Stone, Song, and Sustaining Arts with Bogdan Hovhannisyan
What makes a Folklife Festival memorable? If you ask me, I would say its people—the visitors, participants, and staff members, among others. Human interaction lies at the core of this annual celebration. During each Festival season there are certain individuals who stand out from the crowd and remain imprinted in our memory. Those who make our heads turn, whose presence lifts our mood, and who we remember because of how they made us feel.
Bogdan Hovhannisyan was undoubtedly one of those unforgettable individuals at this year’s Armenia: Creating Home program. A professional sculptor and khachkar (cross-stone) maker from Vanadzor, Armenia, Hovhannisyan represented the epitome of joy. His cheerful spirit and contagious laughter reached every corner of the Festival. Many folks will agree he was a master of spontaneous amusement, often improvising and breaking into poetry and song at any given moment throughout the day. Whether he was demonstrating carving techniques for young children or giving a toast at the recreation of a traditional Armenian wedding, Hovhannisyan remained fully present, immersed in the moment.
The tinkling sound radiating from the hanging scraps of metal in his tent marked the beginning of each Festival day for Hovhannisyan and his apprentice, Gayane Manucharyan. Together they shared the art of carving intricate designs with people of all ages, encouraging them to try for themselves. The focus and attention required to carve these rectangular stone slabs did not stop Hovhannisyan from bursting into song. His songs simultaneously evoked smiles and tears. The one he sang with Mery Musinyan and Kristine Yengoyan from the Nur Qanon Ensemble (as seen in video, with lyrics below) represented one of those memorable Festival experiences—a fleeting, joyful moment of human interaction.
* The original song is about Hymayak jan (jan is a term of affection added to a name), but as a joke the girls sang it as Bogdan pap jan, “dear Grandpa Bogdan.”
You loved me, then why you did not marry me, my dear grandpa Bogdan
I envy the one you really love, Bogdan pap jan
I will marry the grandpa Bogdan
No matter if I die from hunger then
Micaela A. Nerguizian is a production consultant in the performing arts and intern at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She is completing her graduate degree at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, with a focus on cultural diplomacy and international education. Satenik Mkrtchyan assisted with translation.