What time are you creative?

Recently, I saw an article headline which immediately grabbed my attention.

The Quiet Joys of the Very, Very Early Morning Club. It was written by Jason Gay and published in the Wall Street Journal. When I opened the article, I was expecting a real in-depth look at statistics and other mental wellness for getting up early, but it was more of a humorous (and pretty relatable) perspective of Mr. Gay’s (a sports columnist for Wall Street Journal) writing habits. It is definitely worth the read, especially if you can identify with the notion of getting up early in the morning and how that could be the most productive part of the day. 

For me, his anecdotes were fitting. I have been part of the early morning club for several years and know of several friends that operate and thrive the same way, including my wife – who gets up now even earlier then me.

Getting up early has been a way of life for most of my professional life. We all experienced sleeping in late as teenagers and now if I wake up past 8am on a Saturday I feel like I have overslept and half of my day is wasted. Funny what getting old does to ones brain!

Getting up when it is still dark out is when my mind seems to be at its clearest. It is quiet in the house and after a (hopefully) good nights sleep and a little jolt of caffeine, I seem to get the creative juices flowing. My ideas for blogs come to me most of the time first thing in the morning and I am able to compartmentalize my thoughts for my day job activities at this time. If I know that I have a lot to catch up on, the alarm is set for 4am and by 7am, I feel like I have put in a full day and got a lot done. 

Like Mr. Gay’s article, this does come with drawbacks. He indicates his brain is “fried” by mid-afternoon and especially in a almost post-Covid era where we are working from home, I cant look at my computer come late afternoon without a long break. 

Another component that works with the early morning club is interment fasting. Now, I would be the last person to talk about dieting and such, but I must say that the combo of fasting and early morning working (I walk on my treadmill between 1 and 2 miles each morning) seems to work great for me – creatively speaking. Food can certainly create the sleepy environment so I have found that this combination keeps my mind sharp. It is amazing how the brain works

Are you an early bird or night owl?

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Guardians of Music: History of Armenian Music in Detroit NOW ON AMAZON

In 2015 which marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I released a film documentary. Guardians of Music: History of Armenian Music in Detroit followed the journey of Detroit Armenian musicians that were children of Armenian Genocide survivors and continued the tradition of performing Armenian folk music and creating a sense of community for the Armenian people.

This film featured rare photos and film clips of musicians and bands that entertained Armenian audiences in the metro Detroit area for decades.

Now, I am happy to announce that my film is available on Amazon.

If you haven’t seen this film, I would hope that you would give it a try and rent it or buy it on Amazon for a fraction of the cost it took to produce. This was a labor of love and the message of perpetuating the story of Armenian music and the musicians that allowed the music to live on even after a horrific Genocide continues to be a focal point whenever I am performing for live audiences.

If you have seen the film and would be so kind as to give it a favorable review, that is also appreciative!

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Michigan State University: Creativity in the Time of Covid-19

In this blog I have often discussed how the pandemic affected Michigan artists. The ability to adjust to an environment that disabled the ability to perform in front of a live audience, to be able to see instant gratification for their efforts.

Recently, I was contacted by a group within Michigan State University that is working on a a project on creativity during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here is a brief video describing the project:

They are collecting creative work people have been making throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly creative pieces that encourage new conversations, activism, and creativity around the racial and social injustices revealed by the pandemic. Everyone who submits a creative piece and agrees to be included will:

  • Have their creative work and connected stories documented and included in a major online collection, and have the option to share them with wider audiences
  • Contribute to history by preserving crucial moments and memories from COVID-19 for themselves and future generations
  • Help ensure that diverse peoples, experiences, and communities are represented in our collective stories about the pandemic

They welcome everyone, from first time creators to experienced professional artists, to share their artwork. They also welcome all forms of expression. Creativity can be defined in many ways, and we are interested in anything you have used to help understand, process, and communicate your individual experience of the pandemic, including but not limited to:

  • Painting
  • Pottery
  • Sculpture
  • Protest art
  • Traditional Arts
  • Basket making
  • Fiber arts
  • Poetry
  • Wood working
  • Comics
  • Photography
  • Cooking
  • Building
  • Gardening
  • Making music Dancing

And, other everyday activities that have become meaningful during the pandemic.

