Duduk talk

Last Thursday I went to a talk and demonstration about a musical instrument called the duduk, at the Armenian Library and Museum of America in Watertown. Well, why? you may ask. Mostly because I like music and strange musical instruments, and partly because I’ve been interested in Armenian culture since I lived in Watertown when I was in graduate school.

The link I have above is the museum’s page about the event. If you look along the thumbnails of the YouTube inset, find the one with a picture of a guy in an embroidered white shirt standing in front of a microphone — or go to YouTube and search for “Armenian Duduk Performance“. (or just click on that link!) There’s a 5 minute clip of a trio playing duduks there. If you just listen, and you’ve never heard the instrument before, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re listening to a viola and cello duet, but it’s a double-reed instrument, more like an oboe or bassoon than anything else.

There’s another Armenian double-reed instrument called the zurna. It’s like a snake-charmer oboe and variations of it are found all through western and central Asia. The duduk, however, is strictly Armenian.

I bought both a duduk and a zurna (in fact, two zurnas, one of which I gave to my klezmer teacher) when I was in Yerevan in 1999. I haven’t learned to play either of them. The zurna is incredibly loud, even by my standards as a trumpet player. Maybe not as loud as I can play the trumpet when I try, but I can play trumpet softly when I want to. Zurna, only loud. Only so loud that I wouldn’t want to practice it indoors, nor in fact anywhere within 100 feet of anyone else until I developed some facility with it — so that’s not ever going to happen. ALMA’s exhibit about musical instruments said that the zurna is used for outdoor events, and that sounds good to me.

The talk covered recent trends in duduk playing, mostly what happened during the Soviet era. The soviets were big on encouraging national identity in the different areas of the USSR, and organized folk orchestras which played traditional music of their nationality; but just by virtue of being officially organized they became more codified and polished than the real traditional musicians had been, and duduk music began to be taught more from printed curricula than just handed on from generation to generation. Fewer schools teach duduk now than did twenty years ago, and there is some chance of the traditions being lost. If you listen to the YouTube clip, you’ll agree with me that the duduk tradition is worth preserving!

Comments are closed.