• Author: Sevag Derderian
  • Editor: Ms. Christina Toroyan

A Personal Reflection on Gomidas

We cherish his name, treasure his works, and celebrate his accomplishments, yet we do not heed to the very nature of his actions and teachings. We pride ourselves when his name is spoken but do him a disservice. Why do we not strive to do better? To bridge our Armenia and bring together a oneness to all our people? We are all but one and too few at that! 

Regardless of age, we go through our own journeys in life. Journeys which are cultivated through our own actions, sins, and misgivings, through the blessings of the Almighty, Our Father, who art in Heaven. I have had a personable journey throughout my life with my fair share of sins, whether they be in my personal or musical life, and the road still yearns for more. I am, of course, a mere foolish mortal who has been blessed with a talent and a fiery passion for sacred music in praise of the Almighty. There are only a limited number of things in this life of mine which provide comfort, but also, inflict anguish. 

Both can be found in my penchant love for Gomidas. 

What resonates in your soul when you hear his name? Does it beckon a memory? Do the stories that resonate with the name provide comfort, anguish or both? I cannot speak to you frankly if I am not able to relate my most inner thoughts on Gomidas. These thoughts may not settle well with you throughout this personal reflection. However, I strive to be honest with you through a most personal way. 

A story of a brilliant man, a tormented man, a Godly man, who listened to his inner voice, and sought comfort in the hands of the Almighty and through his musical work. His adventures were rich with treasures for the Armenian people and our cultural history. A man whose discoveries and publications gave new life through hell to the Armenian people. Miracles through madness and love through the most intolerable heartbreaks this world can deliver. I cannot paint a picture of Gomidas with one stroke of a brush. It would require an immortal lifetime. 

Gomidas….The name spoken and revered holds a unique meaning to every Armenian. It reminds us of the very fiber of our being, a true portrayal of survivorship even through harrowing times. It holds substance to our inner souls and allows for a moment of clarity through the toils of daily life. His work, through a myriad complex of published music, writings, and letters, holds a deep personal meaning to us all. For myself, it is the constant drive for understanding his genius. I find myself grappling with the constant thrive of researching the pure brilliance behind each note, measure, and composition. It was the method behind his works I find most illuminating and personally challenging. It is to truly understand what he was trying to achieve through his compositional works. A little taunt, a little mystery, and golden harmony for his people. 

I have prayed to him numerous times throughout my tenure as Chairman. It has almost become cathartic to know aside from my prayers to the Almighty, I can confide my most inner personal thoughts with Gomidas. From every parish visit, to every note sung, to every effort of change I have sought to bring to this Diocese, he has been there with me every step of the way. Under his watchful eye, I try to bring the same utmost love to sacred music he was able to bring to his people. This is why I have given my entire self to AACCWD. Every fiber of my being has been committed to ensuring my perseverance is done for the greater good of our church and, most importantly, our people. My travels, while widely successful, have been most educational. From church choirs where members travel for hours, to those who find themselves with their friends in minutes, there is a common thread which binds us all – the love for our music. 

A son of a shoemaker whose mother left this mortal life less than a year after his birth. Music was instilled in Soghomon’s heart through his mother and father. His parents were talented musicians who composed and sang, and most importantly, loved their son. The earliest memories for Soghomon were filled with tragedy, love, and bouts of blissful happiness. His father was called to heaven around his eleventh birthday, and this would once again strike Soghomon and test his belief in the Almighty. A young life whose purpose had yet to be discovered featured a fractured image of his parents, but the formidable bonds of love woven deep into his pure heart. 

Soghomon channeled his love for music through his raw vocal talent. He was known to stroll throughout the city and sing, often earning a minimal living to survive. This trait would soon catch the eye of Very Rev. Fr. Dertsakian, who would soon be baptized a bishop at Holy Etchmiadzin. This is when Soghomon first travelled to the Mother See, coupled with his sole linguistic knowledge of Turkish, and sang for Catholicos George IV. His raw vocal talent surprised and brought the late Catholicos to tears, thus resulting in Soghomon attending Armenian classes at Etchmiadzin, as well as singing the liturgy every Sunday. This was the beginning of a new chapter in Soghomon’s life — one that offered consistency, love, and support, one that would lead him to graduate the seminary, be ordained a deacon in 1893, and be given the name “Gomidas” after the late seventh century Catholicos Gomidas[1].