Everything submitted will be showcased in an online archive and considered for inclusion in our physical exhibitions.

You can help by responding to the call for artists attached in the link below and by sharing this link throughout your networks. The following link will close: May 2022.

Link: https://tinyurl.com/CreativityInTheTimeOfCovid19

This project is funded by the Mellon Foundation “Just Futures” initiative. If you would like assistance distributing the call for artists, reach out to our Graduate Project Coordinators, Mitch Carr and Soohyun Cho, at creativityandcovid@gmail.com.

Visit the Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition Lab website for more information.

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March is Arts Advocacy Month

“The arts create connection, community, belonging, and joy. In the worst of times, the arts create all of that and more—and most of all, the arts create hope” from the American for the Arts website.

As a council member of Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs (MACC) I recently had the opportunity to share some brief personal thoughts on the importance of advocacy in the arts sector as March has been designated as Arts Advocacy month in Michigan.

In years past, becoming involved in public policy issues was not much of a priority to me. I felt that it is meant for a certain type of individual to pursue those efforts and it was low on my radar screen. However, I have seen the light in recent years! Not only for the work that I do with my day job as an association leader, but what is needed in the arts community. Everyone needs to have a voice, it is important and I have learned more times than not, that policy makers are not as informed on these subjects as you would think and that is why outreach is vital. Now, I think the responsibility of outreach to policy makers relies on us in order to inform and educate — hence, I wanted to pen this short article.

Over a year ago, the Cultural Advocacy Network of Michigan (CAN) was formed in answer to a need to have a concentrated effort (along with the cultural organizations around the state) to lead in being a voice of influence to all levels of government about the importance of arts and culture. Some of the important wins from CAN (in 2021) centered around advocating for an additional $1.5M increase in funding for MACC.

Michiganders, such as myself, have deep roots in our state and love to live here for a myriad of reasons. How often do we think about the importance arts & culture have within our communities?

Part of my professional background is in economic development. For several years I was directing business attraction and retention for a major suburban city. I can honestly say that back then, we didn’t talk much about ‘sense of place’ or how the arts community is a job creator and the economic impact it has on a particular city. What we sold were the same things most municipalities were promoting – safety, beauty, schools, etc. It is comforting to know there has been a bit of a switch in attitude on what else makes a community. However, the job is far from done.

Communities need to be more informed to the arts identities they have in their community. For example, I have been active with the City of Farmington Hills for several years. The city recently had the foresight to purchase an older high school and retransformed it into a community icon that has a wide variety of offerings – including a vigorous arts and culture element. Also, the City of Novi  acquired a four-acre property, previously owned by David Barr and dancer Beth Dwaihy Barr, includes a home, studio and multiple sculpture installations in a park setting. You need to check out the Artist Residence program at this park.

Think about your community and how art and culture make a difference in the quality of life both for the residential and business community.

Learn more about Michigan’s 2022 Advocacy Day by CLICKING HERE.

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The Importance of Spontaneous Composition

As artists, we are told to tell a story with our work.

Storytelling is an art form in itself, but mastering this art form is just as difficult as any form of artistry.

However, storytelling can be expressed in different ways. A painter tells a story by what they create with color. A writer tells a story by word and a musician tells their story by performing certain notes in a specific pattern.

In Middle Eastern music, the expressionist form of telling a story is through the art of a taksim. The word taksim itself is of Turkish/Arabic origin and means ‘”improvisational”. It is through taksim that an Armenian or Middle Eastern musician can tell a story while playing their instrument. Often playing a taksim demonstrates a musicians mastery of their instrument – whether it is an oud, kanun, violin, etc. Performing in a specific mode or makam (scale) displays their innate ability to demonstrate their knowledge of a scale or a range of different scales.

I don’t think that playing a taksim should be limited to how a musician understands the makam but more of how they can express themselves by notes. Their soul, the touch of their instrument, can say much more than their understanding of their instrument or the scale in which they are performed. Their passion for the music, the love of their instrument or a connection to their heritage can be felt through their improvisation.

