The Genius of Komitas, 150 Years Later

Armenians, worldwide, celebrate a significant birthday this year, for a man named Komitas Vartapet. Known throughout all Armenians and musicians alike, as well as composers, and historical scholars as the ‘Father of Armenian Music’. Following a concert of Komitas’ music in Paris, famed composer Claude Debussy declared that on the basis of a single song, Komitas should be regarded as a great composer. As Armenians, we celebrate his life for a multitude of reasons. As a composer, Komitas’ sacred liturgical music is still performed in most Armenian church services around the globe (see the below link of a complete divine liturgy). He was a collector of folk music, responsible for the collection and transcription of over 3,000 folk songs.

His birth name was Soghomon Soghomonyan and he was born on September 26, 1869 in Anatolia, Turkey, in the town of Koutina.  In 1890, he was ordained Komitas, after an Armenian poet of the 7th century who composed sharakans (Armenian liturgical chant).

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Statue of Komitas from St. John Armenian Church

During the Armenian Genocide of 1915, Komitas was part of the first groups of Armenians collected by the Turkish troops for extermination. His life was eventually spared and Komitas was eventually freed from prison. However, this freedom was short lived as the horrors of the Armenian Genocide haunted Komitas for the remaining years of his life and he succumbed to mental illness and passed away in 1923, in Paris.

Much has been written on Komitas over the years. Books and stories honor his memory and his compositions and the major contributions he made as an Armenian priest to Armenian music.

On October 20, 2019, the Detroit Armenian community paid tribute to Komitas with a program featuring music, dance and reflections on his life.

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Ara with Dr. Sylvia Alajaji

Dr. Sylvia Alajaji, Associate Professor of Music, Department Chair of Music at Franklin & Marshall College and author of Music and the Armenian Diaspora: Searching for Home in Exile presented a keynote at this event.

She provided an inspiring retrospective on Komitas’ life. “He is as present as ever” said Alajaji, referring to the everlasting and continuation of Komitas’ music that is still performed today.

Alajaji continued to describe how Komitas’ music is responsible for connecting the diaspora to Armenia.  “When we play his music, we make a statement. It shows who we are and that we are here”.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has listed Komitas’ birthday in their calendar of anniversaries.

Der Hrant Kevorkian, Pastor of St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church recounted how he sang in a choir as a teenager called Komitas. He was the youngest in the group and sang only Komitas and Ganachian songs. “I learned a lot from that choir because we learned a lot history from the songs” said Kevorkian. “We learned how to pray, how mothers treated their children.”

The Detroit Hamazkayn Arax Dance ensemble along with the AGBU Alex & Marie Manoogian School Chorale performed folk songs comped by Komitas. A special offerings of Komitas’ Groong was performed by Sevana Mailian on oboe with Margaret Lafian accompanying her on piano.

Following a short intermission, a tribute to Komitas’ music an arrangement of songs performed by the nationally known Armenian a cappella group, Zulal.

Read more about Komitas and those involved in the Detroit celebration: 
Virtual Museum of Komitas
Music of Armenia: Komitas
The 100 Years Fact Project
Sylvia Alajai’s book on Armenian Music
Hamazkayin Arax Dance Ensemble

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The Next Generation of Armenian Musicians

A topic of continued discussion has always surrounded the “next generation” when it pertains to industry or when discussing the future of just about anything. Music is no stranger to this conversation as a matter of fact, it is imperative when discussing all forms of historical music. Folk music is the music of the people, handed down by generation to generation. This is the best way for this type of music to survive. We can document and record the music but it needs to be played in order for it to sustain for years to come.

Armenian folk music has been in jeopardy of disappearing for several years. Music that was performed pre-Armenian Genocide and traveled with the survivors, this style of music has a questionable future given that the generation that listened and danced to this style are getting older and passing away. However, it is my opinion that the music has a chance of survival if you have a few important (this shouldn’t come as any great revelation) components in place – musicians that love the music and perform it actively and an audience that wants to hear. Out of these components, I feel we will always have an audience that will appreciate the music. It may be a different audience, but I can tell you that when I perform music to a non-ethnic, non-Armenian crowd – they are appreciative and curious of the music. This audience vary in age. Our bigger issue will involve the musicians preserving the music. Often I am asked “Who else is playing this music?” or “Who is teaching the next generation?” The good news is there are teachers out there that are helping make this music survive and have given their time to teach the music. Armenian musicians such as Ara Dinkjian and Mal Barsamian are just two artists that actively teach students Armenian and Middle Eastern music. There are others out there and I am sure many that I am unaware of that are teaching the next generation this form of music.

