Rawson Duo, Music of Armenia with Fred Thompson and Camaraderie Cellars, 4/15 & 17 / Now Sold Out / Wait List Openings / An Armenian Desktop Odyssey in Special Edition Bits
3/26/2016 5:40 PM

Good evening and Happy Easter,

Our Armenian concert is now a sellout, full up with a waiting list started for Sunday hopefuls. A seat or two may yet open on Friday with nobody in the wings, so please let us know if you have interest in that day by sending an email response or calling in (379-3449, press 1 etc.).

However, we’re not done yet. While undecided on what the program will be, dates have been set aside for our Season Finale — Friday and Sunday, June 3 & 5 at 2 pm.

It may be a French program with a Bohemian edge that’s been rattling in the back of the mind for a while. But one thing is for certain, we never go out without a bang!

Please pencil us in and see what comes.

Alan and Sandy

An Armenian Desktop Odyssey in Bits ~
(this will be our only related emailing this time, and we hope you won't mind its extra length. Maybe bookmark for later, or grab a cup of tea or glass of wine, and settle in)
Starting our home concert series here, 8 years ago, was a big turning point in our musical lives. Up until then we had always been interested in promoting the unusual and rarely heard pieces that struck our fancy. Our programs had an eclectic randomness, simply choosing things that seemed to go together nicely, were satisfying to play, and fun to listen to.

Finding new pieces was always a challenge and research opportunities were fairly limited, making it difficult to follow specific interests. The internet changed all that for us, from the mid 2000s on when we discovered the growing wealth of information it offered. Scanned scores were suddenly available for download right here in Chimacum. Sandy could page through countless gourmet leads and recipes, and we binged by the megabyte.

We also enjoy very personal ways to globally connect beyond colorful web pages, more than I ever imagined, yielding emailed score attachments from Spain, Netherlands, Great Britain, Sweden, New Zealand, and others – often with cordial pleasantries and follow-ups. The greatest enrichment in all this comes in our first ever Armenian program which takes things to a higher level altogether. So let me tell you how it came about and the wonderful connection that was made in the process.

The story begins just after we gave our first Nordlys program, indeed, the very first of our Chimacum home concert series, in December, 2007. Over the following Christmas and New Year’s weeks, truly internet-hooked and on a mission, I spent late-night hours searching out new sites and sounds. Pay dirt was soon struck by way of a non-commercial, classical music site offering freely distributed sound files that could be clicked on and enjoyed to your heart’s content. At no charge whatever, it was filling quickly with offerings by unknown artists from around the world, glad to have a way to put out their work.

A recently posted violin and piano recording caught my eye, a short piece that gave only a few details in the description, listing performers from Yerevan, and offering only the name Komitas in place of a title. My son who was studying cello in LA at the time had heard of Komitas through some new Armenian friends, so I was curious. The few listener comments indicated that it was a commonly known piece, with clues like “Apricot done right.” Apricot? What were they talking about?

No matter, I listened – and was instantly touched by a beautiful, three-minute journey into the soul. Quite caught off guard, I clicked and listened again . . . and again . . . There was just something about it that kept bringing me back, starting with the most welcoming invocation, and drawing, with evocative modalities in the violin and simple piano arpeggiations, to a serene and meditative conclusion – quite captivating.

What was this? I had to find out more. A good hour-long sift through YouTube, still in its non-commercial youth (sadly missed), brought answers, "Tsirani Tsar" (Apricot Tree). What I had been listening to was an arrangement of one of the most famous of all Armenian spiritual songs by Komitas -- (from WikiPedia) Soghomon Soghomonian, ordained and commonly known as Komitas (1869 –1935), an Armenian priest, musicologist, composer, arranger, singer, and choirmaster, considered the founder of Armenian national school of music. He is recognized as one of the pioneers of ethnomusicology.

But where to find the score? – even just the vocal score. I knew I could easily reproduce the instrumental version based on what I’d heard, but it was nowhere to be found in any form.  A trusted and very resourceful contact I knew in the ordering department at a large music outlet in Minneapolis drew a blank. He was a former MSUM grad I’d called occasionally when stuck and in need of help with international publisher searches. If he couldn’t find it, it was going to be a tough one indeed.

