Nectar for the Bitter World

Remembering Djivan Gasparyan

Djivan Gasparyan, 2009 (Wikipedia)

Another Armenian legend has passed away. The pioneer of Armenian soulful music and the tremendous motivating and unifying force of all Armenians will continue to inspire us all from heaven. When Djivan Gasparyan played, we prayed in silence. When he sang, we soared high into the sky. We Armenians lost another giant, another true patriot. The world lost an artistic genius.

The Legendary Djivan Gasparyan and Duduk Music in Hollywood

The Armenian duduk (Armenian: դուդուկ) or apricot-horn (Armenian: ծիրանափող) is best  known for its melancholic tone and nostalgic moods. It is the most distinctive Armenian musical instrument, the symbol of Armenian national identity, standing out from the family of other national instruments for more than 2,000 years. Djivan Gasparyan was the most prominent Armenian duduk virtuoso in the world. His fantastic performances of the Armenian duduk embodied Armenian culture,   national values and the soul of the Armenian nation. When Gasparyan performed live on-stage, the hypnotic conventions of duduk music attacked the audience’s ordinary state of mind within seconds. The mysterious melodies captured the listener, wandering between now and then, drifting between light and dark, contemplating between life and death, spinning between heaven and hell, simultaneously fantasizing in a bliss between dream and reality. These melodies were occasionally uplifting, but the bodies of the listeners trembled while the souls vibrated in uncertainty. Nevertheless, the contrasting melodies of the duduk played on to create the dramatic conflict between individual and collective reality, an inexplicable clash between personal melancholy and shared misery. It was in this illusory reality that Gasparyan’s “The Apricots from Eden” echoed with an oath of eternal solace and serenity. And when he picked up another promising note with “In My World, I Have No Pain” and the following tunes from “Nectar for the Bitter World,” the sound of divine music continued to echo with melodies that were more hopeful than distressing. When Maestro Gasparyan picked up his duduk and  began to play and sing the tribute song “Mother” or “The Gray of My Mother’s Hair” (Armenian: Մորս Սպիտակ Մազերը), the tenderness of his voice full of childlike innocence transported us back to our own childhood. From that moment on, the song itself transformed into a message of gratitude to all mothers. Maestro sang this song with tears in his eyes, filling the hearts of his listeners with love and appreciation for all mothers.

Most of Gasparyan’s musical compositions gained international fame for their captivating melodies. Among the Maestro’s best-selling albums were “Moon Shines at Night,” “Apricots from  Eden,” “Armenian Fantasies,” “In My World, I Have No Pain,” “Nectar for the Bitter World” and “The Soul of Armenia.” Gasparyan had also collaborated with such world famous musicians as Sting, Peter Gabriel, Michael Brook, Brian May, Lionel Richie, Ludovico Einaudi, Luigi Cinque, Brian Eno, David Sylvian, Hans Zimmer and Andreas Vollenweider. Most of these collaborative compositions like “Duduk of the North,” “The Feeling Begins” and “Dark Souls” are considered classics of duduk music. Although Gasparyan and other duduk players collaborated with various musicians and orchestras, many duduk lovers emphasize that the tender sad fascination of duduk music is best captured either in solo performances or with minimal accompaniment. Gasparyan would claim that in duduk music, anyone could identify the echoes of singing mountains and rattling trees, weeping adults and rejoicing children, fighting warriors and nubile youths.  


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A post shared by Jivan Gasparyan (@jivangasparyan_jr)

Maestro Gasparyan passed on the secrets of professional mastery of duduk playing to many international musicians, including the Venezuelan-born artist Pedro Eustache. His grandson Jivan Gasparyan Jr., an internationally known musician, also inherited the talent and professional skills of his  legendary virtuoso grandfather. Gasparyan Jr. has also collaborated with a number of international musicians, as had his grandfather. His recent collaborations include “Hummingbird,” “Watch the River Change Course” and “Beneath the Red Cliff” with the highly artistic Sebu Simonian. The song “Beneath the Red Cliff,” which begins with “You watched me bleed out and did nothing,” is a tribute to the Artsakh War. The song also came out as a subtle reminder to the world to recognize the Republic of Artsakh to avoid a second genocide, as the fact of the Armenian mass killings by the Ottoman Turkish government between 1914 and 1923 still remains unrecognized by many countries. But on April 24, US President Joe Biden formally acknowledged the Armenian Genocide. This renewed hope for all tormented nations that genocides would not go unpunished. Gasparyan Jr. and Maestro Gasparyan had repeatedly referred to this issue because duduk music is also torn from the bloody pages of Armenian history, and there are many post-genocide songs performed by duduk musicians. In 2010, during a “Never Again” concert in Los Angeles, the song “Dle Yaman,” which has become the anthem of the Armenian Genocide, was not only played on the duduk but also accompanied vocally by the Armenian diva Flora Martirosyan. The poet Michael Stone accompanied the musicians by reciting a poem dedicated to the victims of the Genocide. Hollywood actress Sharon Stone, who is Michael Stone’s sister, was sitting in the audience and weeping throughout the concert, influenced by the bloody images shown on the screen and the melancholic duduk melodies. 