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Alek Surenian (dumbeg), Michael Kamalian (clarinet) and Datev Gevorkian (oud)

Over this past Labor Day weekend, I witnessed (joyfully) a small group of young Armenian men that want to play music and be heard. So they set up ( a few) an impromptu “jam” session in the hotel lobby. One amplifier to share between the clarinet and oud and sitting off the side by a wall, playing music. No signs up, no loud sound equipment, dressed casually for the purpose of doing what they enjoy and hoping they can infect others with their passion.

These musicians were Datev Gevorkian from Massachusetts (oud), Michael Kamalian from Wisconsin (clarinet) and Alek Surenian from Illinois (dumbeg). These young Armenians are indicative of the next generation of musicians that want to preserve traditional Armenian and Middle Eastern music and love playing it for anyone that is interested in listening. These musicians should be encouraged to continue our traditions.

So in the spirit of helping promote the next generation of musicians, I wanted to shed a little light on them and allow their voices to be heard as they describe their impressions and importance of the music.

Michael Kamalian: “Growing up watching him (his father, Vahan Kamalian) play oud and listening to his favorite Armenian musicians, I fell in love with the sound of our music. I picked up the dumbeg at four years old and as I got older, I realized that by playing our rich and soulful music, I can keep the Armenian heritage alive”.

Datev Gevorkian: “It is important for me to play this music In order to continue on the culture and eventually pass it down to the next generation. It is also without a doubt very enjoyable”.

Alek Surenian: “Playing Armenian music is important because it allows people to connect. Music is a universal language and can be understood across a wide range of people. I knew from an early age I could play Dumbeg, and it didn’t occur to me until I was a teenager that creating music is a special skill which I shouldn’t take for granted”.

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The Sarkissian Brothers: Mike & Buddy

Recently on Facebook, someone posted the asked the question to readers to mention the name of a Middle Eastern musician ‘gone but not forgotten’. As Facebook inquiries go, this was actually interesting to see all the names generated in this long list. Names such as Udi Hrant Kenkulian, Chick Ganimian, George Mgrdichigan and others seem to dominate the list. Great musicians indeed and will always be remembered for their talents and contributions to music. This laundry list of names led me to think about two other musicians that didn’t seem to dominate the minds of the readers, making me wonder why they are sometimes overlooked. You dont read much about their past anymore, but their discography is alive and readily available online.

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Mike & Buddy in 1952

Mike and Buddy Sarkisian were icons in the Armenian and Middle Eastern music world from the early 1950s through the mid-1990s. They extensively recorded albums and performed throughout the country and abroad.

Mike, the older of the two brothers, was an entertainer and singer that managed different nightclubs in the New England (northeast corner of the USA) area featuring some of the most iconic musicians of Middle Eastern music of that era that included Udi Hrant and Marko Melkon. He loved an audience. As Armenian musician and professor Leon Janikian once wrote about Mike “…his on stage persona reveals very little of the man”. He was a very talented man and great visual artist as well. Many years ago, Mike sent me some music and on the outside of the envelope he hand drew a beautiful picture (in multiple colors) of the sun setting behind Mt. Ararat. I still have that envelope to this day.

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Mike in the mid-1960s. 

Mike was born in 1921 in Lowell, Massachusetts. He was described by the Boston Globe in his obituary as “A slim man with slicked-back hair and a pencil-thin mustache”. He first learned the traditional Armenian folks from his mother, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. As a matter of fact, Mike was known for his rendition of “Gamavor Zinvor“, which is a folk song honoring Armenian volunteers who fought under the French against Turkish forces during World War I.

Camp Ararat 9_9_52From the 1930-1940s, Mike was a hair stylist until enlisted into the Army during World War II. He was an aerial photographer until he was transferred to the Air Force Band and became a drummer. He even auditioned to be part of Gene Krupa’s band. He passed the audition and went on to perform backup for Bob Hope, Jerry Colonna, and other entertainers on USO tours.

