Erevan Choral Society a Gift

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—If you were at Holy Trinity Church on Dec. 14 and heard the Erevan Choral Society in concert, you probably walked away with a Christmas songfest in your heart.

I know I did, and could not have received a better gift from anyone, let alone St. Nick. This was everything Christmas was intended to be and more: a musical extravaganza that sent your spirits soaring.

So much so that I wanted to package the whole evening and preserve it forever. It was that kind of an experience.

Consider ourselves fortunate that in our midst, there is such a group willing and able to perform for gratis. That’s correct. It was complimentary, complete with a wonderful reception that followed.

The best things in life are sometimes free, and this was a fine example.

It was all a tribute to the late Hayr Oshagan Minassian, the unequivocal maestro and founder of this chorale that has set its standard over our community for 47 years.

He brought out the best in our culture from the confines of a wheelchair and never allowed his disability to be his albatross. In fact, it may have been his inspiration to keep the music going.

The church was packed inside a setting that complemented the sound, from the chandeliers that hung above to the icons below. The 23-piece orchestration was never better.

The event opened with singers marching down the aisles holding candles and singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” That set the mood.

Moments earlier, Rev. Fr. Vasken A. Kouzouian, pastor, welcomed the gathering and commended Hayr Oshagan for the legacy he left behind. The concert also coincided with 2 anniversaries: the 145th anniversary of the birth of Gomidas Vartabed and the 100thanniversary of the birth of composer Aram Satunts, who succumbed in 1990.

Both musical icons were remembered in a number of memorial tributes, and conductor/maestro Konstantin Petrossian was at his level-best in bringing the 40 voices together in sync.

Sopranos Kate Norigian and Narine Ojakhyan drew repeated applause for their solo work with songs that reverberated throughout the sanctuary. The virtuosity of duduk player David Gevorkian provided an added treat.

It was all neatly bundled and presented to an audience that craved this music. I could mention some of the selections that were performed, but suffice it to say there was not one hiccup in the repertoire.

The chorale mixed it up nicely with several American standards, ending with the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.” Two premieres that surfaced were Satian’s “Ave Maria” (U.S. premiere) and a work by Petrossian/lyrics by Rev. Fr. Mesrob Tashjian titled “Iriknayin Meghedee.”

Music in all its magnificence has been the breadth and scope of our people ever since our history was conceived. It has kept us together through massacres and genocide and many social interludes. It’s cultivated our children and our church. Music has been the soul upon which we have survived.

And few have recognized that tenet more in recent times than Hayr Oshagan. When nobody was listening, he opened their ears. When we stumbled, he picked us up. The pendulum never stopped on his perpetual timepiece.

It’s been this way for a number of years before and after his death. A gathering of the flock to the most beautiful music on earth. It didn’t matter what kind. Armenian. American standards. Classical. The voices rang forth with gusto.

No doubt his spirit hovered over the audience on Dec. 14. Hayr Oshagan was Maestro Petrossian’s driving force. This was his fifth year at the helm and it appears continuous.

Hard to believe this has become a standard throughout so many decades, a collaboration that includes gifted and versatile singers from the Greater Boston communities. Each year they come with varied, engaging, and delightful musical repertoires that deeply connect audiences with performers.

I have a secret to share with all of you. The other day, I showed up at the Mayor’s Christmas party at City Hall. He opens the door to the community, looking to share some goodwill. I decided to attend for the first time. A good reason was the Santa photo exhibit I had on display inside his office. I was curious if it drew any attention.

An appearance by the high school chorus drew loud applause. We feature one of the finer ensembles in all of Merrimack Valley, I’m proud to say.

On came the conductor. And he, too, was in a wheelchair, mindful of Hayr Oshagan. He’s had a debilitating illness for years and never thought of it as a handicap.

I asked him about it and he echoed Hayr Oshagan’s feelings.

“You don’t need legs to conduct a chorale. All you really need is your heart!”


Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this article. Those of us who knew Fr. Oshagan and loved him knew of his strong will and dedication to the Armenian Church and the Erevan Choral Society. He is dearly missed but his heart and soul live on through this Choral Society. God bless you all and may the New Year bring peace throughout the world.

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