About that time I came across the Virtual Komitas Museum in Yerevan, Armenia, and on a whim composed an email addressed to a general contact link. Not knowing any better, and to have some sort of fallback, I embellished the English portion with what I’m sure was a very puzzling, Google/Russian translation (confusing subjects and objects, whos and whats, willy nilly in its delightfully naive beta version -- I've since learned that Google does better with Armenian). I didn’t hold out much hope for success after throwing text samples back and forth, producing a spiraling muddle. But I thought to try it anyway, and launched my odd message mix into cyber space.

Three weeks later, now absorbed in an upcoming French program and having since given up on my shot-in-the-dark email, a delightful note appears in the inbox – in perfect, college-level English, signed by the director of the Museum who was delighted that I had come upon his site, and with an attachment! There it was, Apricot Tree, in 6 exotic jpeg pages, titles and text in Armenian script.

That was the first of many emails back and forth in the coming months, spurned on with thoughts of an all-Armenian program generously aided from the other side of the planet. Other pieces were to follow, and the notes were always fun to read and full of mutual interest. Armen Alaverdian was the person responding who, as it turns out, is also responsible for a similar site dedicated to Aram Khachaturian, the Armenian composer figurehead I’d heard of all my life (think Sabre Dance and Gayane ballet). I noticed he also signed his note with another organization which took a while to register.

An unassuming link at the bottom of the page was finally clicked, starting me on a chain of links, eventually revealing a remarkable personal story. With the violin in common between us, Armen had at one time been an aspiring soloist until an unimaginable and tragic misfortune intervened. I quote from a biographic page:
"At the age of three I started studying music. In 1970, I entered a musical school. In 1981, I finished Tchaikovsky Musical School with a gold medal and entered Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory. My career as a violinist was quite promising, so much that my professors believed that I would become a famous violinist.
"In 1987, I was preparing for my first overseas concert tour in Australia. However, on February 7, while on vacation in Moscow, due to an unknown disease within seconds I turned from a healthy 22-year-old man into a disabled person."
We arranged a Skype video call that first year, and I asked Armen about this. Yes indeed, he had come down with some viral infection with a rare combination of internal events that rendered him paraplegic overnight – one minute on the verge of a concert career and 24 hours later forever paralyzed from the waist down!

But talk about someone pulling themselves up by the boot straps, literally in his case.  Armen has since reinvented himself as Armenia’s leading figure of advocacy for the disabled and is now executive director for Unison NGO, "an Armenian non-profit organization whose mission is to support people with disabilities by promoting their human rights and providing various services."

Click here to see his full profile page. You'll notice that link is from the PAROS chamber choir which Armen is responsible for bringing about -- a choir for the disabled, an amazingly active and vibrant group that travels across Europe, placing highly in international events such as the World Choir Games -- click on that link to find out more on the 2016 event held in Sochi, Russia this year which PAROS will be singing for.

His wife, Rasmila, is someone I also want to tell you about. She is part of the choir as well and serves as their pianist and accompanist. A snippet from her member page tells how they met:
"At the age of eighteen I was hired at the IPTRC. The Center was intended to treat and rehabilitate people with serious spinal cord injuries. Back then I would not have guessed that one of those patients would become my future husband. We began our relationship simply as friends, we had similar interests, and later on when Armen was discharged out of the hospital, we fell in love and decided to get married. I was 20 at the time and Armen was 30."
I gather her page needs a little updating, as she concludes "I dream of having a baby and I think, if my dream ever came true, then I would be the happiest person on earth." That dream was fulfilled a few years ago. Daniel, their son, is now 7! Here's a picture I was sent last week.

Armen, Rasmila and the PAROS choir have been hard at work promoting their cause. You'll find several YouTube clips in any number of settings, from informal iPhone uploads to full-on professional quality videos. One Armen was especially excited to share early last year is a professionally filmed, "flash-mob" singing of "For You, Armenia," filmed at Yerevan's Dalma Garden Mall to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, 2014. "Can you spot Daniel :-)" he asks. (apart from a moment's glance, we had only seen a thick head of hair dashing back and forth behind the couch in previous video calls) "Come on, Armen, are you kidding. How could I miss him?" was my reply after first watching. Daniel has a short solo partway through. Click on the following image.

A couple of weeks ago I started thinking about sending this video out in tonight's blog and became curious about the song. Here's a bit of our conversation,
I'm piecing together details about the song from the net to give a little background. Let me know if I've got things right.