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Kef Time Band (left: Jack, Hachig, Richard and Buddy)

Buddy’s on stage persona was a bit different from his older brother. He didn’t sing but as a percussionist – you knew he was on stage. He loved playing music and it showed all the time. He was responsible for assembling together the iconic Kef Time Band that performed in Las Vegas for several years which would go on to become one of the most popular kef (party) bands to perform at Armenian functions throughout the country. The personnel of the band changed from time to time, but the well known combination was Richard Hagopian, Hachig Kazarian, Jack Chalikian and Manny Petro. “Thru a mutual friend, Buddy called and asked if he could come and possibly talk about hiring me in his Las Vegas show. I said yes. He came and after a short visit, I decided to take the job. It was only for 8 weeks, so I figured it was no big deal, and I could return home. After the first 8 weeks, our contract was extended for 8 more weeks. The original Cleopatra Revue broke a record on the strip for going 13 straight months without a break. No other show on the Vegas strip had done that” said oudist Richard Hagopian.

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Buddy, Mike and Dick Shatanian

Buddy’s set up was usually alway the same when performing later in life – dumbeg between his legs, a small bongo set in front of him and a conga style drum to his side.  His drum set up eventually became his trademark on stage.

Buddy was born in 1925 in Lowell, Massachusetts. His musical career started in 1941 when he was playing a drum set with his brother Mike in the Airforce at the beginning of World War II. A few years later his started playing dumbek with a variety of Armenian musicians. In 1950, started to play the nightclub circuit in the New England area including Flamingo, Morocco, and Middle Eastern Bombshell.

Cafe Baghdad Promo.jpegIn 1953, Buddy recorded his first album with the famous Arabic oud player, Mohammed El Bakkar along with several 78rpm recordings. A year later Buddy and Mike would open their own nightclub called the Tamba Club. One of the most popular Middle Eastern/belly dance nightclubs in Massachusetts, packed every weekend.

Mike and Buddy headlined in several hotels and casinos in the 1960s, for many years they were featured at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. They recorded several LP albums and performed with a wide array of musicians throughout their long career. Both brothers retired from playing music full time and had various jobs, always keeping music in the forefront as it was always in their blood.

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Buddy Sarkissian and His Mecca Four in the 1960s. 

They loved the music, they loved the fun.

As mentioned earlier, it seems we don’t hear about them as much as other performers that are no longer with us. This should not diminish their value and contribution they made to the music world. To me, both brothers were the definition of “kef” and embodied what we feel when we hear and play this music. I felt that they were inclusive musicians, wanting as many people to be part of the fun they were having – whether or not you were a musician. Sure, if you were a musician, they treated you like a brother. They embraced musicians and encouraged the younger generations. I know this first hands, as I was one of them.

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Buddy with Richard Hagopian in a photo to promote the Kef Time Band.

Mike and Buddy embraced me as a musician when I was first starting to play and as frequent the Kef Time Hartford music weekend in Connecticut during the early 1990s.  They would let me come on stage with them and encouraged me to enjoy the music and play with them, whether it was drum or tambourine. When I started to play kanun professionally, I had the opportunity to perform at Kef Time. Both brothers continued their encouragements. When the gig was over, both would say “come up to our suite, we will continue to have some kef!” These parties were always interesting as to who would drop by and would make for fun stories for years to follow. Sometimes I felt like the little kid getting to hang out with my parents friends at a house party.

Mike and Buddy, their memory and music lives on.

Special thanks to Mal Barsamian, Richard Hagopian, Leon Janikian, Joe Kouyoumjian, and Meletios Pouluopolos for contributing to this story.  

 

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A Musical Refuge for Ronnie Malley

In September, 2018, I had an opportunity to attend ArtsMidwest in Indianapolis. This was a large conference that featured different arts organizations, councils and artists from around the Midwest. As I was scanning the big expo hall filled with different artists and companies showing what they do for the potential of being hired, I couldn’t help but think how this was the perfect venue to promote world music. As I was half way through this hall I came upon Ronnie Malley, an exceptional world music artist that specializes performing the oud. We knew each other, but only through other musician friends and from watching each others videos online. We made such a great connection, it felt as if we were friends for several years.