The importance of spontaneous composition can tell a musician life’s story. For me, playing a taksim or improvised solo is less about displaying my knowledge of the scale as it is the warmth of the music or my passion for playing the instrument. I want to be able to express to audience why I play this music more than how good I may be at playing it.  Performing a solo is much more expressive than playing a song from the first note to last.

Playing an improvised solo allows you to free yourself from the chains of a particular melody and open allows you to open your soul.

Sting once said ” If you play music with passion and love and honesty, then it will nourish your soul, heal your wounds and make your life worth living. Music is its own reward”.

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The arts industry is back on the rollercoaster

It certainly feels like Groundhogs Day when it comes to the pandemic. What was once ‘on hold’ due to COVID and then opens up seems to close again. It is a viscous cycle that is taking its toll in many ways. We are seeing large name branded restaurants close without notice and concerts cancelling shows along with concert goers not showing up even after they purchase tickets.

The pandemic is great at one thing for sure – creating an emotional rollercoaster. Its claws are deep into the musical industry (just one of many industries affected within the arts arena) and it is concerning to watch how it is still holding back local concert venues and musicians from making a living. As one COVID variant feeds into another we will all potentially learn to live with a pandemic that will hopefully morph into an endemic allowing us to realign some things.

Broadway has been affected again:

But the Omicron variant that has barreled into the city, sending coronavirus case counts soaring, is now battering Broadway, leaving the industry facing an unexpected and enormous setback on its road back from the pandemic.

Sure, I would admit that we are also seeing concert planners reinvent themselves with outdoor options, but this is limited and not an option everyone can achieve successfully.

What this tells me is that we need to continue to find ways to support the musical community whenever possible. Basically, this is a friendly reminder that we are not out of the woods yet and our local artists and venues still need our ongoing support.

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Merry Armenian Christmas!

Armenians from around the world celebrate Christmas on two different dates. Most of us celebrate on December 25th, but many also recognize and celebrate Christmas again on January 6th.

A fairly popular cartoon depicting Santa and Armenian Christmas which has been on the web for several years.

Historically, all Christian churches once celebrated Christ’s birth on January 6th until the 4th century. The date was moved from January 6 to December 25 to coordinate better with pagan feats which were connected to the birth of the Sun which was celebrated on December 25th. However, Armenia, which had no pagan practices, were not affected by this date change so Armenians continue to celebrate on January 6th.

I tried to find traditional folks that Armenians may only hear around Christmas, but had some difficulty. Hearing Jingle Bells with Armenian lyrics wasn’t my idea of Armenian Christmas music! However, there are many beautiful liturgical hymns which can be heard within the Armenian church around Christmas.

To all my Armenian friends, Shnorhavor Surb Tsnund!

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Making Music Fun

I guess what they say is true, you can make music out of just about anything.

A video that my musician friend Mark Gavoor (and fellow blogger) posted a humorous video on social media (which we have all seen before, but nevertheless, still captivating) prompted me to think about musicians that perform music using non-musical methods or non-instruments. I even hesitate calling something “non” as I started to say – you can music many ways. I decided to look up a few musicians that are talented in their own rite but not from playing instruments out of random objects.

Probably the best I have heard is the musician Mark posted, the late Danish folk artist Peter Bastian. Not much could be found on Bastian other than he was a classical bassoon player and author. This clip of Bastian playing Bulgarian music through a plastic drinking straw while utilizing a circular breathing technique is mind blowing.

Another social media phenomena is Linsey Pollak who turns a carrot into a clarinet using an electric drill a carrot and a saxophone mouthpiece, and plays it all in a matter of 5 minutes. He has worked as a musical instrument maker for over 30 years and has designed a number of new wind instruments as well as specializing in woodwind instruments from Eastern Europe (having studied Macedonian bagpipes in Macedonia). His TEDx presentation has attracted over 7 million views.

It would be difficult for me to write this story without mentioning Michigan native musician, Frank Pahl. Not necessarily creating music using just inanimate objects, his group Little Bang Theory performed on some non-conforming traditionally instruments, many of which are toys. Very unique and entertaining to watch live! Plastic toy instruments can be often heard in his compositions. In recent years, his group has performed an original soundtrack for the silent film horror classic Nosferatu.

