Monday, October 23, 2006

Armenian Opera

Last night, there was an "exciting Armenian concert" (as the fliers put it) featuring two classically trained Armenian opera singers from New York City. I wouldn't have gone, but the youth choir was asked to sing with the singers when they performed Yerevan Erepouni. In traditional Armenian style, it was all very last minute, as I just go the phone call late Saturday afternoon.

It was another interesting experience with Armenian diaspora culture. One of the singers was better than the other (in my opinion), and I can't say that I loved every song, but it was nice.

Feast of the Evangelists

Saturday was the Feast of the Evangelists, namely the authors of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you any more about it than that, because the Eastern Diocese's website is down, and the priest only gave the barest of English translations during the sermon. This is something I have been thinking about in the last few days- church just doesn't seem very spiritual to me nowadays. I go, I sing the songs, I have fun talking to people, I feel a little smug because now I know what's going on, and I go home.

I think that part of this is the lack of emphasis on sermon-giving in the Armenian church (more on this in my "women in the church" post that I swear I will finish and post soon), and part of it is the fact that our priest is way more comfortable in Armenian than he is in English.

I introduced myself to someone who has started singing in the choir. She is a third-generation American, full Armenian, who grew up in Pasadena, which is a pretty serious Armenian community (not like Glendale, but you are still pretty plugged in). She doesn't speak or read Armenian, and we were comparing notes about how un-fun it is to go to church and feel excluded. She seems to feel that our church is not that welcoming to people who don't speak Armenian, maybe because she grew up in a big Armenian community where she didn't need to know Armenian, while I have had lots of experiences feeling totally rejected from different Armenian churches. In comparison, my current church is very friendly!

We started discussing my never-ending undercurrent concern about getting youngish people involved. She thinks that we need to be more welcoming to people who don't speak or read Armenian. I would agree with that, BUT it's hard to teach old dogs new tricks. I would like to see more English in the service, specifically good sermons in English, and the confession also in English. I think that this is probably too much to ask of the current priest, but a girl can dream, can't she?

In the meantime, we may try to think of ways that we can get people involved that ARE things that we can organize and do.

Friday, October 20, 2006


I have been working on a post on women in the church for a while. I hope I will finish it sometime this week.

In the meantime, I have been working on making a MIDI file of Yerevan Erepooni that I can use for choir rehearsal. When I do, maybe I will post it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Today, I sang my first solo in 19 years- my first solo in front of other people, that is, since 99% of my solos are in the car or shower, and the other .8% are at karaoke. Most of the church (read: the elderly) were at a church trip to a local resort/gambling town, so there were 3 women singing today. None of the regular soloists were there, so there was an opening! I think I did okay.

I sang the first two lines of Miayn Soorp, which is just "miayn soorp, miayn der" (loosely translated: "You are the only holy one, the only God").

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Archbishop Visit

Today, we had not one but TWO Archbishops conducting service today. One was our regular Archbishop of our own diocese, and another Archbishop from Etchmiadzin, who is the brother of one of our church members.

Last year, the "Archbishop Sunday" (as I call it in my head) was the second Sunday that I attended this church. Last year, they ordained several altar boys and deacons, but not today.

Our Archbishop commended our church for having such a high number of kids and youth involved in the church. He said that it's not like this at every church, and I have seen this first hand! It is certainly not like this at the other church that I go to. There are plenty of kids in Sunday School, but everyone on the altar is a grown man. This is something that I have been talking about with some of the other youngish (21+) people who go to this church- there are maybe five of us? Two of us are in the choir, and two are on the altar, and one is in charge of Sunday School. We may set up some social activities in order to encourage people to get/stay involved, maybe even have a "Liturgy 101" class so people feel comfortable and understand what is going on.

The Power of the Diaspora

Yesterday I realized how strong the Armenian Diaspora really is. I was talking to my mother, and I was telling her what songs we were learning in Junior Choir, and she knew them ALL (I don't think she knew Mer Hayrenik, though. She knew another song called "Anoush Hayrenik."). I was really surprised. My mother grew up in Damascus, but I don't think anyone from my church is from Damascus. Many of them are from Baghdad (both recent immigrants as well as people who have been in the US for 30+ years), or Iran, or other places. I just know that no one has said, "Hey, I (or my mom or dad etc.) am from Damascus!" And they all know the same songs. Not just that, but their KIDS, who were born in the US, ALSO know the same songs. The Armenian Church is a very important part of the strength of the diaspora. I think this is why I have always been drawn to it.