Ronnie HI RES PIC 2Oudist Ronnie Malley has been playing music since he was a young child. His influence is no doubt due to his father playing Middle Eastern music. He had a group called Golden Nights Band and Ronnie used to enjoy watching his dad and his friends on stage entertaining audiences.  So it should come to no surprise that at a young age Ronnie would be interested and influenced by his father to play music. His father formed a band that consisted of Ronnie and his brother.  Throughout the public school system, Ronnie performed percussion but at the age of nine, he started to take guitar lessons. It was natural for Ronnie, as a percussionist and guitarist to want to play rock n’ roll music, but his father wanted to make sure his son expanded his horizon on music and focused on Middle Eastern and North African traditional music. This important time in Ronnie’s musical exposure with his father helped him appreciate the music of Arab, Armenian, Assyrian, Indian, North African, Greek, and Turkish music. “I saw a place in music to pour my passion and angst. It really became an obsession learning songs, especially songs of my heritage” said Malley.

When Ronnie was a teenager, his father insisted that he pick up the keyboard as it would give their ensemble a competitive advantage in the market of performing Middle Eastern music in the community. However, this wasn’t satisfying to Ronnie and when he turned 16, the oud became his main instrument in his life. “I felt weird playing Mid-Eastern music on instruments made in Japan and felt like I had to take up an instrument from my heritage”.

Ronnie an brother Billy w.Tony Hanna

In 1992, Ronnie with his brother and  famous Lebanese singer Tony Hanna after playing a show together.

Through his father and his father’s band, Ronnie learned invaluable lessons surrounding the modal system of Middle Eastern music. Makams, are sets of complex scales utilized in performing traditional Middle Eastern music. Trying to get a teenager that was listening to heavy metal rock in large amounts and at high large volume to appreciate the artistic traditions of Arabic music took a patient father. Ronnie recalls being allowed to play a cassette of heavy metal music in the car while riding with his dad. His dad listened to the entire album and appreciative of the fact that his son was a music enthusiast of any kind. However, when this heavy metal album was done, he put in a recording consisting of Abdel Halim Hafez, a legendary Egyptian singer, movie star and composer. Ronnie vividly recalls the song he heard was Mawood, and he was hooked to the music! “I remember hearing Omar Khorshid on guitar in the mix of a string orchestra, organ, qanoun, nay, and other Middle Eastern instruments. I wanted to consume anything and everything Egyptian and Levantine”.

My second meaningful musical experience happened five years later after hearing Abdel Halim Hafez. Serendipitously, it was a gig with Magdi Husseini, the keyboardist featured on Abdel Halim and Om Kalthoum’s albums. I was over the moon to think I was going to play with a legend who I listened to, and whose name I heard mentioned by Abdel Halim on live recordings. When the time can for the gig, the song he picked to feature was Mawood, the same piece that was my intro to Mid-Eastern music. During the concert, I played the guitar solo featured in the song and Magdi turned to me on stage and said, “Uh! Ya Ronnie Khorshid!” It was definitely a confidence boosting moment”.

Playing music can be compared to having a religious experience for Ronnie. “Music has long been a refuge for me from idleness and an outlet for my obsession with problem solving. Sometimes I wouldn’t leave my room for eight hours until I had down a piece of music I was working on. That practice paid off in the corporate world as well. It helped me learn to pay close attention to detail, be exacting, and learn how to pick up on patterns – skills useful in any profession. Today, I truly believe music is a way to speak in the absence of words. It is a spiritual practice that can bring people together and move them in ways that sometimes words cannot. I know every time I hit the stage, even as a kid, it was like a pulpit that had me sailing through the heavens”.

Preserving music has an important meaning to Ronnie and it speaks to his identity. “It helps us understand who we are, which can help us better explain to others who we are as well. Music and the arts in different global cultures are like their respective cuisines, they offer flavor, color, and can serve as a portal for learning about the richness of societies that can sometimes be ‘otherized.'”

Ronnie is again reminded of the contribution his father and his musicians made in shaping his philosophies and appreciation of music and life. “If it weren’t for my dad and his community of musical friends encouraging us to learn music, especially the music of my heritage, I wouldn’t be fluent in Arabic, I wouldn’t have played at Arab Christian churches (I grew up Muslim) to know the vastly diverse Mid-Eastern societies of various backgrounds and faiths, and more importantly, I wouldn’t have been as confident in my identity – Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab”.

