The Beginning of the New Path
“We aim to engage everyone in the world of those who can’t hear and not the other way around. It’s time to break stereotypes and change social norms”.
The Nairyan Vocal Ensemble believes that singing only for pleasure is not enough. When you sing aiming to raise awareness about different issues in our society, that’s when it truly matters. They are the first in the country who spoke up for disabling the mine of Amulsar in Armenia conveying the message in their songs.
The Nairyan Vocal Ensemble was founded in 2015 within the framework of the cultural programs of the Mughdusian Art Center in Yerevan.
Initially, the ensemble, consisting of 5 beautiful young Armenian women, was performing Armenian national classical songs of the famous composer Komitas. However, two years ago the ensemble underwent major changes.
Everything started from a young student of the Mughdusian center of the Arts, who despite the fact of having hearing impairment issues, still was among the audience at one of the Nairyan Vocal Ensemble’s concerts. This heartbreaking and a rather delicate situation made the members of the ensemble take into consideration the aim of their art. The ensemble invited a sign language translator so that the child could be engaged too.
Since then, the Nairyan girls fell in love with the sign language and decided to make some changes, which reshaped their songs to be even brighter and more descriptive. Gladly, soon after, this change resulted in positive feedback from the side of the audience and inspired the Nairyan girls to continue their new path. Till now the Nairyan Vocal Ensemble has translated and sung almost 30 songs in the sign language.
Challenges of Singing in the Sign Language
The change brings opportunity but requires courage and commitment on the way. The first and essential problem of singing in sign language is the polyphony, as the songs consist of 5 different voices complementing each other. The singers have to be extremely focused on the task and make sure not to overdo both the voices and the sign language. Many women willingly tried to sing with the ensemble, but none could overcome the difficulties of singing in the sign language in a group and keep the music in balance. So, the Nairyan girls have become some kind of heroes of their own unique music.
For supporting the idea of singing in the sign language, the Nairyan Vocal Ensemble applied to various foundations, but there was a response only from the “Open Society Foundations-Armenia”. Soon after, they were noticed by other foundations and organizations and as a result, they translated more works of Armenian classics in the sign language.
Projects and the Messages Behind the Songs
While many were resting in their houses and complaining of COVID, the Nairyan girls didn’t get lost in the boredom of their houses and didn’t break. The Ensemble continued to work on managing and participating in different projects and virtual concerts towards their mission to address civil issues through their art.
The first project of the Nairyan ensemble during the pandemic was the “The Song for the Rights” aiming at showcasing many social issues through Armenian national classical songs. In the frames of the project, Nairyan girls have already managed two virtual solo concerts with their songs and not only․
The headline of the first concert was “I’m brave”, addressing women’s rights in Armenian society as not being inferiors. The ensemble also recorded a new homonymous song, written by Mariam Mughdusyan. Their folk songs performed at the concert are about Armenian women that are free to love, condemning violence against women not typical for our culture and who are not considered as men’s property, unlike those of the East.
After becoming brave it was time for the Nairyan girls to talk about action. The second virtual solo concert was headlined “Cradle, Mommy”, accompanied by Armenian traditional lullabies and compositional developments. This time the message of the songs conveyed another actual issue of Armenia.
Statistics show that in the last 25 years, 40.000 girls have not been born in Armenia due to gender. After all, in Armenian families, regardless of gender, a child should be a child.
The third part of the project is dedicated to the fight against Breast Cancer. The headline is “I’m Phoenix” and will be accompanied by a thematic exhibition. With their songs, the Nairyan girls will support those who fell victim to breast cancer or managed to overcome it. The concert is going to take place probably in September or October.
International Vox Virtual Festival
Lately, the Nairyan girls were invited to represent Armenia in the international Vox Virtual festival. They even managed to learn the American sign language in a short period of time.
For the festival, apart from the Armenian national classical songs, they had to sing in a foreign language, so the Nairyan girls decided to present the song “Because” by the Beatles in American sign language, being in constant cooperation with specialists of the language.
The ensemble also was in constant contact with the other international ensembles of the festival taking part in interviews on an online platform.
The girls’ aim in the festival is to make Armenian national songs known to the world at the same time stressing social issues and attract more people with Armenian sounds.
