LAGUNA HILLS, CA — Chapman University law student Artoor Minas has received the first scholarship from the newly formed John Bilezikjian Foundation. The foundation celebrated its inception with a concert at the La Mirada Performance Center last August. One purpose of the foundation is to grant scholarships to serious college-level music students. Minas, a long-time student of celebrated world musician John Bilezikjian, received a grant that will provide him with a year of music Minas, a long-time student of celebrated world musician John Bilezikjian, received a grant that will provide him with a year of music lessons from Bilezikjian.
A resident of Laguna Hills, Bilezikjian has played dozens of instruments in his 50-year career, but his true passion is the oud, an ancient eleven-stringed, fretless Persian instrument dating back more than 2000 years. It is played with an eagle’s feather. It is the precursor of the lute, guitar and other western stringed instruments, having been brought back to Europe by returning crusaders.
Minas’ awareness of the oud and Middle Eastern music began at home.
“My parents were from Iran and I grew up with this type of music in the household,” said Minas.
Minas initially learned to play the saxophone and guitar, focusing on jazz. That changed during a sojourn in Hungary.
“I saw a Moroccan group where the oud was played in their in concerts. I was able to go to their shows regularly because they were based in Budapest.”
When he returned to the United States, he enrolled at Chapman University to study law. He was required by his course of study to spend many hours in the library. Despite his demanding academics, he sometimes found himself browsing the library music section.
“I was exploring the world music section in the public library and I found John Bilezikjian’s “Armenian Diaspora” CD,” Minas recalled. “I checked it out immediately because it looked so interesting and that’s how I found John – inadvertently, accidently, by fate, whatever you want to call it – by going through the library and checking out CDs.”
He called the number on the back of the CD and was surprised when Bilezikjian answered the phone. As he recalls, they connected immediately through their shared Armenian heritage and love of the oud. Once he learned Bilezikjian was only 10 minutes away, they transformed from phone acquaintances to student and teacher.
His growing connection with the music has also deepened Minas’ appreciation of his Persian Armenian heritage. Each lesson begins with a background of the songs to be learned: where they are from and the history behind them. His musical studies have also reinforced his desire to specialize in immigration law.
“My parents are immigrants. I’m first generation here. My parents are descendants of the Armenian genocide. They fled to Iran but the Iranian revolution of 1979 forced them to come here. So I connect with this background.”
Bilezikjian has performed worldwide, on concert tours and with orchestras such as the the Boston Pops,