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Mаry Mamyan

Armenian Female Saxophonist: "On Stage with the Saxophone, I'm a Bit Stronger"

Liana Osipyan began playing the shvi (traditional Armenian fipple flute), then the flute, before finally settling on the saxophone as her instrument of choice. Though she teaches all three instruments to school-age children, she prefers the saxophone as she identifies most strongly with it, feeling the instrument speaks to her heart. 

Liana decided to learn to play the shvi when she first heard it being played at a concert when she was 6 years old. Her mother, who has been a teacher of the qanun for 25 years, was initially surprised as mainly boys prefer to learn to play the shvi, but she welcomed her daughter's decision. Liana excelled in music at school and this prompted her to choose to become a musician. During her teenage years, she begins to play the flute. Some time later, when she mastered both instruments, she felt the need to learn to play a new instrument. The third instrument was the saxophone, which she has been playing for 6 years. Liana recalls how her love for this instrument grew by listening to Dutch saxophonist Candy Dulfer.

"How I moved onto the saxophone, I don't know. I simply realized that the saxophone's sound and timbre match with me, my internal world," says Liana. "I liken my character to the saxophone. And currently the saxophone is the [instrument] closest to my heart."

Liana says both she and the saxophone are "emotional figures." The saxophone is an instrument that represents different musical genres, and Liana's character is also changeable. Both can be gentle and emotive, while at the same time powerful and dramatic. "The saxophone gives me great power and energy. I'm surprised why I discovered it so late," she says. "I should've begun playing the saxophone sooner."

Liana's friends and family supported her choice to play the saxophone. But she often hears that brass instruments are advisable for boys, since they're mainly heavy instruments — not to mention the difficulties in breathing and playing. She confesses that the saxophone is not an easy instrument, but it has such a unique appearance, and specific timbre and tones that no other instrument has. 

The saxophonist is convinced that her instrument breathes. "You simply have to be able to reveal the instrument," she says. "If the saxophone talked, it would say, I love you too."

Liana doesn't like it when they say "the girl who plays the saxophone" or "wow, a girl is playing the saxophone" but prefers that praised first of all is the music she plays. 

Since there aren't many girls who play the saxophone in Armenia, Liana often gets offers to play at various venues; however, she is forced to refuse many of these offers because she's too busy. 

Currently, Liana teaches shvi, flute, and saxophone classes at No. 17 Art School Named After Barsegh Kanachyan. Just as in her childhood, so too now the majority of students of these instruments are boys. But Liana is happy to note that one of her female students takes saxophone lessons and wants to continue on this path. 

Liana also plays the saxophone in the band DixieLAND (Artistic Director Vardan Sardaryan), where she is the youngest member."When good male musicians play next to you in a band, you no longer think you're a girl and that you have to play worse than them," she says. "On the contrary, you constantly strive to reach a higher level of performance."

Liana laughingly recalls during one practice session when she played an Armenian melody and everyone burst out laughing because members of the band were unaccustomed to hearing Armenian music played on the saxophone. Liana, however, is convinced that a musician should be able to play any style and genre of music. 

"When during a concert I go up on stage with the saxophone, I feel great: those are moments of happiness," she says, smiling. "On stage with the saxophone, I'm a bit stronger."

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