His life at Etchmiadzin provided a new purpose and belonging to his people and church. He was surrounded with chants, music, and prayers which would eventually lead to his first publication “Armenian Church Melodies” in the journal “Ararat” (Etchmiadzin – 1894)[2]. His love for the church was deeply seeded in his heart and spirit; the voices, music, and compositions of the villages filled his heart. They tantalized his musical interest and led him to new discoveries from one village to another. He sang, transcribed, and performed many of the folk melodies and later published an article titled “The Music of Armenian Peasants.”[3] His passion and quest for music grew rampant. The name Gomidas was now known and the clergyman and town folk awaited him with music in hand. 

As his repertoire and knowledge grew, Gomidas would soon be acquainted with Christopher Kara-Murza and become a steward of his teachings which featured European polyphony. Later, Gomidas would travel to Tiflis, Georgia to study under the direction of Makar Yekmalian. Yekmalian, being not only a profound musician with European knowledge, but an author of liturgical chants, would change the course of the liturgy. 

While his pen would craft what we hold to this day as brilliant compositions, Gomidas was changing and people were unaware. He became distant and lived a life of faint visibility in Etchmiadzin. He was in constant turmoil, depression, and longed for the life he once lived in the villages. What happened to that tenacity for life? The corridors of Etchmiadzin were scattered with fellow men of the cassock who were not in favour of Gomidas. Life was different and departure seemed imminent. In September of 1909, Gomidas left for Constantinople to seek a new beginning, a shock to the soul to awaken him from this trance. [4]

The amber hues of the golden afternoon sun kissed the very highest peaks of Mount Ararat that I once dreamed of. 

They are covered with darkness and my eyes weep for another glance. Where are the village folk in merry song?

The halls that I once roamed have become a prison. 

I am cornered, yet not alone. I know you can hear me, listen to me, I beg you.

  • Sevag Derderian

Let us for a moment take pause and reflect on his life before Constantinople. Gomidas was an ardent and creative genius who dedicated his life to music, arts, and education. He knew nothing as pure as the love for our Armenian melodies since his earliest days. After all, his parents instilled their love for music in him from an early age. It was the greatest gift they offered Gomidas, one which would grow and support him through his journeys across Armenia, Europe, and Western Asia. It was a personal passion and a return to comfort, but one filled with both good and bad experiences.

He dedicated his talent, time, and countless hours for his people and in return he experienced the darkest hours of solace which led him to break the chains of seclusion in Armenia and seek life in Turkey. Life that he knew would not be easy, as the changes in government were roiled in politics. He was forthright in his pilgrimage to study each note, each derivative of the manuscripts, and find the keys to unlock the mysterious hymns yet to be discovered. He was ardent and consuming in his work, with the fruits of his labour still to be discovered by his students and followers. 

He would come to love Constantinople and the freedom it provided him from the wary halls he so hesitantly resided within. His soul was a lark, one able to soar through the vast lands, allowing him to experience life and provide the necessary strength for him to carry on until his unfortunate last days.

We are all well aware of Gomidas’ demise and the pain it caused our people. However, I find comfort in knowing his sweet eternal rest would bring him peace under the wings of his creator. 

Armenians throughout the world are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Gomidas’ birth, but what have we learned from him? Have we learned to love one in another in the manner he loved his people? Have we allowed ourselves to come to terms that we must do better as one people? We must respect Gomidas with our true and pure hearts and minds. We must acknowledge our people and music have a rich history that must be well preserved. We rightfully cherish and revere his compositions, but we must learn from them as well. 

We seem to have allowed our community to fall prey to extracurricular activities, allowing little to no time for our church and music. I suppose, I wish to offer my sentiment to you in the fact that by not allowing love to grow and envelop us, our music will fade. Let us cherish those same fond memories and allow for them to call us to do better with our penchant love for sacred music. We are his children, and he watches and champions our work. The heavens are filled with harmony for each gleeful note that is sung and heard. We must do better to ensure music not only fills the walls of our sanctuaries, but that of our hearts. 

We cannot accept the status quo, as Gomidas so vehemently pursued and fought against it. He demanded change and, when it was not possible, he proved his people wrong. To truly pay tribute, we must do our collective best to train, educate, and share Gomidas’ history, musical works, and passion among our people. As many thousands of Armenians will hear renditions of his works throughout the globe, let every note strike you as a call to bring attention to his music and history.

[1] Atayan, Robert (1979). “Կոմիտաս [Komitas]”. In Hambardzumyan, Viktor (ed.). Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia (in Armenian).  Yerevan: Armenian Encyclopedia. pp. 539–541.

[2] Geodakian, G.C. (2014). “Komitas”. Yerevan, Armenia p.24

[3] Geodakian, G.C. (2014). “Komitas”. Yerevan, Armenia p.26

[4] Geodakian, G.C. (2014). “Komitas”. Yerevan, Armenia p.64