Ronnie_Jungle BookNo matter what you do in life, make sure you keep music as a part of it. Success is really determined on how much time one puts in. That includes time for practice, performing, and playing with others who are better than you because they will push to make you better. There are so many ways to work in the field of music, more than I imagined ever doing. I’ve had the opportunity to work as a studio session musician, composer for film and theater, accompanist, sound designer, theatrical performer, educator, and more. But even if one’s aspirations don’t take them into the professional world of music, it still has immense benefits. Music and art have an influence on a great deal of our cognition: how we speak, how we view the world, how we understand collaboration, attention to details, and having integrity in what we do. Art should never be viewed as an extra-curricular aspect to one’s life, but rather as an essential component to help with academic development, spiritual growth, and well-being.

Ronnie is a working musician with a diverse list of credits to his name. Most notably has been as a musician and consultant on Disney’s The Jungle Book (Goodman Theater, Huntington Theater).

In 2007, Ronnie, along with some fellow musicians, formed Intercultural Music Production which is a cultural arts organization committed to empowering a global community through performance, education, and production. Working with Middle Eastern and World Music artists, this organization has worked with children in the Chicago, Illinois and suburban school districts, local and national colleges and universities, consulates, intercultural/interfaith groups, as well as with international arts organizations and artists.

For more information about Ronnie and his music, please visit his website.

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Harry Bedrossian: Euphoric Oud Ride

If you have ever met musician Harry Bedrossian I think one of the first things you would say about him is that he loves life, doesn’t take himself too seriously (as none of us should) and is an excellent musician. One of his passions that definitely fulfills his life is playing and appreciating music, specifically Middle Eastern music.

“I believe that feeling of euphoria whenever I perform our music…” said Bedrossian.

HB3Harry started playing music at the age of 9 on the piano , eventually becoming classically trained. Growing up, The Beatles dominated the rock music scene and everyone that wanted to be in a band were either consumed by playing guitar or drums. Harry was no different growing up and wanted to play guitar, but the piano was the instrument of choice by his parents. This would have a lasting affect on Harry’s musical career.

When he turned 14, Harry was already listening to some of the great jazz musicians including pianist Oscar Peterson and his classical training turned to jazz despite some mild angst it caused his parents. “They were of the generation that felt jazz wasn’t legitimate music like classical music. They associated jazz with night clubs so instead my dad buys me an oud figuring it was close enough to a guitar to pacify me”. said Bedrossian. This was a gift Harry received from his father at Christmas that year. Little did Harry’s father realize the irony of giving Harry an oud and how this would not deter his son from heading towards the nightclubs in the future.

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Harry’s first LP recording from 1978.

As different generations of Armenians sought out music, each of those classes of artists had a circle of  “masters” that they hail from when talking about how they learned their craft. In Harry’s generation, many of those younger musicians were influenced by John Berberian, one of the most prominent oud players of Armenian music. Harry’s father would drive him from Rhode Island to New Jersey in order for his son to receive lessons. “I was so obsessed with his playing, interpretation of the music and tonality that I eventually became his student”.

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Harry surrounded by some of his Armenian musical mentors (Left to right, Harry Minassian, John Berberian, Harry, Joe Kouyoumjian)

Harry began to perform at local nightclubs in 1973. The first club he performed in was the famous Seventh Veil (located in Providence, RI) with fellow musicians George Righellis and Charlie Dermenjian.  He was filling in for Armenian oudist Harry Minassian. A year later, he got his first full time nightclub job at Christophers Restaurant.

Just as important as the oud is to his musical journey, the keyboard and vocal talents played an equal role. A unique combination for an Armenian musician that performs traditional and contemporary Middle Eastern music to play both oud and keyboard in the way Harry does.

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Harry performing at a nightclub setting called The Loading Dock in the Boston area.

During his musical career, Harry was fortunate to meet many other great musical artists. One of the highlights in his career was meeting jazz pianist Dave McKenna, known for his solo performances and ability to perform a “three-handed swing” style of jazz. Harry met him while in college at a jazz workshop.  “I would follow him around to the various clubs and get there early so he could sit with me and give me pointers”.

