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Richard Hagopian Discusses Armenian Folk Music

Oud master Richard Hagopian Photo: Alain Ekmalian
Oud master Richard Hagopian
Photo: Alain Ekmalian

Michael Rettig

Few have done more to preserve traditional Armenian folk music than local Fresno oud master Richard Hagopian. On Thursday, April 27, Hagopian recounted his first experiences with the oud and showcased traditional Armenian songs in his presentation, “Melodic and Rhythmic Considerations in Oud Performance” as part of the Middle East Studies Lecture, Performance & Film Series, cosponsored by the Music Department’s Global Music Lecture Series and the Armenian Studies Program.

Hagopian described the moment he first heard the oud as a child. He immediately fell in love with the instrument and implored his father to find him one so that he could learn to play. World War II was raging in Europe and it was no easy task to ship an oud from the Middle East to Fresno. Fortunately, Hagopian was able to acquire an oud from a local Armenian and was soon playing at local functions. An Armenian band in need of an oud player hired Hagopian to perform with them, and they soon dominated the Armenian music scene in Fresno.

Hagopian’s earliest influences were the Armenian kanun player Kanuni Garbis and the blind oud player from Istanbul, Udi Hrant. When Hagopian learned that both of his idols would be performing in Fresno, he eagerly attended the concert with his band. After the concert, Udi Hrant gifted his oud to Hagopian, who would later perform with Udi Hrant during his next Fresno tour.

Udi Hrant noticed Hagopian’s mastery of the instrument and would later grant him the title of “udi,” or oud master, a title reserved for the most elite oudists in the world. One can only become an udi if an oud master notices one’s talent and deems him worthy.

In the second portion of his presentation, Hagopian described the structure of Armenian songs as well time signature and beats unique to Armenian music. The audience listened in reverent silence as Hagopian brought to life traditional melodies such as Tamzara and Siro Yerk.

Hagopian has been instrumental in preserving Armenian folk music by passing his knowledge on to his children and grandchildren as well as performing for the Armenian community for over 30 years. Educational presentations such as this are similarly important in keeping Armenian folk music alive for the next generation.