Armavir, a city just about a half-hour drive west from Yerevan, once was the capital of Armenia in 331 B.C. during the country’s first dynasty, the Orontid Dynasty. Perhaps it is quite fitting that a humble and talented group of singers and musicians known as Shoghig Choir, is from this region of Armavir. This ensemble, like the city itself rich with history, performs those Armenian folk songs of old, which resonate the stories and spirit of the ancient homeland.
Shoghig Choir began as a small children’s choir in 2000 at the Armenian Evangelical Church in Armavir, Armenia, under the direction of Rev. Garush Antonyan, the Artistic Director of the choir and the pastor of the church, and through the years had talented singers come and go. The group, which used to perform during the church’s worship services, grew to become an ensemble that incorporated Armenian patriotic and folk songs as part of their repertoire and eventually grabbed the attention of other Armenia’s.
After powerful and unforgettable performances throughout Armenia, Karabagh and France, the group, along with Rev. Antonyan and the choir director, Mareta Kirakosyan, was invited by the Armenian Missionary Association of America in celebration of it’s 90th anniversary, to give their first concert tour in North America to benefit AMAA’s various children’s programs in Armenia and Karabakh. It is for this reason that Shoghig Choir generously gave their hearts and voices in their performances in Toronto and Montreal (May 4 & 11 organized by the Armenian Missionary Association of Canada and the local Armenian Evangelical Churches), in Boston (May 17 organized by the Armenian Children’s Milk Fund) and in northern New Jersey (May 18 organized by the AMAA’s Summer Camp/Christmas Committee).
The members of the group comprise of sopran’s Arusyak Aleksanyan, Kristine Avetisyan; altos Vergine Aleksanyan, Yeranouhi Kalajyan; soloists Suren Avoyan and Mareta Kirakosyan; duduk and zourna player Aghvan Grigoryan; violin and keyboard player Vagharshak Grigoryan, with poetry recitations by 12 year old Arus Antonyan, who is the youngest member of the group. The programs began with a beautiful rendition of the Hayr Mehr (the Lord’s prayer in Armenian ‘s Arthur Mechjian version) and included many popular songs such as, Araradyan Tashd (The Plains of Ararat), Adanaee Voghp (Lament of Adana), Kamancha, Noubar Noubar, Hoy Nar and Havadkes Chem Moranah (I will not forget my faith). In addition to the talents of the choir, the program incorporated other treats for the audience: Mareta Kirakosyan performed a few solos as part of the program and possesses vocal cords that reverberated mesmerizing rich tones in emotional songs such as Cheknegh Eem Yergir (My Pretty Country), Groung (Crane), Giligya, Eem Ani and Kehnah Groung (Go Crane). 18-year old Suren Avoyan, another talented soloist of the group, was featured in the songs Arakil (Stork) and Hye Aghchig (Armenian girl). Accompanying the singers were the haunting drones of the duduk played by Grigoryan who joined in with Horovel (Farmer’s Plowing Song) and other songs. After the intermission, the young women of the group entered the stage dressed in breathtaking authentic Armenian folk dresses, elegantly dancing Armenian folk dances. Arus Antonyan, daughter of Rev. Antonyan, came on stage a few times during the program to recite Armenian poetry.
After receiving buzzing positive responses following their performances in Toronto and Montreal, the choir was asked to perform additional unplanned encore concerts. The choir also visited and performed in local Armenian schools and Armenian old age homes throughout Toronto, Montreal, Boston and northern New Jersey.
Each performance gave a taste of favorite and unforgettable songs and poetry of Armenia, which was welcomed with much applause by the packed audiences. The singers and musicians of Shoghig Choir of Armavir take their gifts and talents of music and performance seriously just as they take their heritage seriously, which is evident not only in their delivery, but also when they are invited to perform additional encore concerts.
Shoghig Choir desires to hold on to our Motherland’s rich roots and history through music and invites their audiences to embrace their love for Armenia and her surviving music, a lifeline that unites all Armenia’s, those living in the Homeland and as part of the Diaspora.
As Arousiak Alexanyan, the 18-year old soprano of Shoghig Choir beautifully put it: “When we sing, we’ll do everything possible to pass the warmth of Armenia and our warm sun to the audience. In our thoughts we’ll soar together like our cran’s above Armenia’s high mountains.”