BY FLORENCE AVAKIAN
Close to 500 people crowded into a festively-adorned St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral on Saturday evening, December 15, to celebrate the blessings of Christmas—and to honor a milestone in the history for New York’s great Gomidas Choir.
The evening went forward under the auspices of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, with its Primate, the Very Reverend Fr. Daniel Findikyan, presiding. Also present were a number of priests from Diocesan parishes.
The concert of Christmas music—mixed with selections by the choir’s namesake, Gomidas Vartabed—was beautifully rendered by the singers of the Gomidas Choir, under the direction of its musical director Kris D. Kalfayan, to mark the 60th anniversary of the distinguished vocal ensemble.
The youngest member of the choir, 22-year-old Andrew Varujan Yenicag, warmly welcomed the enthusiastic crowd, paying tribute to the glorious history of the choir and “our forefathers who had the vision to preserve our identity and pass it on to future generations.”
He recalled the legacies of such dedicated founders as Isahag Aprahamian, Dr. Ara Bohcalian, and Onnig Hepshen—former members of the Gomidas Choir in Istanbul who “planted the seed of our choir in March 1948, by singing the Gomidas arrangement of the Divine Liturgy on Holy Thursday at the Holy Cross Church in upper Manhattan.”
As the choir grew in numbers, female voices were added to the original all-male chorus. In 1958, it was formally named the “Gomidas Choir,” and was brought under the auspices of the Diocese by then-Primate Archbishop Mampre Calfayan. In his welcoming remarks, Mr. Yenicag asked two of the 60-year members who were present to stand, Dikran Cherchian and his grandfather Varoujan Arslanian—both of whom were greeted with thunderous applause.
Gomidas Revered Internationally
The music of Gomidas Vartabed is not only revered by Armenians, but acclaimed by the most renowned musicians internationally. Two of the greatest Armenian composers, Aram Khachaturian and Alan Hovhaness, have stated that the foundation of Armenian music rests in the genius of Gomidas.
Among the concert highlights sung by the 36-voice choir was one of Gomidas’ most sacred works, the “Lord’s Prayer,” and his beautifully melodic “Wondrously Marvelous Flower.”
The program also included Christmas carols and festive classics by international and Armenian composers—Ara Bartevian, Khoren Mekanejian, and Wardan Sarxian. Soloists included Anoosh Barclay, Alyne Corrigan, Anoush Givelekian, Alvard Mayilyan, and Solange Merdinian. James Hopkins was the guest organist.
To Sing and Speak With Angels
“The beauty of Christmas songs symbolizes the miracle and beauty of the birth of Christ,” said Diocesan Primate Fr. Daniel Findikyan, in remarks following the concert.
He stated that in his new role as Primate, “I am privileged to be the beneficiary of so many wonderful accomplishments, including the 60-year legacy of the Gomidas Choir.” He revealed that his grandfather Hagop Findikyan directed the Gomidas Choir in Bolis in the 1950s.
“One of the greatest gifts God gives us is to sing and speak with angels—something we do every Sunday during our Badarak,” the Primate continued.
In paying tribute to the 60-year history of the Gomidas Choir, which includes more than 65 departed members, he “thanked all the singers, Maestro Kris Kalfayan, and especially Gomidas Vartabed.”
“We have felt the grace of the music which you will continue to give for many decades to come,” the Primate said. “May the New Year be filled with the sacred music that we have heard in this cathedral.”
The concert concluded with the beautiful benediction hymn, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” by Peter Lutkin, garnering a standing ovation, and a bouquet of flowers for the artists.
During the reception that followed in the Diocesan Center’s Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium, Kris Kalfayan—who has directed the choir for 37 years—said that the concert was dedicated to the memory of “those who sang and no longer are with us.” He recalled that the 70-strong, all-male Gomidas Choir sang for the consecration of St. Vartan Cathedral 50 years ago.
“Gomidas means Armenian music,” Kalfayan said with passionate emphasis. “Without him, we would have nothing preserved from the past.”
For classical guitarist Robert Kinoian, “the choir sounded beautiful in a beautiful setting. The music put us in the spirit of the true meaning of Christmas.”
Singer Maria P. Ruiz called the performance “peaceful and prayerful. There was a good blending of the dynamics.”
And proud, 60-year choir member Varoujan Arslanian said he felt “so happy tonight.” He nostalgically remembered devoted founder Issahag Abrahamian, who “taught with pleasure, and sang melodically.” Expressing the emotions of many, he said: “I am flying to the moon tonight.”