Armenian Liturgical Music performed on traditional instruments

Recently I received an email from a friend that shared a rare look and sound of Armenian liturgical music performed on traditional instruments. After posting on my personal Facebook page, the comments and views went through the roof. This is an easier format to widely share and I think with a little help – this video can go viral!



You will especially enjoy hearing the Santour. Not an Armenian instrument by nature, more Persian, the Santour was played an instrument utilized by the Armenians for centuries. Dating back to early Babylon times, the Santour is similar to the instrument that I perform called the Kanun. The main differences involve hammers for the Santour as well as metal strings. In comparison to strings, the Santour has roughly 100 strings to a Kanun that has approximately 76 strings.


Komitas Vardapet

The song, “Soorp Soorp” (Holy, Holy) was written by Komitas Vardapet, well regarded as the father of Armenian music. This song has been reported to have first been performed in Tbilisi, Georgia around 1905.



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The French Frank Sinatra – Aznavour


His birth name was Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian, but to his international fans, he was Charles Aznavour. A legend with a voice that captivated a diverse audience of not only Armenians, but he was a national symbol in France and around the globe.


Charles Aznavour taken in 2014 in Poland.

It was announced today that he passed away. Living to an age that many can only hope, he lived 94 years.

Much has been written and will be written about Aznavour in the coming days and weeks. I would rather focus on his art form and provide some favorite clips of him i have enjoyed over the years.



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A 10 Year Old Armenian Musical Prodigy

If I mentioned the name Kristine Engoyan most of you would not know who she is. She is a remarkable Armenian young girl that has mesmerized many of us that enjoy and perform Armenian music. She plays the kanun, the ancient harped instrument with over seventy strings.

KEI first heard Kristin via YouTube videos posted by the Naregatsi Art Institute, a 501c3 non-profit organization located in Yerevan, Armenia that helps preserve and present Armenian culture to the world. Of course there isnt much written about her and her background as she is only ten years old, but clearly she has learned the instrument through Armenian schools and her perfection is demonstrated each and every time she performs in front of an audience.

For the last few years Kristine has taken the world by storm. Her playing is outstanding, her speed and command of the kanun is near perfection. However, its the smile and passion on this young girls face that captivates you. Listening to her play is easy, she make its easy and warm by welcoming you into her heart as she performs on this instrument.

This past June at the Smithsonian Folk Festival, American attendees got their first glimpse of Kristine’s playing in person. She was performing with the Nur Qanun Ensemble. What a joy it is to watch a number of these videos from the festival. “They are very talented and well rehearsed even down to the coy glances to each other” said my friend and fellow musician Mark Gavoor who had the chance to watch Kristine and the ensemble at the festival. “Everyone loved them to pieces. They are a most special, talented, engaging, entertaining trio” continued Gavoor.

Whether it is classical, chamber, of Armenian music it seems that Kristine can play it all.

She recently appeared on The Little Big Shots, an Australian television show. Here is her performance. I cant tell you how many people sent me this video or asked if I saw it. A testament to her popularity

Ok, one more video to show you. I am a big fan of this clip as it shows her ability at both performing a taksim (solo) at the beginning of the song along with different key and time signatures.

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Remembering Art Melkonian

I first met Art a few years ago while I was researching Detroit area Armenian musicians for my film documentary, Guardians of Music. It was my friend Simon Javizian who was able to get my contact information and come to find out Art lived only ten minutes from my house.


Art Melkonian and Ara in 2014.

Art was a self-taught clarinetist that loved Armenian music. He was well known as the clarinetist in the Detroit band called Arax. I had a great time chatting with him and then interviewing him for the film.

At times he got teary-eyed as he fondly remembered the past. A very humble man that couldn’t understand why I would produce a documentary on the music he played and he often asked me if anyone would really care about the past. He couldn’t have been further from the truth as this documentary gave many of these past musicians a new life and the respect they deserved.

I was very fortunate to have preserved his voice and image for generations to come and learn the passion these musicians had for our music. They were the unsung heros, most not formally trained, played for the joy of it – never the money. Well…one time money was an issue. I love the story Art told me about how the Arax Band almost got on the Ed Sullivan Show. This was not long after they released a hit 45rpm record called Harem Dance (aka Shish Kebab). They were on the charts as a best selling song and Sullivan wanted the band to go on the show. Unfortunately, they couldn’t agree on the money and their national television spotlight disappeared.

Bless Art and his love for the music. A generous man and from what others have told me – a great husband, father and all around – gentle man. May his memory last in our hearts forever. Art passed on September 15, 2018.

If you are interested in purchasing a DVD of Guardians of Music to see Art and the other musicians, click here. 

To read Art’s obituary, please click here.