I know that there is a big difference between the Armenians who come from Turkey and the Middle East (often via Turkey anyway), and those who come from Armenia proper (especially if they lived there during the Soviet era), but I think my church is quite good at bridging the distance between the two, since we do have religion in common, even if the language, customs, and language are different.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Junior Choir

So, the other part of Armenian Church, besides the Church part, is being Armenian. Sometimes, when doing things in the Armenian Church, it is less about Church and more about Armenian. I am a member of the "junior choir" now - pretty laughable considering that I am close to being 10 years older than most of the members, who are all high school students- and I am learning songs that I have never heard before, but apparently are die-hard Armenian mainstays. One is the Armenian national anthem- no surprise that I don't know this, since my mom immigrated to the US from the diaspora, not Armenia itself, and she came over way before the breakup up of the Soviet Union. How would she know the Armenian national anthem? Did Armenia even have a national anthem back in 1969? (maybe... I have no idea). We are also learning (well, I am learning, since everyone else seems to know it already) Yerevan Erepouni. Thank goodness I read music, is all I have to say! The choir director kept asking, "Do you know this song?" I didn't know ANY of them. I just said that I could read music, and I could read English, and beyond that, nothing. However, he really needs altos. Altos are prized commodities in choirs, because everyone wants to sing soprano because it's easier, and you get more glory. I wouldn't say that I'm the best alto ever, but I'm decent, and can contribute a lot. I think this is why the director has let in an almost-28-year-old into a "junior choir" full of mostly high school students. My 26 year old friend is also a member, so at least I'm not the only one.

Also, they ALL speak AND read Armenian! I am seriously the only one who can't do either. Oy. I guess I'll start picking up more musical terms. I do know "Meg! Yergu! Yerek!" so at least I know when to start singing. I am literally amazed that all these kids know Armenian. The choir director's wife explained to me that all these kids have grandparents who speak it to them, and that's why they know it. Makes sense. I didn't have a grandparent to speak it to me.

Feast of the Holy Cross of Varak

Today, as I discovered in church, is the Feast of the Holy Cross of Varak. This celebrates the appearance of a relic of the Holy Cross (Sourp Khatch- the same one that we celebrated 2 weeks ago) on an altar in a monestary on Mt. Varak. Mt. Varak is in "historic Armenia," which means that it is not in the actual country of Armenia, but rather in modern-day Turkey.

We had a visiting priest today. Our regular priest was out of town officiating a family wedding. I wish I was able to have an Armenian wedding! The cost would have been prohibitive- we would have had to fly a priest in, put him up somewhere, find a church, pay rental fees, etc. So we just got married at the Baptist church my parents go to for $250. We could have gotten married out here, but this presented a whole other set of money issues. Weddings are MUCH more expensive out here, everyone would have had to fly out here, etc. It was more practical to get married in my hometown. God was still at my wedding, even though it was Protestant and in English.

It would have been a fight on some other levels with my odar husband, because it would have meant that he couldn't have his Jewish best friend as our best man. So... probably for the best that it didn't work out.

I actually missed our regular priest- the visiting priest's English wasn't as good, and he didn't really give a sermon at all, only a brief explanation of what we were celebrating, but Badarak today wasn't really any different than Badarak on other days.

Today was also the first day of Sunday School for the kids. They go to Sunday School during the service. My church is very open and friendly to kids- Der Hayr is a married priest, and has 2 teenage kids, so he is all about young people. This church apparently has a tradition of being welcoming to kids, young people, and newcomers, dating back to the former parish priest, who was born in the US, raised in Glendale, and just really loves kids and young people and is really passionate about getting people involved in the Armenian Church.

I am passionate about it too, but need to find the energy and strength to translate that passion into concrete service. I especially feel called to help make the church more welcoming. By "the church" I mean "the church" in general, not my specific church. I have some ideas for the other church I go to near my university, which isn't as friendly or young as the one near my husband's university.