UCLA Armenian Music Program – A Year in Review

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The 2019-2020 academic year was filled with new achievements and milestones for the Armenian Music Program, despite the unique set of challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic this Spring.

A notable development for the Program was the expansion of its academic branch, with two new courses that created a space at UCLA for the exploration of Armenian folk music and traditions: a graduate seminar taught by Melissa Bilal, Distinguished Research Fellow at UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies and a Lecturer in the Department of Ethnomusicology, and the Armenian Music Ensemble taught by Armen Adamian, UCLA Ethnomusicology Ph.D. student.

The Ensemble, which had its inaugural offering in the Winter Quarter, provided students and the extended community with the opportunity to learn traditional songs, dances, and instruments while sparking interest in the traditions of Armenian ethnographic heritage. Creatively coping with the constraints of the lockdown, students learned how to sing traditional Armenian songs by transcribing and conceptualizing melodic structures and lyrics in different dialects during virtual classes.

An example of creative transcription of the melody of the folk song Zulo, by Alexia Hatun.

Similarly, Armen Adamian, the instructor of the Armenian Music Ensemble, Natalie Kamajian (Culture and Performance Ph.D. student), the instructor of the dance-portion of the ensemble, and collaborator Haik Adamian created a tutorial for the folk dance Gyovnd to continue teaching dance while social distancing.

The VEM Ensemble

While members of the Armenian Music Ensemble were exploring Armenian folk music, the new members of the VEM Quartet began their exploration of Armenian classical music, kicking off the year with outreach performances for UCLA, as well as local Armenian High school students. During the Spring quarter, VEM members continued to stay active and expand their repertoire by learning solo works by contemporary Armenian composers. The VEM Quartet collaborated to create a virtual performance of Komitas’ Kaqavik for the “Gems of Armenian Music” Fiat Lux class. Additionally, Mezzo-soprano Danielle Segen, created a few beautiful video recordings of “Oror” by Komitas, “Manushakin” by G. Chitchian, and of the ancient Armenian Tagh “Horzham”, in collaboration with pianist Victoria Simonyan of the Lark Musical Society, our Community Music Partner.

The VEM Quartet’s performance of Kaqavik for the “Gems of Armenian Music” Fiat Lux class Spring 2020

Modulation Necklace

One of the standout accomplishments of the year has been the release of Modulation Necklace, a CD of Armenian Music, by the prominent label New Focus Recordings. The album was recorded at UCLA’s state of the art recording studio and features UCLA VEM Ensemble along with internationally renowned musicians. The CD received critical praise from a variety of national and international publications, including Fanfare Magazine and Records International.
“The musicianship is of the highest quality” -Fanfare Magazine
“An attractive and fascinating recital of works by Armenian composers that showcases the wide variety of styles in what is evidently a vital and inventive contemporary music scene in Armenian culture.“ -Records International
“Most satisfying” -Textura
“Touches both the mind and the heart…This disc turns out to be full of interesting music, well written and exceptionally well-executed by all concerned. Very highly recommended!” -The Art Music Lounge
“…Modulation Necklace retains relevance and interest throughout… It is a most stimulating set.” -Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

2020-2021 Academic Year

Looking forward to the upcoming academic year, Director of the Program, Movses Pogossian, is excited to announce that four different Armenian Music classes will be offered in 2020-2021. Introduction to Armenian Music taught by Karenn Presti, Armenian Music Ensemble taught by Armen Adamian, Music and Intersectionality in the Mediterranean taught by Melissa Bilal (guest lecturer from the American University of Armenia), and Masters and Masterpieces of Armenian Classical Music taught by Movses Pogossian, Director of the Armenian Music Program.

Tigran Hamasyan leading a workshop with UCLA School of Music students Winter 2020

The Armenian Music Program also anticipates welcoming back the world-renowned jazz pianist, Tigran Hamasyan, during the winter and spring quarters, for a series of workshops on improvisation. Hamasyan’s new album, The Call Within, which was also recorded at UCLA, will be released this August.

With progress towards fighting the pandemic, the Program is hopeful that live performances will return and the VEM Ensemble will continue its busy outreach program, culminating with a return to Armenia in June 2021. Finally, the Program is looking forward to recording a second CD highlighting the works of contemporary Armenian composers, a “sequel” to Modulation Necklace.

VEM Quartet Outreach to AGBU Vatche & Tamar Manoukian High School Fall 2019

Armenian Music Program’s classes, concerts, tours, collaborations, and recordings have been possible thanks to the assistance and encouragement of its community partners and supporters. Members of the Program are excited to continue the performance, scholarship, and celebration of Armenian Music heritage at UCLA.