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Thoughts from Arts Midwest 2018

A few weeks ago I was given a great opportunity to travel Indianapolis for the annual Arts Midwest conference. Thanks to John Bracey, Executive Director (soon to be retiring – congrats again!) from Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) for encouraging me to attend as both a council member and an artist. Fabulous experience!

41330065_2018119471584795_7299413321755656192_n.jpgNot only was I am able to get to know some of our fellow council members better, but the awesome MCACA team that clearly demonstrate their passion for the arts and culture community. Thanks guys – I had a blast! 🙂

First off, what a city! Indianapolis is practically all connected – buildings, roads, etc. Beautiful city, clean and well connected to the arts.

The conference itself included performers, agencies representing those artists, state arts


Alash, the acknowledged masters of traditional Tuvan instruments and the ancient art of throat singing team up with beat-boxer extraordinaire Shodekeh to perform an ultra groovy fusion of classic world music and the sophisticated sounds of one of the countries coolest beat boxers.

councils and art organizations. Seemed like close to a few thousand attendees. Well organized and thanks to the MCACA team, I met a lot of people. You can clearly see the power of all of these groups and the dedication many of these organizations have in presenting art to the community.


Great to run into Ron Malley, oudist and producer that was exhibiting at Arts Midwest this year.

In the evening, performances had an opportunity to “showcase” their talents. Some were spoken word speakers, musicians and even…wait for it….magicians. Clearly I had more interest in the musicians and I was pleasantly surprised to see that whenever world music artists performed – the room was filled. That says much for international music and very encouraging!

I want to thank all the organizers of Arts Midwest and for the city of Indianapolis for being such a great host venue.

For more information on this conference and the organization, click here.


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2018 Kresge Artist Fellows Announced

Each year I eagerly await the announcement of the Kresge Artist Fellows. I am always impressed by the winners and their artistry. As a musician, I feel proud to be part of such a group of artists but more importantly Equally amazing is the abundance of talent that exists in Detroit.

For the 10th anniversary, I was chosen to be a panelist to judge over 400 applications and narrow them down to the Film and Music winners that are part of the Kresge family of fellows. A process which took several months.

The winners can be found by clicking here.


Photographer: Noah Stephens Front Row: Michelle May, Thornetta Davis, Rober B. Jones, Sr., Alex Way Second Row: Ben Corona, Julia Yezbick Third Row: Ahya Simone, David Binder, Toni Cunningham

Whereas I can’t go into details on the process, I will tell you that our artist community is sound and growing. We have no shortage of talent in any of the artistic disciplines and that is a head rush! We are fortunate to have such great creators of music, dance, film, etc. Perhaps once known as a profession for only hobbyists, being an artist takes discipline, imagination, attitude, and guts.

Within the Film and Music applications, it was refreshing to see such an array of artists that clearly demonstrate passion for their work. To narrow down hundreds of applicants to a small handful was a daunting task. In the end, our panel had the task of discussing and choosing the artists that would not only take home $25,000 but obtain the title of 2018 Kresge Artist Fellow.

Thanks to Christina deRoos and her team at Kresge Artist Detroit for their guidance and process. Special thanks to the panelists I had the honor to work with in this process. All very talent artists in their own right. Juanita, Regina, Wayne and Rashaad demonstrated their passion throughout this process.

2018 Kresge Artist Fellow panelists I served with included: Juanita Anderson, Filmmaker; Film Producer; Regina Carter, Composer; Musician; Wayne Horvitz, Composer; Musician; Rashaad Newsome, Multidisciplinary Artist

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Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown – Armenia

Tony has a coffee with Richard Giragosian, the director of a think tank, the Regional Studies Center on the Casacade Steps looking over Yerevan. PHOTO BY JOSH FERRELL

If you haven’t heard about the recent episode of Anthony Bourdain traveling to Armenia as part of his series Parts Unknown, you have most likely been living under a rock for the last month. I have to admit I have not watched much of the Bourdain series, but this past Sunday night I watched his travels to Armenia. Sure, we could all be critical about what we saw, afterall – Armenia is a passion for anyone that is Armenian and we have our thoughts on what needs to be portrayed.  However, the reality is that this was an excellent episode with a lot of detail packed into less than an hour for television. Special kudos for referring to the massacres as a Genocide within the first few minutes of the episode.

I want to thank Mr. Bourdain, CNN, and all that were involved in putting this together. The other reality is that we as Armenians should be grateful for whenever a documentary or television episode features Armenia and Armenians. In the last five years, we have been fortunate to get the wide amount of coverage from a major motion picture like The Promise to documentaries They Shall Not Perish.

Here are some great behind the scenes information included by Mr. Bourdain published:

The Perfect Day in Yerevan
Parts Unknown Fan Recap: Armenia
Anthony Bourdain’s Field Notes with videos

Watch the full episode:

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