However it wasn’t until he started to perform as a Middle Eastern musician that his musical career soared. He began working at the Averof Restaurant (Cambridge, Massachusetts) in 1981 performing for the famous Arabic vocalist George Abdo. This was a journey that would have him performing on stage with other great artists five nights a week for 14 years. “I had the opportunity to work with legends of this music such as Fred Elias, Mitchell Kaltsunas, Paul BagdalianGiannis Tatasopoulos, Ernie Kamanis and so many more. When you work with giants like these you realize that your journey of learning never ends”.

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Joe Kouyoumjian on oud with Harry.

These musical influences also include Joe Kouyoumjian who he calls a mentor and says provided “an amazing insight from an entertaining and business perspective that often keeps me on top of my game when performing”.  The other mentor is Raymond Bandar, owner of the Averof restaurant. “I believe that my success in corporate America is due to using his principles of client engagement and treating his customers as family. He gave me the opportunity to truly spread my musical wings beyond what I thought was ever feasible and allowed me to have such great musical friends and mentors that I work with today”.

“Preserving our music is preserving our culture, memories, history, spirit our families” said Bedrossian.

“The stories and emotions that depict our history can be felt in every song. Our music is the most sensual, soulful, exotic, philosophical, complex, historical, deep rooted, painful, tear-jerking, uplifting of any music”.

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A Siblings Plea: Remembering 104 Years Later

“I am looking for my sisters, Veronica Moonjian and Satenig Yacoubian, from Kharpert, Mezreh. Could those from Gaban Maden have word? Do any Armenians know where my sister’s children Arantsar and Vshnasp Moonjian are? Please reprint this in any Diasporan newspapers.”

ay-e1556067268506.jpgThis was a plea from a man separated by a Genocide that systematically eliminated over a million and a half Armenians by order of the Turkish Ottoman Empire toward the end of World War I. This man took out an advertisement in one of the Armenian newspapers searching for his loved ones four years after a date that would change his life forever.

On this day, April 24, 1915, the first abduction of hundreds of Armenian intellectuals took place by the Turks. The Armenians were arrested and swiftly executed. Soon to follow were death marches: men, women and children forced from their homes to march for days without food or water. Toward their impending death women were raped, children were thrown off of cliffs or drowned, innocent Armenians — all murdered because of their religion.

58444928_2321178734821248_1304946944405143552_nIt’s the anguish of this man who spent years searching for his loved ones and escaping the Armenian Genocide in hopes that one day he would be reunited with his sisters.

That man, was my grandfather, Ardash Yacoubian.

I can’t even begin to imagine being separated from my parents or siblings for that many years only to find out that many of them were killed. In my grandfather’s case, his only sister, Satenig returned a few years later.

Today marks the 104th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Although, as Armenians we only commemorate this tragic day in our history on April 24th, we acknowledge it each and every day. All of us, including my family, were touched by the ravages of the Armenian Genocide.

There is much written on the Armenian Genocide and I hope you will share this message and the links below and educate others about this dark chapter in Armenian history.

Armenian Genocide in New York Times
Armenian National Institute
The History Channel
The Armenian Genocide (PBS Documentary)
The Armenian Genocide: The Great War (YouTube)
The Armenian Journey (YouTube)

 

Many thanks to my cousin John Yacobian for sharing this advertisement with me which inspired me to write this short piece. John has been collecting our family ancestry information for several years. Thank you John!

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A Savior of Greek Music

It goes without saying that Meletios (Meleti) Pouliopoulos loves and respects his Greek music and heritage.

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One of many house parties in Meleti’s house. This photo is from 1969. 

Growing up in a household where music surrounded him, Meleti fondly remembers how his parents would sing and dance in their house. He remembers that his mother used to sing Rita Abatzi’s, Xanthi Evraiopoula (The blond Jewish girl) which was in Greek and Ladino. Back in the 1960s, they would host house parties and everyone enjoyed singing and dancing to Greek music. “They exposed me to a full range of music, and their singing brought the traditions to life” said Pouliopoulos.

It was during his childhood days he was exposed to Greek music and traditional Greek dancing styles such as Kalamatiana, Tsamika, and Epirotika.”When I was growing up in the 1960s, there was Greek music everywhere. We would always sing and dance in the house, and the record player was the centerpiece of our home”.

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Meleti with a Classical guitar at his home in Manchester, NH, 1976.

