Sosy Krikorian Kadian (1928-2016)

Far too often whenever we hear that someone has passed away, we automatically look at 13977849_10210385645066530_583560760_o
their age at the time of their death and evaluate their life by how long they actually lived. I think sometimes we do not look at what they did in that lifetime. A few days ago, the Armenian diaspora community lost a person that was both rich in the years of her life and what she contributed within that lifetime. Her name is Sosy Krikorian Kadian, and to me, she was an influential Armenian woman that brought wealth to her community in the form of Armenian art and culture.

I first met Deegeen (Armenian word for Mrs., used as a term of respect) Sosy when I was somewhere between seven and nine years old. Back in the mid-seventies, my family took a yearly trip to Atlantic City for a week of sun, beach, water and a major dose of being an Armenian. Back then, I was there purely for the beach and water and knew little about what it meant to be an Armenian. I have fond memories of these trips and only wish I was a little older to have fully appreciated them. Music and dancing were a big part of the weekend and you would see the likes of oudist George Mgrdichian and the Fabulous Vosbikian Band performing during the week.

14037393_10210385644946527_1315843811_oProbably my fondest memory of those Atlantic City weeks was the year that Deegeen Sosy put me on stage with a group of young Armenian musicians to play tambourine (that she provided) for one of the afternoon jam sessions in the hotel lobby. My mother and Sosy were friends and I am sure sometime throughout the week it was discussed to put me in a coat and tie and stand in the back with the other musicians and play alongside them. I was told to be professional and not joke or fool around on stage. Possibly my mother, knowing what a ham I could be on any stage, felt this would be a wonderful experience for me — she was right, I immediately fell in love with the music. This was an experience I will never forget. I was so proud to be with these musicians and I was encourage by both my mother and Deegeen Sosy. By the way – those musicians I stood with were the second-generation Vosbikians!

14055708_10210385644986528_977050214_nThis is what Deegeen Sosy did – she preserved and passed along the Armenian cultural traditions. It wasn’t about who had or didn’t have talent to her – it was more important that she exposed the younger generations to our rich heritage. She sang, she danced, she wrote and read poetry, she played music. She passed on the traditions to her children and Armenian children around the country. I am forever thankful she did this for me. I would go on to love our music and its traditions and the rest as they say – is history.

It is gratifying to see the out pour of stories and wonderful memories of Deegeen Sosy online as she touched so many lives both directly and indirectly.

Thanks you Deegeen Sosy for all that you did to preserve our rich and vast culture. You took on the role admirably and it is our turn to pick up and continue the traditions where you left off.

All of these beautfiul photos of Sosy were provided by her daughter, Nvair Kadian Beylerian

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165 Belmont Street, Home of the Oud Maker

If you are an Armenian, Greek, Arab or other ethnicity type musician living in the United States and you have played the oud (Middle Eastern lute), the name Peter Kyvelos is someone you know.

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Peter Kyvelos in his shop in Belmont, MA. (photo: National Endowment of the Arts)

Peter is a luthier and by definition a luthier (a French word from the root luth meaning lute) is someone who builds or repairs string instruments generally consisting of a neck and a sound box. This general description doesn’t even begin to capture the artistry of Peter Kyvelos. Simply put – his ouds are some of the finest craftsmanship in the world.

In 1989, Peter received one of the highest honors bestowed onto an artist in the United States – the National Endowment of the Arts Heritage Fellowship, an honor that recognizing an artists excellence and their continuing contribution to their traditional arts heritage.

Over the years, Peter has made close to 200 different ouds. The sound is superior and as any fine oudist will tell you – they can pick out a Kyvelos oud by his distinctive sound, craftsmanship and rosette designs.

Along with his work ouds, Peter has made a career out of making and repairing other stringed instruments, mainly at his shop located in Belmont, Massachusetts.

His shop, after decades of work, recently closed and as his son Nick posted a warm tribute to his father’s store on Facebook:

“After tonight 165 Belmont St will no longer be in our care. It took 7 16ft box trucks to empty out the contents of my dad’s 45 years of work. It may not look like much but this small shop served as a musical instrument store, repair shop, coffee-house, smoke shop, advice place, you name it and dad could/ would do it here. It was and will always be my favorite place! I have been receiving calls and emails lot of old stories about “the shop” all wonderful and make me very happy to see all dad accomplished down there”.

In reading the above quote, I began to reminisce about Peter’s shop and all of the musicians that have stopped at his shop over the many years. I fondly remember the first time I visited Peter’s shop, it was over twenty-five years ago and I was looking for my first kanun and was told Peter had one for sale. My good friend Mal Barsamian took me there and I got to visit the masters workshop and meet Peter for the first time. I remember it like it was yesterday. The shop was amazing. Ouds hanging from the ceiling, violins and other instruments he was repairing. Needless to say, I purchased the kanun and this became my first instrument – which I still have today. You don’t have to be an oud player to respect the work Peter has accomplished over the years.

