The Chicken: an Introduction to Armenian Music

Chickens are one of man’s oldest friends. Both humans and chickens are among the most widespread species on earth and we probably couldn’t have done it without each other. We nurture their young and protect them from the wild, in return for food and even companionship. But if you ask a child what he thinks of when you say “chicken”, he will probably answer: “eggs”. And in many cultures, the egg is a symbol of renewal.

Jesus Himself uses the image of a chicken in his powerful rebuke to the culture of his times. Jesus evokes the image of a hen protecting her chicks as a metaphor for God’s concern for his children. There are many moments like this in the Gospels, moments in which a quiet, sincere reading can momentarily part the veil and give you a glimpse of the eternal, but this is one of the most poignant. Matthew records Jesus’ strong words thus:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!
How often I wanted to gather your children together,
the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,
and you were unwilling.” (Matthew 23:37)

All of this probably played a role in the composition of the song we are about to hear. The Armenian monk Gregory of Narek (circa 945 – 1011 AD), used the chicken as the grounding metaphor for a hymn about the resurrection of Christ. This song is a tagh (տաղ), an important Armenian music genre. A tagh is usually monodic. This derives from two Greek words you already know: μονος (monos: one, single) and ωδη (ode, song). If a piece of music is monodic it has just one melodic line, which is sung by one voice or, if more than one, voices in strict unison. If you want to explore Armenian music, there is no better place to start than the taghs and sharakans of Saint Gregory.

Text of the Poem

The poem itself draws on both the Old and New Testament. It is an extremely dense text that references the Shunnamite woman (famous for her hospitality to a prophet) and the Last Supper.

Հաւուն հաւուն արթնացեալ,
Դիտելով զհեթանոսս՝
Ձայնէր, ձայնէր տատրակին՝
Սիրասնունդ սիրելւոյն։

Դարձիր դարձիր, սոմնացիդ,
Ընդ վիմին հովանեաւ։
Ե՛կ, հարսնուհիդ ի լերանց ընձուց,
Ի դաշտաց այծեմանց։

Եկեալ եկեալ տաւաղին
յԵփրայիմ Բեթելին։
Ելեալ ելեալ յասպարէզս
Ի յայգին Կեդրոնի։

Հնձան կոխելով
Գոյն ի գոյն բոսորի։
Արկեալ փայտ ի հաց,
Զզենլիս իւր զենեալ։

Խառնել ի գինի
Զխառնելիս անուշից։
Բաժակ մատուցաւ
Ի հրաւէր հարսանեաց։

Հրաւէր հարսանեաց,
Եկայք, նոր ժողովուրդք,
Կերայք յիմ հացէս
Եւ արբէք զիմ գինիս։
Զի կեցջիք յանսպառ
Յանվախճան յաւիտեանս։

Bird, the Bird, awaken,
Looking at the gentiles,
The turtle-dove was calling, calling
His tender Beloved.

Return, return, O Shunnamite,
To the shadow of the rock.
Come from the mountains of leopards, O Bride,
From the fields of harts.

They are coming, coming, gathering
At Ephraim’s palace, Bethel.
They are going out,
To the Garden of Kedron.

He trod grapes
in the colour of  blood,
Wood was placed in His bread.

He mingled in wine
Sweet libations.
A cup was offered
To invite to the wedding.

Come to the wedding feast,
Come, new people,
Eat of My bread
And drink My wine,
That you may live in inexhaustible,
Endless ages.

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