From ignorance to humility or the Tbilisi competition

The touching story of Armenian singer, famous poet Sheram’s relative Shara Talyan, who was lucky enough to sing in the choir led by Komitas Vardapet.

The Tbilisi competition

From the memories of Shara Talyan (1893—1965)

“I don’t remember well, but it was during 1906-1908, when Alekander Mamajanyan and then Anton Mailyan for a short time were music teachers at Nersisyan School after Makar Yekmalyan, and also the famous at that time violinist Davit Davtyan, but no worthy conductor to lead the choir was found yet.

Our choir continued to operate with the best singing traditions left by its leader, famous composer, skilled master of choral art, conductor Makar Yekmalyan. The choir’s performances were led by Yekmalyan’s students.

So our choir where I was singing as the first voice, the discant, was in such unfavorable conditions.

When it was announced about the competition of a concert of sacred singing in Tbilisi which was to be held in the Opera theatre, choirs of Russian, Georgian, German and other nationalities were going to take part in the competition. We had very little time to prepare. Nersisyan school’s department applied to Komitas to lead this matter.  Komitas agreedand  came to Tbilisi from Etchmiadzin.

Only 2 weeks were left and Komitas started to work. We were ready to have a performance by the end of the time. The glorious decorated building of the Opera House which many of our students were seeing for the first time, the commanding princesses, the generals, other ornate women and men inside the theater made an overwhelming impression on us, as all of us were children of poor families and were not used to all that. 

Probably we also left an oppressive    impression on the surrounding with our very colorful, plain clothes, as we did not have uniforms made of expensive fabric like the members of the other choirs. Our leader Komitas also could not leave a special impression with his modest appearance, dress, movements, he could not inspire faith.

One might think that all this was the result for when the members of the other choirs were treated to milk, tea, pastries and sweets before the concert started, no one paid attention to us and we were included in the program as the last number. We patiently witnessed this attitude and were waiting for our turn gathered in one room. 

We waited long, got tired and the fact of others being treated well, of course, made us jealous. 

It was finally our turn and we went on stage. Komitas’s   art of leading the choir is  kept in my memory.  He was very stingy in his movements, his field of movement was very small, but he trained us in such a way that he reached a strong forte with a slightly wider movement.

Here we stand as one person, we breathe together, our mesmerized eyes, which look at our lovely leader Komitas with respect, seem to blink together.  The first number is  sung, the thunderous applause of the hall seemed like an unexpected bomb blast. And so with all the numbers, the applause of the people, the joy and the exclamations turned into ovation. 

Our performance was over, the concert was also over, the crowd from the hall came towards the stage, where not only our musicologist was honored, a word of gratitude was expressed, a admiration was given, but all the members of the group got attention. They kissed the singers and treated with sweets with which their pockets were full, and then invited us to a special table for dinner.

The Armenian group prepared by Komitas in two weeks took the first place in the competition of sacred songs.”

The short biography of Shara Talyan:

He was born in 1893 in Tbilisi, in Talyan famous family. Shara’s paternal grandfather was the famous ashugh Kamal, his father was also an ashugh, known as ashugh Jamal. Grigor Talyan, known as ashugh Sheram, was also his father’s close relative. Being raised in ashughical music since he was a child, being educated as a musician, and often attending ashugh competitions, he developed a love and skills for music from an early age. Performer of folk, gusanic and ashugh songs. He complied and co-edited the collections of Sayat-Nova and  Jivani songs. Together with his wife has founded the Paronyan Theater of Musical Comedy in Yerevan. Has died on November 7, 1965 in Yerevan. More than 65.000 people were present at Shara Talyans funeral; an unheard number of people at the time. 

by Armat Team

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