Kanun mandali

Mandals (metal levers) for a kanun

One day I found out that Peter had even tried his hands at making a kanun. I was starstruck at the thought of having a Kyvelos kanun. For many years, I would tease and “nudge” Peter about when he would make me one. His answer was always “When I find the right mandals, I will do it“. Mandals, or the levers, are the most integral part of a kanun and when I was just starting out to play, I never thought much about it. Over the years, the respect for Peter’s decision grew and it shows you the type of master he is. Sure, he could have made the most ornate, wonderful sounding, long-lasting kanun around – but he recognized that without the perfect set of mandals, the instrument would be worthless and it was not worth ruining the wood craftsmanship if the levers weren’t perfect and the sound wasn’t pristine. That’s Peter, a true professional.

Efcharistó Peter! – for all you have done over the years for all of us. You have made an impact on all of our lives, especially this kanun player.

This video clip features Mal Barsamian performing on one of Peter Kyvelo’s ouds that he made for my brother Keri back in the 1980s. 

 

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One year later, what’s next?

For the Armenians, 2015 was an important year. Notice I didn’t say it was a memorable or a joyous year. It was the year that Armenians from around the world commemorated, remembered, mourned and bonded over the 100th year of the Armenian Genocide. A massacre that has altered every Armenian family around the globe.

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Armenian Genocide memorial in Yerevan, Armenia

It was a year where everyone paid attention to the Genocide, whether they were Armenian or not. The amount of articles, editorials, news/television coverage and public events were overwhelming at times. Even Hollywood celebrities helped acknowledged the Genocide. As an Armenian, I haven’t seen this much attention to us since the earthquake in 1988 that killed over 50,000 and injured a half a million people.

For me, the information was almost overload at times causing a flood of emotions which only intensified as the year moved forward.

Then as quick as the 100th was here, it was gone.

As Father Time struck the midnight bell to enter 2016 – it was as if our “project” rapidly slowed down. I don’t think there is anyone to blame, 101st year is not as appealing to the media as 100th. I understand that, but I don’t want to accept that and I want to know where do we go from here.

Last year saw the collaboration and creation of art in remembrance of the Genocide. These creations will last for decades to come, perhaps forever. However, in order to preserve and recognize history, more should be done in this regard. Lets not wait for another hundred years to see more “collateral” from our creative Armenian community.

I had some difficulty writing this blog as I didn’t want to come across negative as there was so much positive in the 100th year and I simply want the momentum to continue. So I solicited some advice from my good friend and musician Mark Gavoor. I let him read a draft of this blog and he remarked in part “…outlining some positive things we need to do” so that we can build and move forward. He was right, but there was so much I saw, I didn’t know where to begin.

Until this morning.

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Ara Dinkjian with his father Onnik at Times Square this past April 24th commemorating the Armenian Genocide, 101 years later.

In one of my Google Alerts there was an article by the Huffington Post that was titled “101 Years Later. It captured my attention and especially it was focused on another musician friend, Ara Dinkjian and his point of view of the Genocide.

A Void is a short film produced by Raffi Wartanian and his article: What Is Tomorrow? 101 Years After the Armenian Genocide is included in this YouTube video.

Ara acknowledges his freedom as a US citizen, yet through his compositions and performing of folk music and his concerts, allows for him to engage in dialogue about not only the legacy of Armenians, but other minority ethnicities in Turkey.  In commenting about a concert he played in Turkey commemorating the Armenian Genocide last year (the first time allowed in Turkey) “Did the concert have an impact,” he wonders. “We’ll see.”

I think Ara said it best and it is my hope that our worldwide creative community continues to promote and keep alive our history. I also hope that the momentum of over a hundred years of teaching our history, preserving culture never ends and most of all I hope the demand for respect and recognition occurs within my lifetime.

 

5/2/16: In addition to my blog I would like to share my friend Mark’s latest regarding the Genocide and some of the literary compositions that should be sought and read about the subject. CLICK HERE to read his latest blog. 

 

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When did you first discover the arts?

Over a month ago, I was sitting in a board of directors retreat (Creative Many Michigan) when the question was asked of each of us – when did you discover the arts? Such a simplistic question you would think, but for me it gave me pause for several reasons.

As children we all played with arts and crafts. I can recall finger painting was a big thing when I was a child, even to the point that if I were to smell a jar of finger paint, my brain grabs that memory from when I was a child to remind me. However, did I discover the arts back then? Using crayons, listening to music, dancing, acting in plays — when is our big-bang theory as it pertains to art discovery?

Visual-imagination_-Concept-of-small-genius_Copyright-Alphaspirit-ShutterstockFor me, I wouldn’t be able to pin-point the exact day or form in which I discovered art, but I do know I was a child. It involved a multitude of forms of art and culture and I explored many different types growing up. As a musician people ask “how”, “when” “where” as it pertains to ones learning. The answer for me is not as simple. Sure, I can tell you that I listened and watched musicians and they were inspirations to me wanting to play music, but I think the interest in music stemmed from other cultural/art forms.

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As a child, I often pretended to be Charlie Chaplin.

Having an imagination is what I feel is our first discovery of art. As children, we all imagined. Some of us had imaginary friends, others imagined plot lines, stories or other activities that would involve imagination. To be creative is the ability to allow our mind to be open in producing a “something” that can be outwardly projected.

