By Ilona Kazaryan
The duduk, long the national instrument of Armenia is finding international appeal thanks in part to Hollywood but more so to the Master of the peculiar instrument, Djivan Gasparyan.
Featured in the soundtrack of recent movies and prominent in the score of the 2000 hit “Gladiator”, the duduk has gained an audience of listeners who may not know what the instrument is, but know its plaintive sound.
It is a sound that has been the music of life for Gasparyan since he was seven.
When Moscow Cinema in Yerevan held a gala reopening with “Gladiator”, the music on the big screen by Gasparyan filled the hall where decades earlier the eager young musician went to hear duduk concerts.
His mother died when Gasparyan was a child, and his father was away fighting World War II, so the boy would fill his life with duduk music.
During that time in Yerevan Margar Margaryan was a popular dudukist who also lived near the Gasparyan home.
Little Djivan approached the musician one day and asked if he’d give the boy a duduk. Markaryan sent him away empty handed.
The boy went away, collected and sold bottles, and returned asking to buy a duduk.
“Put your money in your pocket and keep it to buy bread,” the musician told the precocious lad and gave Djivan a duduk, perhaps to the consternation of neighbors who would endure the noise of a budding master musician.
A year later Djivan returned to Margaryan and asked him to listen to his playing.
The professional was touched, and took the old duduk and handed the boy a new one with his blessing to “take it and play”.
In 1948, 14-year old Djivan appeared with a musical ensemble on stage in Moscow at the International Youth Festival. The best five ensembles were assembled to play for Joseph Stalin.
Jivan Gasparyan played a Sayat Nova composition and for his talent Stalin presented him with a watch.
“It was a valuable present but I didn’t realize it then,” Gasparyan said recently from his home in Yerevan. “I sold the watch on the fallowing day and bought a beer and patties with the earning.”
Eight years later Gasparyan earned his first Gold Medal in the All-Union Musical Festival.
In 1959 Gasparyan was selected to a 250-artists delegation who spent three months touring the United States. The years that followed would yield six international championships and would see the dudukist go from student to professor of the Yerevan State Conservatory.
Today Gasparyan’s mastery of the flute-like instrument of apricot wood can be heard on 30 compact discs recorded in countries that include England, Italy, Japan, Germany and Russia. His music is heard on 17 films and the popularity of “Gladiator” extended to popularize the dudukist.
“The best days for the musician are those when he is recognized and loved by his people,” Gasparyan says. “From that point of view I’m very lucky. Of course I can live wherever I want, but I belong to my country, to Armenia and to my people. Here I am the real Djivan Gasparyan.”
Gasparyan spends his time composing music for duduk and appearing in concerts. Next month he will be honored in Germany with a title of “Best Musician of Europe”.
Last year, during celebrations marking the 1700th anniversary of Christianity in Armenia, Gasparyan was the featured guest at a concert in Giumry attended by dudukists from around the globe.
Gasparyan is scheduled to take part in 20 concerts over the next four months and is planning 24 concerts in 2003, one of which will include Yerevan. He’d also like, he says, to play in Georgia, where he hasn’t performed for 20 years.
“Let it be a charity concert. I am not interested in the money,” he said. “What can people of Armenia and Tbilisi give me when they are in a difficult financial situation? I do not want to make money off my people.”