It looks like that has taken on a sort of national anthem status, written by George Garvarentz and Charles Aznavour in 1988 to draw attention to and rally support for recovery effort following a devastating earthquake. Were you personally caught in this quake? I found a story here and will quote:
    "That day, on Wednesday, December 7, 1988, it was 11:41 am in Armenia . . . when a terrible roar burst from the bowels of the earth to the surface of the cities of Leninakan, Spitak and Kirovakan, heralding the deadliest earthquake ever known in Armenia. Nearly 25,000 fatalities, 20,000 injured, thousands of orphans, entire cities to rebuild ..."
I remember the day of earthquake very well. It affected the entire Armenia. We were living at the 5th floor of a building with no lift. I was watching a movie on TV, when suddenly the voice started interrupting. I thought something was wrong with my TV. At that moment, the first shake occurred. It was a terrible feeling, everything became unstable. My grandmother told me we should move to the door, as this was the safest place in our apartment. We did so. The first /main/ earthquake lasted 2 or 3 minutes. Then, every 10 minutes or so we felt strong aftershocks. For about a month, every day at about 11 a.m. there were aftershocks. Returning to the day of December 7th, we started calling our family members to know if they are fine. No cellphones existed, so we had to call to the workplaces or homes using the ordinary telephones. The Armenian TV several times announced that soon they would be providing details. Nothing for about 2 hours. Then, the first Soviet channel (Russian) aired the first video coverage. We were all shocked to see the ruined cities and towns. Then the international relief efforts began. Every 2 minutes a cargo plane from U.S., Georgia, France, Russia etc. landed in Yerevan. 2 planes crashed during these days, one Yugoslavian and one military Soviet plane carrying soldiers who were to help with the rescue efforts.
Setting aside the horrors of the quake, I was instantly struck with what he was saying about his situation, one year after he became paralyzed. Think about it:
in a wheelchair . . .  on the 5th floor . . .  no elevator

I remember a wave of retrofits that took place in Fargo in 1980s, sidewalk corners torn up and replaced with ramps for street crossings, public restroom accommodations going in, elevators now mandatory in all public buildings. Signs of change were everywhere, and it is simply taken for granted these days. However, only in recent times has Armenia started making headway -- thanks in a huge part to Armen's efforts and that of his organization and the people he works with.

Four of our concert selections will be works provided by Armen, sent a couple of years ago. Two are quite substantial, and the only available source is in an old Soviet collected edition from the 1950s, held in the archives of the Yerevan Conservatory. Arman would have gladly made the trip over to make copies were it not for the fact that those shelves are on upper floors, with no access possible for the disabled. It's stairs going up and ground floor only for him, and so he asked assistance of his choir conductor, Raffi Mikaelian, to do the leg work (whom you see in the video). We were so touched by that -- and they are incredible pieces, I can tell you!

I asked Armen how things are now, two years later, and he says it's beginning to change. Through a joint civic effort, in combination with Unison, major progress is taking place at Yerevan street corners, though things like public restroom access still pose a huge problem as well as something he's mentioned all along, corruption. Government assistance with wheelchairs, etc., is available, requiring a doctor certificate. This all too often involves a large, under the table "consideration" by an overwhelming percentage of desperately low income applicants. -- and it is still stairs only at the Conservatory.

On the brighter side, I'd like to add just a few more things, starting with another project Armen was excited to share last year, the Official video of the 7th National Beauty Contest for Women with Disabilities in Armenia organized by Unison NGO. With English subtitles and Armenian Sign Language translation. I'm not usually one for beauty contests, but this piqued our interest. I must say, we thoroughly enjoyed watching it and learning about this wonderful project via Unison's 24 minute, interesting and excellent quality video. Highly recommended and linked below.

The 2016 competition is now underway and detailed on this FaceBook page.  Armen's latest project is an online photographic service under development, providing opportunities for a number of disabled people. So far only a FaceBook page is posted, but I understand a full featured web page is in the works and will include an English version:

Unison Studio offers a number of services, but what Armen thinks will prove of interest halfway round the world will be their very reasonably priced photo retouching for those wanting to update old and damaged family photos with high quality files that will arrive on your desktop to be printed locally. You can take a look at before and after samples here

So that's it for this concert's emails, and we hope you've enjoyed reading this note.

THANK YOU ARMEN AND RASMILA (and RAFFI)! for sharing your lives and work in making our wonderful Armenian program possible. We'll be toasting you and enjoying Rasmila's great recipes in the reception. One day we'll meet and share a glass of Ararat -- or perhaps some Camaraderie together here in the Pacific Northwest!

. . . And oh yes, Apricot Tree! That will be on the program. For now, please enjoy our 2008 recording linked to the picture below (we're told we got it).