The festival hosts ensembles from 12 countries including Netherlands, Iceland, France, Armenia, Ireland, Georgia, Zimbabwe, USA, UK, and so on. So don’t miss the chance to watch the festival online and support our Nairyan girls from the comfort of your home and get to participate in the live interview of the ensemble during the festival.
When the Armenian community of Cairo invited the Nairyan vocal ensemble to perform, the girls chose to sing in the sign language when they weren’t supposed to, emphasizing the importance of social inclusion no matter in which part of the world they are.
The ensemble also conducted negotiations with Boston, however, because of the global pandemic it got postponed.
The One Wish
The girls wish for one thing- they need an actual audience, instead of an online platform and without it, the ensemble feels somehow weak. Material gain has never been a primary goal for the girls but the opportunity to convey the whole message to the audience instead.
The Nairyan girls are always amazed at how the Armenian diaspora manages to completely preserve our national values and culture abroad. They encourage all Armenians worldwide to go back to Armenian national songs and continue in the same spirit, be the masters of Armenian rich cultural heritage, as what’s ours will always stay with us no matter where we go.
How Nairyan Vocal Ensemble started
(First published in September 2018)
Nairyan is a Classical vocal ensemble that was founded in 2015 at Mughdusian Art Center in Yerevan. The group consists of five girls Naira Mughdusyan, Elena Azaryan, Anna Minasyan, and previously Srbuhi Manukyan and Diana Ayvazyan. Most of Quintet’s performances are acapella. Anush Hambardzumyan and Ani Ghazaryan are the latest members to join the ensemble.
A group of young people, who have a musical education, have united around a common idea to present Komitas music, Armenian song and contribute to folk and church music publicity, as well as paving the way for big stages. The ensemble sings acapella, although there are performances accompanied by clarinet and other instruments, which are again performed by the girls.
The group is professional. The Ensemble performs flash mobs in various public places and has different musical numbers aimed at publicizing Komitas and folk music. It had four solo concerts, participated in various international festivals․ The last one is VERATSNUND, where the girls took first place.
The Girls of Nairyan vocal ensemble are learning sign language, to include everyone in their Art.
The name of the band was chosen by Yeghishe Charents’ granddaughter. “We were thinking about what to name, one day Gohar Charents suggested that the group be called in a Charentsian word: Nayiryan, I agreed,” recalls Naira Mughdusyan.
“We all feel each other, we take the song and do it like we have been singing together for a year,” said the girls of Nairyan, completing each other.
Besides Komitas and folk songs, they also include modern songs in their repertoire. “We are also able to sing rabiz in a few tones and sounds and go to weddings,” joked the girls.
How did it all start
In an interview to hetq.am the artistic director of the group, Naira Mughdusyan who is currently studying at Komitas State Conservatory of Yerevan, explains how while she was studying at Arno Babajanyan Music-Pedagogical College, she decided to create an ensemble and approach Komitas and Armenian folk song music with a new approach.
“I decided to unite the same ideas, approaches, and ideas as young people who, without having any financial support, will love the art that they just sing.”Their repertoire includes Komitas and folk songs. “Our goal is to make our national music more accessible. I think Komitas is never old, Komitas can always sing, “says Naira Mughdusyan, the band’s artistic director.
“I have never thought that one day I will sing Komitas and it will become my part,” says Elena Azaryan, a singer of the “Nairyan” vocal ensemble. After returning from the Russian Federation and studying in Armenia.
“I started for the experience, now the band has become a part of me,” says Anna Minasyan, who is a licensed choir director.
The two new members of the ensemble are Anush Hambardzumyan and Ani Ghazaryan, who joined in January 2020, they are second-year masters students at the Conservatory.
Remembering Previous Members
“We choose together what we have to do and then divide parts among us, for example, if Elena performs pop songs better, she is given that part,” says Srbuhi.
“We worked together for almost a year, one day I accidentally learned that Yelena also played the clarinet, and I offered to perform a clarinet. The experiment succeeded. Diana now learns guitar, we’ve added guitars in our repertoire, “says the artistic director of the ensemble.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2018, and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.