Levon Chatikyan: “No matter what title you have and no matter how famous you are, you are a guest abroad”

The Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia recently hosted France-based Armenian dudukist Levon Chatikyan, who gave an interview to Hayern Aysor’s correspondent.

Hayern Aysor: Welcome, Mr. Chatikyan! What is the purpose of your visit to Armenia?

Levon Chatikyan: I am in Armenia at the invitation of the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia. I give duduk lessons and am the head of the string instruments department at the Conservatory of Roman. We invited the students of Tchaikovsky Music School of Yerevan to give concerts dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide in four French cities through a program that was launched two years ago. The goal was to introduce Frenchmen and representatives of different nationalities in France to Armenia and the Armenians, talk about the Armenian Genocide through music and present Armenian music. The program was my initiative. In 2014, at the invitation of the RA Ministry of Diaspora, we participated in the Days of Armenian Dance, which were part of the “Im Haiastan” (My Armenia) Pan-Armenian Festival. In France, I have established the Valence Song-Dance School/Academy where there are children, youth and adults of over 150 nationalities and between the ages of 3 and 26. It was during the Days of Armenian Dance events that we came up with the idea of creating an Armenian-French orchestra. We invited the director of the Conservatory of Roman. He came, and we met with Director of Tchaikovsky Music School Martun Kostandyan and started turning the idea of creating the orchestra into a reality. In 2015, we created the Armenian-French orchestra in France, held open lessons and helped lecturers and professors exchange their experiences. We selected 15 children from Armenia and 35 French children. It is my pleasure to say that we selected the right people, and for that I am grateful to Mr. Martun Kostandyan. We gave four concerts for 3,000 people. Eighty percent of the people in the audience were Frenchmen since most of the performers were French children. They performed Aram Satyan’s work “1915” so well. The song conveyed many messages. We got our message across through songs and music and performed the works of the best Armenian composers. Such programs also help Armenian musicians become internationally recognized. If every Armenian in Armenia and other countries does what he does best, we will achieve progress in all spheres, and everyone will know about Armenia and the Armenians. We need to have a goal, and we need to have the desire and aspiration to accomplish that goal. I would like to say that the director of the Conservatory of Roman has given his consent to establish an Armenian-French summer school program that will engage talented child musicians of different ages.

Hayern Aysor: Levon, our enemies made great efforts and continue the same policy to declare the Armenian duduk, the traditional Armenian dolma and even the Armenian khachkar (cross-stone) their own, referring to the khachkar as ‘khachdash’. Do the French know that the duduk is an Armenian national instrument?

L. C.: I graduated from Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory, after which I left for France and established the Duduk Department at the Conservatory of Roman. In fact, it is the only Conservatory in Europe that has a Duduk Department, and 9 out of the 15 students are Frenchmen. I have adopted a principle. According to that principle, if any clarinet or hobo teacher wants to hold a master class to teach people how to play the duduk, I present that teacher with a duduk with its case so that it is disseminated and becomes an international instrument. If it becomes an international instrument, it automatically becomes the ‘flag’ of our nation in many homes. Today, thanks to Vache Hovsepyan, Levon Madoyan, Jivan Gasparyan, Gevorg Dabaghyan, Kamo Seyranyan and others, the sounds of the duduk are heard as a voice. The goal of the duduk class that I have opened at my school is to teach how to play that instrument. Many Armenians in France speak in French. One might speak a little, but not know how to write. This means that half the work has been done, meaning that the duduk should not only be presented as an instrument, but also taught professionally. There were good things during the Soviet era, but the doors were closed, and only Russians knew about the values and national instruments that we Armenians have created, meaning we had no ‘products’ abroad. That was exactly what I was talking about during my meeting with Minister Hranush Hakobyan today. If a great work or instrument simply lays at our house or is in our country, who will know about it? Now we have the Republic of Armenia, a president, ministries and relevant government agencies that are capable of expanding and creating opportunities to disseminate and present our values. So, we need to be able to disseminate our songs, music, national dances and instruments and make the world recognize them. About 100 children are members of our dance ensemble, and our success lies in the right way of organization. Every union and school abroad needs to be Armenia’s ambassador. I work with Misha Sadoyev to make duduks. I buy the duduks and give them to learners for the same price.

Hayern Aysor: Why did you choose the duduk?

L. C.: I was born in the Ghazaravan village of Ashtarak region. I have always loved singing. I took pipe lessons when I was little. My father and maternal grandmother loved the duduk. I can’t say I have had a talent since childhood. No, I simply had an inner voice, a goal and aspiration. Starting from the second grade, I started taking duduk lessons. My paternal uncle gave me my first duduk. His son also played the duduk, but it wasn’t working out, and so my uncle decided to give me the duduk. I was attending the music school in Ashtarak, but my parents would also bring me to Yerevan to attend Master Khachik Khachatryan’s classes. I stood out from my peers and became the best duduk player in two years. I would work hard. My formula is work + aspiration + goal, and it leads to wonderful outcomes. I have three children, one of which plays the cello, and the other-the violin. They are all little, but are already showing their musical character.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Chatikyan, you live in the French cities of Roman and Valence and teach at the conservatories of Roman and Geneva. What is your principle of living and working?

L. C.: My principle is to not disturb anyone, to not imitate others and to create your own. On November 25, 2011, on my birthday, I opened my school in Valence. President of the Medical Society, Dr. Eduard Torosian, Alexander Siranosian and Philip Panosian allocated an area for me in the building of the Armenian benevolent cultural union. I opened the school with three students on November 25. Now, I have 150 students. My sister and I opened it, hired teachers and now have a decent budget. The school has dance ensembles, including the Ara Group for adults, the Anahit Group for adolescents and teenagers and the Astgher Group for children. The duduk classroom is adjunct to the Conservatory. The duration of studies is 10 years. The concept of a conservatory is like studying for 10 years.

Hayern Aysor: You said you will be giving concerts in Armenia. When and where?

L. C.: I am here with 26 Frenchmen and will be giving concerts with an Armenian-French orchestra consisting of 95 child musicians in Gyumri, Ashtarak (it was previously decided to give a concert in Stepanakert, but we won’t take the children there due to the military operations), and at the Armenian Philharmonic on April 22. We will be performing the works of French and Armenian composers. Before I forget, in September, I visited Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and signed an agreement between my school/academy and the music school of Stepanakert so that the children of Artsakh are also engaged in our program.

Hayern Aysor: Which music schools are you collaborating with?

L. C.: I took the children of Tchaikovsky School and the music school of Ashtarak with me to France. My school has close relations with those schools.

Hayern Aysor: What do you get out of playing the duduk?

L. C.: The duduk conveys mildness, tranquility and peace to my inner world. I am a person who goes to the extreme. I am either very hot or very cold. The duduk puts those two in harmony in my soul. For me, the duduk is a particle of Armenia.

Hayern Aysor: Who is the Master of all masters of the duduk for you?

L. C.: Vache Hovsepyan. Many dudukists can play like him, but he is unmatched. He is the founder of the school of Armenian dudukists.

Hayern Aysor: What does the Homeland mean to you?

L. C.: For me, the Homeland is my home, family, life and love. No matter what title you have, how famous you are and what kind of a lifestyle you have, you are always a guest abroad. In my case and in the case of many others, I am a respected guest abroad. The Homeland is my hometown of Ghazaravan and the chapel that I have built there…I was born in Armenia, my Homeland, and I love it as an Armenian.

Hayern Aysor: Thank you, Levon! I wish you more success in your pro-national endeavors.

Karine Avagyan

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