The duduk, the Armenian oboe, is a single or double reed wind instrument made of the wood of the apricot tree and has a warm, soft, slightly nasal timbre. The duduk or tsiranapokh, which is alsocalled the apricot tree pipe, belongs to the organological category of areophones, which also includes the balaban played in Azerbaijan and Iran, the duduki common in Georgia and the ney in Turkey.
The soft wood is the ideal material to carve the body of the instrument. The reed, called ghamish or yegheg, is a local plant growing alongside the Arax river. The roots of Armenian duduk music go back to the times of the Armenian king Tigran the Great (95-55 BC). The instrument is depicted in numerous Armenian manuscripts of the Middle Ages.
The duduk accompanies popular Armenian traditional songs and dances of the various regions and is played at social events, such as weddings and funerals. Although there are also famous duduk soloists, among them Gevorg Dabaghyan and Vache Sharafyan, the duduk is mainly played by two musicians. One player creates the musical environment for the lead melody by playing a continual drone that is held by circular breathing, while the other player develops complex melodies and improvisations.
There are four major types of duduk, varying in length from 28 to 40 cm and in sound, ranging from one to fourth or third octaves. Therefore, the sound of the duduk can express various moods depending on the content of the piece and the playing context. The 40-cm long duduk, for example, is regarded as most appropriate for love songs, whereas the smaller one usually accompanies dances. Today, duduk craftsmen continue to create and experiment with different forms of duduks.
Many Armenians consider the duduk as the instrument that most eloquently expresses warmth, joy and the history of their community. Over recent decades, the popularity of Armenian duduk music has decreased, in particular in the rural areas where it originated. At present, most duduk players are concentrated in Yerevan.
The duduk instrument is played less and less in social festivities, but more often by professionals as a staged performance. Duduk music risks losing its viability and traditional character and becoming just another facet of “high culture”.