lark Musical Society, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Tekeyan Cultural Association, the Armenian Assembly of America, the Armenian Educational Foundation, the Armenian Allied Arts Association, the UCLA Armenian Student Association, and the UCLA Promise Armenian Institute.

“Their support for the arts, and facilitating the lasting and meaningful connections with the Armenian community of the greater Los Angeles has been invaluable,” Pogossian said.

The concert marks a milestone for the Armenian Music Program, demonstrating its substantial growth over the past decade. But the program is still poised to grow.

“We aspire to become the leading center of performance, scholarship and research in Armenian music,” said Pogossian. “There is still so much good work to do.”