AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PRELATE OF THE ARMENIAN DIOCESE OF FRANCE
AND TO THE MEMBERS OF
THE PARISH COUNCIL OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST ARMENIAN CATHEDRAL OF PARIS
The Right Reverend Vahan Hovhannessian, Prelate of the Armenian Diocese of France
Madames and Sirs, members of the Parish Council of St. John the Baptist Armenian Cathedral in Paris
The purpose of this open letter is to publicly announce my resignation from the post of master singer, resignation made unavoidable upon the dismissal of Father Houssik Sargsyan from the Armenian church of Paris. This dismissal, with all that it implies, cannot be passed over in silence. This is why I invite you, by means of this letter, to publicly assess the breadth of this decision. This open letter will explain the circumstances and the reasons given in my letter of resignation of November 12, and particularly the consequences that this regrettable act will most certainly provoke.
I will not dwell on how much Bishop Hovhannessian’s decision has aggrieved me, how this decision has not taken into account the devotion and personal qualities of Father Houssik, and is particularly insensitive regarding his family life. I must mention in passing the anti-statutory character of both this decision and the ensuing passivity of the Parish Council. I will, however, explain what this will mean for the tradition of liturgical chant. Our church is one of the last places where this tradition has survived, especially in the Western Diaspora. It is here in St. John the Baptist Armenian Cathedral of Paris that the Offices have been sung in their entirety since its foundation more than a century ago, in the modal and monodic tradition of our church. As you probably know, I have been personally responsible for the perpetuation of this tradition until it can be passed on to a competent successor of the same tradition.
In fact, my resignation is the direct consequence of a situation which has been deteriorating over the last several years. One example is enough to explain the state of affairs: at present, none of the persons who wears the cantor’s robe is my student. In order to have cantors serving at the altar, and perhaps because of an apprehension about myself, it has been carefully avoided that the tbir and the newcomers gather around me. My thirty years of effort have gradually been brushed aside in silence by the prelates and those responsible for the parish.
The role of Father Houssik was essential to the continuity of the Offices these past several years. It was he who convinced me not to resign from my post of master singer some years ago. In fact, he was the only member of the clergy employed by our church capable of performing the Offices completely, as Reverend Father Tashjian retired several years ago. Experience has proven it: in their absence, it has been impossible to perform the Offices.
Nonetheless, the indifference of Bishop Hovhannesian towards the Offices and his total lack of awareness of my function have had the result of discrediting the role of master singer. The result of these years of negligence is catastrophic: maybe you will feel it in the future. Whatever may be, you will see that the glorious images published on social media will not assure the success of your mission, nor will they give competence in their function to the young people wearing the cantor’s robe.
In conclusion, the reason for my decision is simple: with the dismissal of Father Houssik, I have been deprived de facto of my function of master singer, function towards which the apparent disrespect has now been confirmed.
I am thus resigning from this post which I have held since 1990. I am conscious of my share of the responsibility. However I must remind you of yours: because of an unfortunate decision made by the Prelate and the inaction of the Parish Council, this 115th year of our church will mark the end of the tradition of Armenian liturgical chant as it has been perpetuated for more than a century. There was a thread that held it, and I had hopes to revive it one day. That hope has now been buried.
You, the members of the present Parish Council, like your predecessors, have not realized the threat which has weighed upon the future of the rituals. In spite of the short period since your election, you will inevitably be held responsible.
Indifference alone can suffice to allow a patrimony to disappear. However, it is extremely difficult, even impossible, to reestablish it. I know something about this, as it has been my profession, my principle work for many years as musician and musicologist. You may rest assured that I will make certain that this event is recorded in detail in the history of music and of the Armenian diaspora.
Nonetheless, I believe in miracles; they happen sometimes if we are open to them. If ever one occurs, and I am still of this world and still capable, I will do all that I can to reestablish that which today has been destroyed, but my contribution will depend on the conditions which I judge necessary, those established by the tradition of the tbir of which I am an heir.
I wish you clear-sightedness and courage for the continuation of your mission.
Paris, December 4, 2019
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Armenian Modal Chant