Eventually, Meleti would study music as a child, first playing the viola in the 4th grade that would lead him into playing mandolin and guitar for several years. Growing up, he regularly attended the St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Manchester, NH. It was there he joined the choir. “I would be listening to a Byzantine hymn, and would be drumming out a Tsamiko – somehow it morphed that way”.

As Meleti got older, not only did his passion for Greek music increase, but he saw the need to preserve his culture. “Our traditions are going up in flaming cheese” says Meleti.

Music is the core of any ancestry has vast historical implications if they are lost, which we have experienced in many cultures throughout Europe and the Middle East. Meleti saw the need to contribute and draw more attention to the preservation of Greek history.

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Rita Abadzi, a Greek Rembetiko singer that started her singing career in the early 1930s. 

In 2006, Meleti founded Greek Cultural Resources, a non-profit organization whose mission is to obtain, document, preserve, archive, promote, and provide access to recordings of Greek music and relevant traditions, as well as related publications, manuscripts, images, interviews, and film/video footage for the benefit of musicians, folk dance troupes, teaching institutions, scholars, performers, collectors, and the general public.document Greek Music and related traditions.

“I was concerned that the older music that I grew up with was not being re-released on CD, and wanted to figure out a path for preservation. In my love for my heritage, I wanted to find the songs that my family sang to see if they were recorded – and to also understand what they meant”.

He began to document the music by all means possible. Whether it was newspaper articles, catalogs, photographs, sheet music and ephemera. This included interviewing musicians or those connected to music that would help preserve the story of traditional Greek music. “One thing was very clear to me – that a lot of our music and history was lost, and it was not being preserved by the libraries and traditional institutions”.

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Meleti sorting 45rpm records in Stratham, NH

Since its inception, Greek Cultural Resources has been a resource for musicians as well as students doing thesis work surrounding Greek music. Meleti wants to right the wrong that is available on the internet about Greek music and he is collecting every means necessary to provide accurate information about the music he loves. Whether it is a radio commercial or newspaper advertisement, they help to unlock the clues that will preserve history. Currently the archive includes thousands of phonographs, audio and video recordings. It is hard to believe that the good work Meleti has done through his nonprofit organization has been self-funded for over twelve years. In November, 2018, Meleti partnered with Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. to fund raise so that he can continue to preserve his culture.

“The vision of Greek Cultural Resources is to become the premier archive of Greek
music and related traditions. In three years, I hope that we will have enough
support to have a building to house and process the collection, and to have a public
space for people to do research and lectures, and to learn about the lost history of
Greek music and culture” said Meleti.

It is Meleti’s desire and dream that the younger Greek generation learn and appreciate the music and culture of their grandparents and great grandparents. Meleti is concerned that the younger Greek generation, as they become leaders in the community and occupy jobs at various Greek societies and foundations, they wont know the rich history of their ancestries. “What they fail to understand is that music is an important part
of our heritage, and that traditions have been historically conveyed by music from
generation to generation”.

Under the category of “Did you know?”

  • The first commercial recordings of Greek music were made in America in 1896. There were eight songs that were recorded then – some we believe were from Asia Minor, judging from the titles. Unfortunately, all of those with the exception of one have been lost. The one left from 1896 of has not being digitized and is held in a collection that is not available to the public.
  • The first Greek talking motion picture was produced in America in 1930, and was shown for one night inNew York. Over 1600 people flooded the Earl Carroll Theatre on 7th Avenue for one screening, and after that the film was lost. There were two songs that came out of the film which were put to record.
  • One of the most exiting finds is the resurfacing of a film made in 1963 in New York’s Greektown. The film entitled, “Bouzoukee” is the earliest footage to date of the inside of the Egyptian Gardens nightclub, and features a multi-ethnic band, belly dancers, and original music by George Mgrdichian. It was produced by a friend of Meleti, Bill Bouris, and was directed by Eugene Marner. The master was unfortunately destroyed, but we were able to transfer a 35mm celluloid. There is a lot of history packed in this short film, and we hope to show it this year as part of the 2019 Greek film festival.

Meleti Pouliopoulos can be contacted at Meletios@GreekCulturalResources.org  For more information on Greek Cultural Resources, and to make a donation to support the preservation work, please visit: http://www.GreekCulturalResources.org

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