In 2008, I had the honor of attending an 80th anniversary concert in honor of Gasparyan in Moscow. Overcoming the fear of hearing funeral music live was my first step towards a deeper understanding and appreciation of duduk compositions. During the intermission, I went backstage and simply stared at the 80-year-old Maestro. I looked at him, fascinated to see a living legend in person. Unable to hide my admiration, I realized the truthfulness of his words: “We are born naked into this world and naked we will leave it. None of us will take anything from this world.” During the concert, the melodies of the weeping duduk were haunting and reminiscent of grieving parents and orphaned children. But this music also sounded like a prayer for the dead and survivors of the never-ending global chaos and uncertainty. During the concert, I could only marvel at the melancholy and bitterness that poured from my heart with tears. This was a sip of seductive nectar for my battered soul. This music was truly a universal prayer of hope and peace for all people present. That was then, almost 15 years ago, when Gasparyan captured me in a whole new melancholic reality of duduk music. Today, in 2021, duduk music continues to open new horizons for all listeners and ways to face the challenges of everyday life.

Popular Artists and Their Impressions of Duduk Music  

Combined with the expression of deep and powerful rhythmic melodies, the soulful sound of duduk music has become a staple of Hollywood blockbusters and has cemented its place at international music festivals. When it comes to duduk music in Hollywood movies, the significant contributions of such prominent musicians as Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel and Pedro Eustache are undeniable. 

The Venezuelan-born musician Eustache describes his first impressions of duduk music as follows: “It sounded like a cello meets a voice, meets a clarinet, meets a lot of pain, incredibly expressive and it just rocked my world. Duduk can express something very specific, peculiar, particular, that nothing else can express. I would say evocative, I would say extreme expression from sweetness to pain and they say in Armenia, the sound of this instrument is a prayer. The duduk is quite a chameleon. It immediately captures people’s sensibilities, it connects deeply with them, there is something so incredibly universal about the sound, the strength, the reality of this instrument.” 

For the legendary American composer John Debney, the duduk is more than just an instrument, it is a dramatic device. To him, the sound of the duduk is like a human voice: “I think that most Westerners are drawn to this instrument because it is a plaintive instrument that is very exotic and very beautiful. And I think that’s very appealing. It does evoke something ancient.” 

World-renowned musician and songwriter Peter Gabriel recently reminded his followers on Facebook that it was the magic of the duduk, possibly the most soulful instrument in the world, that introduced him to Armenia.

The Mysterious Duduk Music and Finding Solace in Uncertain Times 

In 2000, duduk music was featured in the film Gladiator, marking the beginning of duduk music’s triumphant entry into Hollywood. In a short while, the evocative sound of the duduk became known to a wider audience through its use in internationally popular film soundtracks, commercials and television programs such as The Last Temptation of Christ, Battlestar Galactica, The Crow, Warrior Princess, Syriana, Dead Man Walking, The Siege, Hulk, Blood Diamond, Avatar, Syrianna, Chronicles of Narnia and Game of Thrones. Such wide and extensive use of duduk music in a number of blockbusters not only symbolizes loneliness and lamentation, but also creates a remote eastern atmosphere and nostalgic melodies. Musicologists, for their part, claim that duduk music in films constantly refers to the distant past and faraway lands.

Duduk music knows no nationality and promises to bring relief to all in uncertain times. Duduk is music for the soul and wings for imagination. Duduk fans around the world never miss the opportunity to enjoy its uplifting tunes. 

