Datev Gevorkian on Acoustics and preserving Armenian music

Datev Gevorkian is a budding musician who embraced music at a young age. Now, as a college student at Gordon University (Wenham, MA), he has realized that one day his ultimate responsibility as an Armenian musician is to pass his culture on to the next generation. “One of my major influences is oudist Ara Dinkjian who once told me that when I get older and if a young person wants to play my oud, you let him!” said Gevorkian.

As part of the younger generation of Armenian musicians, Gevorkian is a multi-instrumentalist member of his musical family. His father Allen performs on the bass. His sister Tsoleen plays guitar. The rest of the Gevorkian family, including mom Sona and other sister Narineh, have always encouraged his musicianship and have artistic talents of their own. 

At a young age, Gevorkian learned the banjo, mandolin, piano and viola. When he was around  10 years old, his grandfather shared with him a book and DVD about various Armenian and Middle Eastern instruments. Gevorkian was immediately drawn to the oud for its impressive look and unique sound. The oud is a fretless instrument, and since he already knew how to play viola (also fretless), he felt the transition between both instruments would be easier. After his father purchased an inexpensive oud for him online, Gevorkian—a quick study—started teaching himself how to play the novel instrument. Truly self-taught…

One summer at Camp Haiastan, Gevorkian met Raffi Masoyan, another young and talented musician and oud player. Gevorkian asked Masoyan to teach him an Armenian song. Shortly thereafter, he met oudist John Berberian who not only taught him a few songs but provided Gevorkian with his first formal oud lesson. Gevorkian’s voracious musical appetite developed even more under Mal Barsamian, a virtuoso on several Middle Eastern and Western instruments. Barsamian is Gevorkian’s current and long-standing oud teacher. “He is a fast learner and has a great ear for music,” said Barsamian. “When I taught him, I had to sometimes slow him down because he would move fast!” 

While Gevorkian’s first love may be Armenian music, he also enjoys country and bluegrass. “I dream of living on a farm and raising a family,” he said, referring to country music capitals like Tennessee.

For now, Gevorkian is celebrating the release of his first CD entitled Acoustics. He says he was encouraged by his sister Narineh to start and complete the recording project. “She said it would be great to present the oud without accompaniment or singing,” he recalled. Even though the idea originated prior to COVID-19, like many things, the pandemic led to a delay in recording such an album. Eventually, Gevorkian mustered enough self-motivation to secure a local recording studio and produce his first album. 

Acoustics represents Gevorkian’s ability to perform as a solo oudist. This recording consists of an array of different traditional Armenian and Middle Eastern instrumental songs. Songs such as Sari Siroon Yar (composed by Kousan Ashod), Yes Ko Ghimetn Chim Kidi (composed by Sayat Nova) and Donagan showcase the breadth of the instrument. Most of these songs will be familiar to any Armenian music enthusiast, but each song was carefully chosen and provides a special insight into Gevorkian’s soul. “I can connect every song to a certain memory,” he said. For example, he thinks of his father during Siroun Aghchig (composed by Udi Hrant Kenkulian); Laz Bar, on the other hand, comes from his great-grandfather’s village. Gevorkian says it was important that the songs capture the right tone and feeling. 

I had heard of Gevorkian’s musicianship, prior to hearing him perform on oud. Back in 2019 at the AYF Olympics in Chicago, I had my first opportunity to hear and watch Gevorkian play the oud. He wasn’t hired to play at the dances, but in the spirit of being an Armenian musician, he sat in the hotel lobby with other Armenian musician friends and performed for hours to the enjoyment of those of us lingering in the lobby or socializing at the nearby restaurant. As a musician and an Armenian, it was so gratifying to see a member of the younger generation carrying on these cultural traditions. I was instantly impressed by Gevorkian’s ability and respect for the instrument and the repertoire. Certainly, the influences of Berberian, Dinkjian and Barsamian flowed through his strumming of the oud. 

Gevorkian is now exploring the possibility of recording more albums and potentially collaborating with other Armenian musicians to create an Armenian dance album. He is also considering a Christmas album with his sister Tsoline on guitar. Whatever musical project Gevorkian decides to take on next, you can be assured the contribution will be an enjoyable one for all listeners. 

For more information on Datev’s new recording, you can contact him directly via email: [email protected].

Ara Topouzian

Ara Topouzian

Ara Topouzian is an Armenian-American musician whose proficiency at the Kanun (Middle Eastern harp) has made him a nationally-recognized artist.

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