Melismatic chanting, composed in one of eight modes, is the most common kind of religious music in Armenia. It is written in khaz, a form of indigenous musical notation. Many of these chants are ancient in origin, extending to pre-Christian times, while others are relatively modern, including several composed by Saint Mesrop Mashtots, who invented the Armenian alphabet. Some of the best performers of these chants, or sharakans, are at the Holy Cathedral of Etchmiadzin, and include the late soprano Lucine Zakarian.
Armenian religious music remained liturgical until Komitas Vardapet introduced polyphony in the end of the 19th century. He collected more than 3,000 folk songs from 1899 to 1910.
While under Soviet domination, Armenian folk music was taught in a rigidly controlled manner at conservatoires. Instruments played in this way include kanon (dulcimer), davul (double-headed hand drum), oud (lute), tar (short-necked lute) and zurna (shawm). The duduk is especially important, and its stars include Gevorg Dabagian and Yeghish Manoukian, Vatche Housepian, Antranik Askarian, Albert Vardanyan as well as Armenia’s most famous duduk player, Dijvan Gasparian.
Earlier in Armenian history, instruments like the kamancha were played by popular, traveling musicians called ashughs. Sayat Nova, an 18th century, ashugh, is still revered, as are more modern canonical performers of Armenian traditional music like Armenag Shah-Mouradian, Vagharshak Sahakian, Norayr Mnatsakanyan, Raffi Hovhannisyan, Hayrik Muradyan, Hovhannes Badalyan, Rouben Matevosian, and Papin Poghosyan. The most notable female vocalists in the traditional genre have been Araksia Gyulzadyan, Lusik Koschyan, Ophelia Hambardzumyan, Varduhi Khachatrian, Valya Samvelyan, Flora Martirosian, Rima Saribekyan, Manik Grigoryan, and Susanna Safaryan.
Arto Tuncboyaciyan and his Armenian Navy Band (ANB) is a contemporary Armenian musician who has been taking Traditional Armenian Folk Music to new frontiers fusing it with other types of world music and jazz. Some members of the Armenian Navy Band have their own groups that perform when the band is not playing together. Artyom (bassist) is one such example, and Vahagn Hairapetyan (keyboard) is another.
There have been many famous Armenian composers whose music was performed worldwide, the most famous, however, was Aram Khatchaturian, internationally well known especially for his music for ballets Gayane (which includes the immortal Saber Dance) and Spartacus.
Other Armenian classical composers include Tigran Tchoukhajian, Aleksander Spendiarian, Barsegh Kanachyan, Edward Mirzoyan, Arno Babajanian, Alexander Harutiunyan, Armen Tigranyan, Edgar Hovhannessyan, Avet Terterian, Loris Chobanian, Alan Hovhaness etc. Composers such as Tigran Mansuryan, Loris Tjeknavorian, Robert Amirkhanian, and Edward Manukyan can be classified as “modern classical”.
Classical music and the operatic genre have always been indispensable to Armenian vocal performing arts. The most outstanding representatives of Classical Armenian vocal performing arts have been sopranos: Haykanush Danielyan, Gohar Gasparian, Gohar Galachian, Tatevik Sazandarian, Anna Nshanian, Arpine Pehlivanian, Melania Abovian, Arax Mansuryan, Lucine Amara, Cathy Berberian, Ellada Chakhoyan, Hasmik Papian, Anahit Nersisyan, and more recently, Isabel Bayrakdarian and Anna Mailyan; tenors Tigran Levonyan, Gegham Grigoryan and Vahan Mirakyan, basses Shara Talian, Avag Petrosian, and Henrik Alaverdyan, as well as the bass-baritone Barsegh Tumanian.
Instrumentalists who have gained international stature include pianists Vahan Arzruni, Artur Papazian, Sergei Babayan, Avo Kouyoumdjian, Vardan Mamikonian, Vahan Martirossian and Serouj Kradjian; Violinists Rouben Aharonian, Jean Ter-Mergerian, Anahit Tsitsikian, Levon Chilingirian, Manouk Parikian, Ida and Ani Kavafian, Sergey Khachatryan: violist Kim Kashkashian; cellists Suren Bagratuni and Alexander Chaushian.
In pop music, Suzan Yakar and Udi Hrant Kenkulian were famous cabaret singers in Turkey during the 1920s and 1930s. The most prominent female representatives of modern Armenian pop music include Bella Darbinyan, Raisa Mkrtchyan, and the Armenian male pop performers in the world today are Adiss Harmandian, Paul Baghdadlian, Sahag Sislian, Harout Pamboukjian, Joseph Krikorian, Garo Gomidas, Vrej Sahagian, Ararad Aharonian, Gomidas Band & Hovsep, Koko & The Sbidag Band, Paul Baghdadlian Jr., Robert Chilingirian, Sako, Zareh, Garo Gaboudagian, Andre and Arsen Grigorian are prominent Armenian & International performers.
Rock and roll is a musical genre, originated from United States. It was greatly restricted for most of the period Armenia was under Soviet rule as American anti-communist influence, but following the loosening of control in the early 1980s, a number of Armenian rock bands became prominent. The first was Thessilk, who formed in 1983.
In 1982 a band called Bambir won the Folk Music Award at the International Festival in Lida, Belarus. They combined rock with Armenian folk and classical music. Later folk-rock bands include Vostan Hayots.
Later in the 80s, as the Soviet rock scene grew larger, bands like Ayas found international audiences. Ayas formed in 1987, and only a year later won Yerevan Rock, Rock, Rock Festival best composition of the year award. They later won the Sisian Rock Festival as well.
In the early 1990s, an Armenian progressive rock scene developed. Dumbarton Oaks was one of the first to combine rock with classical music, in compositions like “Once Upon a Time There Lived a Cadence”. Later in the decade, bands like Artsruni and Oaksenham gained an international following.
Some of the leading Armenian rock musicians are drummer Marek Zaborsky, who performs with a dozen local bands in Yerevan, guitarist Arthur Margarian, singer Samvel Tsovak etc. All of these musicians often experiment with folk-rock genre and are quite successful today.
Other popular Armenian rock bands include AlterEgo Lav Eli, Empyray, Manic Depression (MDP) and Bambir(2) (formed by the son of one the members of the original band Bambir).
America’s System of a Down can also be considered Armenian rock. The band Aviatic contains Armenian band members. Poland also has an Armenian rock band called 36i6 Band.
Many facts evidence that Armenian national dance has the most ancient origins. From the 5th to the 3rd millennia B.C., in the higher regions of Armenia there are rock paintings of scenes of country dancing.
Armenian national dances have different meanings according to their content (nature), number of performers, their sex and age. They were always accompanied by song, claps of hands and musical instruments.
According to tradition, dances were performed in turn, taking into account difficulty of step etc. Public dances always started with dances of sorrow and remembrance of ancestors, later were performed the ones, which were thought to bring joy and happiness. During common and working dances were performed also scenes of kneading of dough, spinning, washing, pressing of grapes etc.
The first steps of Armenians in sphere of ballet were done in the half of 19th century. The 1st ballets assemble performed in “Aramian theatre”. Ballet assemble and studio of Yerevan Theater of opera and ballet was established in 1933 by V. Presnyakov. One of the most famous Armenian ballets is “Gayane” by A. Khachaturyan.