In 2020, the global pandemic, political upheavals, terrorist attacks, military conflicts and clash of religions brought nations to their knees. Even so, in the toughest of times for the entire universe, the urgent need for music therapy continues to grow. The soulful duduk, known for its healing power, is capable of bringing peace and consolation to all spiritually troubled nations around the world. Its appeal is so universal, every sound so amazing and so divine. When musicians play a funeral song, this music sings the dead to rest and offers comfort for grieving family and friends. Later, it confronts us with the anguish of mortality and loss, as if opening a window to the other side of our reality and our true selves. It can even help us discover ourselves, grow as human beings and become stronger through grief, as bleak as that may be. In this sense, the conflicts of religions disappear, the bloody images of past memories fade and constructive dialogues between cultures emerge. Borders are abolished and all nations are united into one universal family, submitting to the mystical tunes of the duduk. The unifying power of the praying duduk always brings peace and support to devastated souls. Some people assume that it is probably the voice of the ancient Armenian spirit communicating with other nations and touching their hearts, as if reminding them that we all share common ancestors, and the sound of the duduk is a prayer for the entire universe. Many duduk lovers suggest that God has kissed Armenians through the magic of the duduk. Some duduk fans claim that when they listen to duduk music, they imagine God walking through the streets of Jerusalem. Others are surprised to find  their hearts and souls weeping, praying and rejoicing at the same time. All are trying to guess the mystery behind the stories that the duduk is trying to tell. In fact, these are musical compositions, full of wisdom and soul, a collective symphony born from the melodic inflection of universal nostalgic sentiments. Despite the fact that the duduk produces mournful and wistful sounds, it is still one of the most accepted and loved musical instruments in the world. It brings us all to tears and then lifts our spirits.

We live in difficult times. Maestro Gasparyan’s loss is another irretrievable loss for Armenians. Fortunately, we have the precious jewels that the Maestro has created for decades. Other nations may never confess that they can hear a silent prayer of a whispering soul when their national instruments start playing. We are lucky because we have the soulful duduk music that will never cease to lift our spirits. Moreover, Gasparyan has shared the secrets of duduk mastery with many musicians, including his grandson. They will continue to play and warm our hearts with the most hopeful message from paradise. When we go through hardships, it is duduk music that brings the comforting feeling that our sorrows are shared and poured out, that our sense of loneliness is no longer troubling because we are understood in a silent prayer of the divine music. We are connected and cared for and guided with tenderness. Maestro Djivan Gasparyan will live on in our hearts and minds. Life goes on, and we are filled with the blissful echoes of the soul-soothing melodies that he generously shared with us. Duduk music is a universal language that all nations understand. Now it’s time to find its most searing voice in grief and depression. Its somber melodies whisper words of compassion for those who suffer. They murmur a prayer to those who belong to heaven and whose names the stars spell out. The echo of Gasparyan’s music will still inspire us from Paradise. His music will speak to our souls, to our subconscious and to our physical experiences. He is not gone, he is just in a brighter place than we are. He is at peace. He is resting. But the echoes of his silent prayerful duduk still resound in our hearts with blessings and greetings from heaven.

Lilit Zakoyan

Lilit Zakoyan

Lilit Zakoyan is an associate professor, author and freelance writer. She is the author of the textbook ‘English for Psychologists’ and more than 25 scientific and feature articles, including ‘‘Armenia: Land of Churches, Grief and Wisdom,' ‘Armenian Duduk: Grief and Lamentation in Every Enthralling Echo,' ‘Problems and Challenges Young People Have to Face in Modern Society' and ‘Biblical references in speeches of American Presidents.' Her writing covers a wide range of topics including history, education, culture, psychology, politics and religion.
Lilit Zakoyan

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  1. Lilt jan thanks for your absolutely compelling tribute to our dearest maestro Jivan Gasparyan… I am more than honored you mentioned me here… Maestro Jivan was a titan, a genius, a legend & an irreplaceable icon as a real icon representing Armenia to the world (as well as teaching so many of us without any reserves)… Such a strong, yet gentle, unique, sincere heart… I will miss him very, very much!! Thank you again for your brilliant piece!! May God bless Jivancito (Jivan Jr.), the whole family & all of Armenia on the loss of such artist of undeniable historic proportions. God bless you Lilit jan!! –Pedro Eustache–

    • Dear Pedro Eustache,
      I am more than grateful not only for your kind wishes, but also for the music you play. Like my beloved Maestro Djivan Gasparyan you have always inspired me with the most beautiful melodies of duduk (woodwind) music. You open new horizons and I always wake up to a reality that is full of hope. Duduk music will forever remain a hopeful message of motivation, not only for me but for other generations to come. God bless you and I believe I will hear you play live on stage soon!
      Lilit Zakoyan

    • Dear Pedro Eustache,
      I am more than grateful not only for your kind wishes, but also for the music you play. Like my beloved Maestro Djivan Gasparyan you have always inspired me with the most beautiful melodies of duduk music. You open new horizons and I always wake up to a reality that is full of hope. Duduk music will forever remain a hopeful message of motivation, not only for me but for other generations to come. God bless you and I believe I will hear you play live on stage soon!
      Lilit Zakoyan

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