Of course, I need to include another musician friend, Scott Wilson who created a few videos several years ago playing both an oud and kanun made out of….a dresser drawer. Scott definitely was thinking “outside of the box” (Sorry Scott, couldn’t resist!) when he put this together.

Maybe the funniest video I found  was on Conan O’Brien. He interviewed Dr. Dale Stuckenbruck who started the Long Island Vegetable Orchestra.

Finally, back to using vegetables (and quite honestly, a great clip to end on!)…one can not go without talking about the Vegetable Orchestra from Vienna. They have been performing for over twenty years on fresh vegetables! Music styles from electronic, acid-jazz, and house-DJ type music.

I think this is the perfect end to a 2021 year, wishing all a Happy New Year for 2022! Lets hope its a better one….

Posted in art, Humor in Music, music, world music | 1 Comment

When Did That Happen?

So another year has flown by, almost behind us, and with comes another year of a pandemic. It is a bit surreal now to thing that we have been in a global pandemic for two years. It also seems that the most used phrase around has been …

“When did that happen? COVID has fogged my memory as to when certain events happened!”

Seems like I did my first virtual concert years ago, but it was only the middle of last year. For full-time musicians, this has taken a devastating toll on their livelihood. It seemed like 2021 was going to be the year that we pulled out of the clutches of a global disease, but alas, the ramifications and delay to performing live in front of audiences has varied from state to state and not at a level we are accustomed to from the past.

I was fortunate, no question about that. This past year I had the ability to perform several in-person performances which helped create some extra mental stability (try playing only online for months – it can drive you nutty!). However, we are far from getting back to normal audiences and there are still many venues which either are not doing live events or haven’t been able to recover from the shutdowns we faced earlier in the year.

Personally, I have learned to live with the virus in my everyday life. To expect that it will depart with a blink of an eye is not reality but we know that when surges are down, venues are looking to book groups again for live performances. They all want to have artists to perform again and the good news is that many have opened up again to allow us to share our talents.

The last gig I had this year was in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the Kerrytown Concert House. I have had the good fortune to have played there a few years ago and it was so nice to return for a concert of Armenian music. Ticket sales were low at first and I worried that COVID was still hampering peoples interests in going out – but I was wrong. We had a great crowd and protocols were followed and everyone stayed safe. As a matter of fact, it was quite emotional and I was nervous performing as this was the first time in a long time I performed a concert and storytelling presentation. Needless to say, it was a fantastic experience and I was so happy the concert took place! (See below for some video clips from that night)

2022…..bring it on! Already have some gigs in the works and look forward to sharing music again in person. Stay healthy and safe this holiday season!

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Why it’s important to tell your story

Last month I had an opportunity to share my passion of Armenian music to a new audience. I was invited to present at TEDx Detroit,.

Several years ago I presented at TEDx Oakland University, which was a fabulous experience and one that I thought was a once in a lifetime. However, I was given a second opportunity and was equally excited to do my TED talk.  

Some may thing this is a great way to self-promote for future music gigs, I really don’t look at it that way. This is such a wonderful moment to be able to share what I truly love doing – playing music and talking a bit about my culture. This experience allowed me to present my passion to a wider Detroit audience, most of which either knew little about Armenian history or my culture. 

What is unique about TEDx is the format. You are typically given twenty minutes, ten minutes or in my case four minutes to share your story. I was not only happy with getting four minutes, it challenged me to condense my thoughts into what I hoped would be powerful enough to get my message across to the audience. To me, this was ample amount of time to give folks a glimpse into my musical passion. 

What this is leading up to is – it is important to tell your story. Everyone has one, whether it is happy or sad, we each have a background that has some aspects which should be told to others. In my case, the story I wish to tell focuses on the connection between a Genocide and survival of music and its existence today. Part of this story wants others to realize what great lengths the music traveled in order to survive in a modern era and what needs to be done to preserve for the future. 

What’s your story? 

Posted in Armenian, armenian genocide, creativity, culture, detroit, music, Reflections, world music | Leave a comment