William Saroyan About the Songs of Shahmuradyan: “How Can a Man Do Without the Sun?”

William Saroyan About the Songs of ShahmuradyanHow can a man do without the sun? How can he forget the fire? I have always loved the sun. Always loved the fire. The sun is in all my works. Over the years, I cherished the title under which I hoped to write a good thing – “Fire in the opera house.” Until now, I have not written it.

The fire which I have implied was the fire of art. The opera house as such belonged to the past, it was outdated. But in California, there were buildings that once served as opera houses and nothing more. I have heard about them and have seen some of them.

By that time, silence had already been established in them. They went out of fashion and slowly fell apart, so that the fire was understood by me as a fire of memory. In these wooden and dilapidated buildings, the fire was the fire of art. Art and the memory of the song were absorbed by flame.

Shahmuradyan sang and lived like a fire. I heard his singing only from records and only saw his photographs, although he arrived in Fresno at least once while I lived there.

His last concert took place in Fresno a year before he passed away in Paris. In any case, on those days, I was not in Fresno, but I nevertheless heard about the concert.

He wasn’t even forty when he passed away. I still listen to his recordings, and for me, he remains one of the greatest singers. For some time, he sang in the Paris Opera, but opera singing was not for him. He was a performer of songs of Armenia.

His voice was rich, powerful, and inexhaustible like fire. He was a simple kid born into a simple family in the city of Mush, one of the three cities of Armenia near Lake Van. The trio of cities was Bitlis, Mush, and Van.

In my student years, I listened to his voice almost daily. It was the greatest Armenian among everyone I knew. When he sang, the nation lived in his singing, its soul burned and glowed. His singing expressed sadness, anger, loneliness, pride, and tenderness.

These records are a particle of every Armenian home in America. The new generation, the Americans are beginning to listen to Armenian songs and music, kind of like a joke and for fun. But they very soon discover that this is no joke.

They begin to collect Shahmuradyan’s records and soon notice that they themselves are already singing his songs. Because in these songs is the fire of their own souls. These songs are sung by my son, a man who may tell his father: “You should give up on those Armenian things.”

“If so, why do you sing Armenian songs?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” he says.

Well, then, the fire is still not extinguished. It ended in Shahmuradyan himself but didn’t go out completely. There were other Armenian singers, but there was no one like Shahmuradyan. In my opinion, he lived a great life. It doesn’t matter why he died or how, for only a few people die spectacularly. For most people, death anyway is a pitiful end, the burning of a poor body in a fire of delusions.

© William Saroyan

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