Years after I first played a musical instrument – piano, which I soon quit because of lack of interest, recently I decided to take up another instrument - oud. A friend kindly gave hers, but since it was old and had deformations, I had to take it to a master for repairing it. Setting a foot in the workshop of an instrument maker was a step into a world previously unknown to me.
Manuk, who is one of the heroes of this story acted as a guide into the invisible web of instrument makers in Yerevan and linked me with some of the masters.
Manuk Harutyunyan (57) has been in the world of music initially as a musician and later also as a master of musical instruments for already more than 25 years. He has travelled around the world giving concerts, collaborating with various musicians.
He has a particular pride for creating several musical instruments among these Manjut, which as he describes means Manuk’s Jutak (Jutak means violin in Armenian). Manjut is a multi-timbre instrument including violin, kamancha, viola timbres.
Currently among other things, Manuk repairs and restores violins particularly for children from Yerevan and regions of Armenia sometimes taking little to no money from them. He hopes this way to contribute to the growth of love and interest of children towards music. Another wish of Manuk is finding a proper space for demonstrating and storing his collection of musical instruments. He would not mind having a bigger space where he could work. At the moment his collection is huddled in a small rented room in an old house. He only works here, when it is cold outside. But once it gets warm, he can be found in the small yard where he works under a tree in company with birds and cats.
Moreover, Manuk is renting his space in one of the last old houses in the center of Yerevan that is in the list of “victims” of continuous gentrification. He has already moved from another such house that was demolished a few years ago. The owner of this house was from Van who moved to Yerevan during the years of genocide. As Manuk and the owners of this house continue to be obstacles for final loss of history in central Yerevan, Manuk is hopeful. He is happy he returned to Armenia years ago and now all he wants is a space for storing and demonstrating his instruments.
Andre and Mikayel Sadoyev brothers have been in the world of music all their lives. Andre (70) is in the field of string instruments. Particularly he is a master of oud. Mikayel (68), also known as Asori Misha (brothers are of Assyrian origin, hence the word Asori in Armenian) is in the field of woodwind instruments. He is a master of duduk and zurna.
Both have earned their love towards music from their father who was a hand drummer. Misha is a laureate of various festivals and competitions. He travelled to many countries, among these China, India, Iran and France, where he presented woodwind instruments in exhibitions. He also gave concerts in various countries. Moreover, Misha received a medal of gratitude from Armenia’s president.
Andre too received letters of commendation. Andre is the author of an instrument that caught my eye the moment I first entered his workshop. It is called Big (Bass) Oud.
One of the interesting projects that Misha has been involved was restoration of musical instruments later exhibited at Armenia’s National Gallery based on their provided images (such as kaval similar to reed pipe, cymbals). Misha too is an author of several zurnas with different timbres. Moreover, he created special types of woodwind musical instruments that would be easy for children to play.
The workspace of Andre and Misha is popular with official delegations, as well as foreign and local musicians. They come to learn more about the instruments that the two brothers make.
One of the wishes the brothers have is storing and exhibiting their instruments in galleries with acknowledgment of authors. They are not so much interested in earning money from this as in giving and receiving credits for the work they and their teachers have done, so that future generations as well learn about their masters. Misha remembers his own teachers Karlen Matevosyan and Vache Hovsepyan. He highlights the importance to always remember those who have promoted and popularized musical instruments.
Georgii Khachatryan, better known as master Jora (77), is a master of qanun.
Back in 1960s he was playing tar in the ensemble of Soviet Armenia’s honored artist Suriya Kajar. As Jora recalls, during the breaks he would secretly take qanun played by another musician in this ensemble and play it. However, he was noticed and praised for his good play. Since then qanun has become part of his life.
In Soviet times anyone member to Communist party’s youth organization called Komsomol was entrusted to do social work. This is when Jora decided to run a group where he taught qanun. However, there was a lack of qanuns back then. So Jora started making them.
Aside from qanun, Jora, like most of the masters of musical instruments, has his work of authorship- that is kamancha made with board instead of leather. As he says, in damp weather leather loses its quality, while wood doesn’t, that’s why he decided to replace leather with wood and got similar beautiful sound.
Besides musical instruments, Jora makes many other things, especially souvenirs from wood, thatch, plastic, sadaf, etc.
Although now Jora has stopped making qanuns, he continues his activities by writing a guide book for children and youth on how to cut wood, glass, make instruments, frames, etc.
In the World of Musical Instrument Makers (part 2)