My discovery involved this imagination. In its roughest form, I always pretended I was in an old movie. I love old movies to this day and whenever I would watch the old classic comedy or horror movies, I would often want to imitate them and create my own plot line. As I grew older, how I used this imagination morphed into different arenas, one of them, and most prominently is music.

Ask yourself when you think you first discovered the arts? Give it some thought, you might be amazed and what you remember from childhood.

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Guardians of Music One Year Anniversary

Hard to imagine that exactly one year ago today, my film documentary, Guardians of Music: A History of Armenian Music was released on Detroit Public Television. Like everything else, it seems like it was yesterday.

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My wife, Della seems more proud than I am in this picture. I remember this shot..I was watching the beginning of my film appear on television for the first time!

It was an exciting night, one I hope to never forget. I shared it with my wife and friends and was told that the evening raised more money in one night (for pledges) than it ever had in the past. A remarkable achievement. I felt very proud and I was so happy with creating this piece of history of the Armenian people.

It seems like yesterday I was interviewing musicians Hachig Kazarian, Simon Javizian and Art Melkonian. It seems like yesterday I was editing music, photographs and writing and rewriting narration in order to complete the project.

Many have asked me – whats next? Truly, I am trying to think

about that as well. Producing such a documentary came so easy for me because I knew what I wanted to present and for the most part, how I wanted to present it. It was a subject near and dear to my heart. So what would I do next is hard to say…but I am keeping my options open!

Happy Anniversary Guardians of Music, thank you for helping me help preserve our heritage. 

 

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Does collaboration invent creativity?

Is creativity the sole invention or product of one individual or does collaboration pay an pivotal part in the process?

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The original Pontchartrain Hotel bar

Recently on a local Detroit radio station, reporter John McElroy reminisced about the old Pontchartrain Hotel’s bar located in downtown Detroit. He remarked how the automotive innovators of the time like Henry Ford would frequent the famous “Pontch” bar, not to drink – but to create. Ideas were exchanged.

In 1970, the Detroit News reported “the Pontch was the meeting place for the men who made motors hum—magnates and financiers, crackpots and geniuses, salesmen and go-getters.”

At the end of this news story, McElroy wished there were these same venues today for the great inventors to come together, network, do businesses dealing and most of all – become creative. He said that only true collaboration will spark creativity. It was this last comment that made we think about this blog entry and opened the door to some questions.

Do you agree with McElroy? Can we create better “something” as a team as supposed to on our own? Can an argument could be made for either side? Solo artists such as  Van Gogh, and Picasso, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison worked alone – right? When you delve deeper into an artists life, you will always find that somewhere along the way – they had help.

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Dr. Ernesto Siroli

A friend of mine, Dr. Ernesto Sirolli  has often said that entrepreneurs that were successful never accomplished their goals alone. The example he used – Henry Ford. If it were up to Henry Ford, we may never have seen the Model T vehicle because as an inventor, Ford spent too much time trying to perfect the car. If not for someone on his team telling him to stop and release the vehicle, who knows how history would have been written. Dr. Sirolli makes a great argument for a team effort in creativity and accomplishing great collaborations.

How do you create? What methods work best for you when you are developing a project?

 

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An Eastern Wind Reunion

As many of you know, music is not my full time occupation. I am happy that it is not and very fortunate that it permeates my life in the manner in which it does – when I want it to. The other evening music entered my life again, in form of a small rehearsal for an upcoming gig in Detroit.

Since music isn’t my occupation, my day starts normally very early and after a long day of

Press Photo of Eastern Winds

Ben, Doug, Mark and Ara – members of Eastern Winds

work and coming home, its easy to fall into la-la land from the long hours. (Having a couple of small kids helps you get there faster as well).

Rehearsal was well after the witching-hour for me and I was concerned about dozing off in the middle of a song. I fought to stay awake from the time I got home until the time I would need to go to rehearsal. Ironically, the moment I walked into rehearsal, there was no sign of fatigue. Completely vanished like being injected with a B-12 shot. It was great to see these musicians for a reunion of musicianship and songs we recorded several years ago. Music really can be the chicken soup for the soul.

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The Immigrant Suns

The friends that gathered were Ben Temkow, Doug Shimmin and Djeto Juncaj. These three musicians/friends have performed together for several decades, notably as the world music group The Immigrant Suns. Listen to their music on Spotify, they have been performing and composing world music in Detroit longer than most musicians.  I have had the good fortune to know these musicians for many years and we have played a wide variety of gigs together.

Last night’s rehearsal with Ben, Doug and myself made up for 90% of the group Eastern Winds. Mark Sawasky moved out of Detroit a few years back and certainly is missed. The addition of Djeto was a nice treat and fit in well.  It was great to revisit some songs I haven’t played in a long time like Realities and Erinaki.

The gig we were rehearsing is forthcoming and you can check out more information on Facebook very soon.

Time does fly, we recorded Eastern Winds over ten years ago. Seems like we didn’t miss a beat from those times. In the words of John Belushi, maybe its time to get the band back together.

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