Monthly Archives: May 2012

Sayat Nova Pt. 2 – Alaverdi, Armenia


This weekend we traveled south of the Georgian border to the small copper mining town of Aleverdi, Armenia. We saw multiple churches, ancient bridges, monasteries, as well as your less typical tourist fare; multiple dead dogs, bee hives, and Soviet-era abandoned gold mining factories. Its a great coincidence, and in no way a result of planning on my part, that on the hills above the town of Aleverdi are the Sanahin Monastery and the Haghpat Monastery. Seeing these two Monasteries turned out to be a good follow up to one of my previous posts. Sanahin Monestary, pictured above, is the place where the poet and musician Sayat Nova trained to become a monk. The Haghpat Monestary is where he served and died. He was killed in 1795  by the invading army of Mohammad Khan Qajar, the Shah of Iran, for refusing to denounce Christianity and convert to Islam. I wrote about him and the movie “The Color of Pomegranates”  in this early post:

It turns out that multiple scenes from the movie where filmed at the Haghpat Monestary. After coming back home to Tbilisi, I rewatched Sergei Parajanov’s film and recognized a few shots:

Here’s a photo I took this past Saturday:

And here are a few still shots from “The Color of Pomegranates” :

I also took this photo of Anna cooling off in this fountain outside the Monastery:

And then found this in the movie:

The Church also has a plaque commemorating Sayat Nova:

 Anna translated the Russian portion of the plaque above (and learned some interesting new volcabulary- did you the Russian verb постригать – “to become a monk”, also means “to cut your hair”?)

” 1775-1795 The great Armenian poet and musician Arutyun Sayat Nova was forced to become a monk. He stayed and kept watch in this monastery in the capacity of senior priest. ”


We spent the rest of the day wandering around the town meeting Armenians, all of whom were friendly and even more hospitable than they as a people are renowned for. One woman stopped us as we were walking up to some ruins and made us coffee, gave us treats, talked with us about the financial situation in Armenia and the US, and let me take pictures of all her bee hives:

Another man and his son’s friend made us coffee at their apartment and the younger one taught me to play the Armenian version checkers, a game I still do not completely understand. I lost every time, even though he would switch pieces with me when I was about to lose. They had a music room with a piano and a Saz, which I was very excited to find. This is one of the instruments Sayat Nova was supposed to have played, according to my guide at the Tbilisi Museum of Musical Instruments and Folk Music.

   Finding this instrument was perfect  because a few weeks ago I discovered a short documentary on one of the last Turkish Saz luthiers and have wanting to post it, but had no justifiable reason to until now.

– Ben

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ჩონგური (chonguri)

First off, we want to apologize for the total lack of posts; this kind of thing is much easier for us when we are at home. We’ve been living in Tbilisi, Georgia and teaching in public schools  for the past 3 months. I’ve started a short program through the Tbilisi State Conservatory . I am taking classes in Georgian music theory, music history, Georgian Language, and instrument lessons for now. Other components will start next year:  folk transcription, field work , and a thesis. The program was created by the International Research Center for Traditional Polyphony of Tbilisi State Conservatory.

I wanted to post a few performances and a transcription of some Chonguri music  that I have been studying. Georgian music is most famous for its polyphonic choral tradition. Georgian folk instruments like Panduri or Doli are used to accompany songs and are not associated with virtuosic instrumental music. The Chonguri,  most popular in western Georgia, can be played in a energetic, polyrhythmic, multi-voiced style. It has 3 strings, usually tuned do, mi, so (although there are other alternate tuning) and a 4th drone string tuned an octave above the first. The instrument is played by plucking with the thumb and first and second fingers and by strumming with all four fingers on the right hand. Hammers-ons and pull offs (guitar terms; Georgians don’t have a traditional name for these techniques) are used in every song I have heard so far. One song uses left hand plucking, something I have only really seen done on violins.

Unfortunately, recordings of performances are extremely hard to find. The instrument is apparently less popular because it is difficult to play. Panduri seems to be the preferred string instrument.  There is also a lack of chonguri makers left in Georgia. I still haven’t been able to purchase one (I’m borrowing my teacher’s), because the one chonguri maker left (that the people at the conservatory know of) lives in a town across the country that is not accessible by bus (I don’t have a car). The recordings that I have found I’ve become completely obsessed with and have been working on a transcribing one of them:

Rough Draft 

First Half in Finale

The transcription is of performance by Iosef Verulidze, a performer who I can’t find any information about. If any Georgians are reading this and you have ever heard of him, or know someone who has possibly heard of him, please let me know. Pay special attention to the video at 58” – I am having an incredibly hard time transcribing it, maybe you can help me. Here is the performance:

The next recording is a performance by Aleko Khizanishvili who is, according to my chonguri teacher, one of two or three people left in the entire country who can play this well. Luckily for me, he lives in Tbilisi so I will be able to take some lessons with him if I practice enough. The piece, Khorumi, is a dance in 5/4 with accents on 1, 3, and 4.  At 1′ 28”, he accentuates these beats by hitting the body of the instrument.

Here’s a 3-piece performing the same tune, next to the mosque and sulfur baths in Tbilisi’s old city:

Here are a couple of photos  of Chonguri that I took in the State Museum of Georgian Folk Songs and Musical Instruments. They also have a great website with information about the Chonguri Here.

Last thing is a video of me playing one of the first compositions I learned.

UPDATE: I wrote this post in May of last year and since then I’ve  performed some solo Chonguri pieces on Georgian Televsion:


– Ben

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