Sevana Tchakerian may be a household name among contemporary Armenian music connoisseurs as the singer and accordion player for the trad band Collectif Medz Bazar, which has toured in over 20 countries so far. But the Franco-Armenian musician has set her sights on a much more ambitious mission: pulling Armenian music education into the 21st century.
Her latest project, Tsap Tsapik (Clap Clap) consists of two parts: an educational guidebook designed to help music instructors teach Armenian music to children and an album containing traditional and original compositions. The project was born out of her frustration with the state of musical education in Armenian schools following years of travel and providing workshops for children in both Diaspora communities and in Armenia. “There is a real disconnect between the way we transmit Armenian culture and the reality of modern life for Armenian children,” says Sevana.
She says she observed a creeping lack of enthusiasm for Armenian language and culture among children in the Diaspora due to a failure of the “guardians of culture” to keep these values relevant for modern life. Sevana maintains that folk music as a medium for cultural transmission conveys more than rustic melodies. Folk music keeps language, stories and traditions alive for the next generation to add to. Studies have also shown that musical training develops creativity, critical thinking, listening and math skills among children.
Of course, children are naturally drawn to music, and yet there is still no Armenian version of “Baby Shark.” Parents in the Diaspora hoping to immerse their children in Armenian culture and language have few options to turn to since virtually no sustained efforts have been made to effectively modernize folk music education for children in over two decades. Ironically, children in Armenia face a similar problem, this time, brought on by chronic underfunding for music programs aggravated by a lack of access to teaching resources.
Initially resolving to organize traveling “teacher trainings” for music instructors across Armenia, Sevana quickly realized that her time and resources would be more efficiently used by authoring a clear and up-to-date guide to assist teachers to instil an appreciation for folk music in today’s Armenian children. Inspired by the early childhood music education programs of her native France such as Eveil Musical, she created Tsap Tsapik as an instruction manual for teachers.
The guide book, which has been beautifully designed and expertly illustrated to provide simple and easy to follow instructions, contains an entire academic year-length lesson plan for teachers as well as material on setting up workshops and even printouts. Enlisting the help of the Lisbon-based Gulbenkian Foundation and the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF), Sevana has received validation for the book from the Armenian National Institute for Education and is now working to include it in the national curriculum. She hopes to place a copy of the book in the hands of every music teacher in Armenia.
Since contemporary resources in folk music education are needed just as urgently in the Armenian schools of the Diaspora as in the elementary schools of Armenia, Tsap Tsapik is available in both an Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian edition. The same universalist approach to Armenian music can also be seen in the accompanying audio tracks.
United by a desire to innovate Armenian folk traditions, Sevana enlisted the help of big-name musicians like the Gata Band and Mikael Voskanyan to collect and record a repertoire consisting of 40 tracks. Traditional folk tunes were supplemented by original compositions produced by Sevana herself, again, in both eastern and western Armenian.
Lyrics from one of Sevana’s collaborators, the educator and storytellr Anahid Sarkissian, are intentionally designed to transmit Armenian cultural references to listeners. The song “Gatsain Mech,” for instance, contains detailed instructions on the preparation and cooking of dolma, while the tune “Dadigs Alyr Gmaghe” is about the Armenian tradition of baking lavash bread.
The young artist has already turned some heads with her new initiative. She says she regularly receives invitations to showcase her educational method at schools across the Diaspora. The first 20 tracks of Tsap Tsapik Volume 1 are already available on most digital music streaming services, while the book version is expected to hit Amazon shelves in the near future. Still, Sevana insists that her work is part of a larger effort to provide the educational resources which will ensure that Armenian culture remains resilient and innovative both in Armenia and the Diaspora.