By Elise Kalfayan
PASADENA, Calif.—The day after a gentle rain, sunshine in the crisp late afternoon lit the scene perfectly as guests arrived for Lark Musical Society’s celebration concert “Faith and Love,” at Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium on March 4.
The program featured Anton Bruckner’s tripartite “Te Deum,” a popular thanksgiving hymn that honors God’s work among his believers, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Chorus “Ode to Joy,” a masterpiece expressing the human longing for brotherhood and equality. It was a joyful and inspiring celebration of the Armenian Missionary Association of America’s (AMAA) 100-year legacy of mission and service.
The AMAA was founded in 1918 in Worcester, Mass. by the Armenian Evangelicals to send aid overseas to survivors of the Armenian Genocide in the Near East. Its work has continued and expanded since then, now providing humanitarian aid, education, youth programs, and support for churches and Christian outreach in 24 countries.
AMAA Executive Director and CEO Zaven Khanjian honored its founders and leaders in his program notes, citing Psalm 135:3 and writing, “Pleasant is the memory of the early visionaries, successive leadership and generations of unsung heroes whose gospel-illuminated path and selfless sacrifice led to miracles in the life of the nation.”
AMAA board members joined directors and staff, supporters, Lark Musical Society members and supporters, local dignitaries, and a full-house audience at the magnificent concert with the express desire to celebrate the AMAA’s work in musical tribute. Many of the guests came from local Armenian Evangelical churches, and have long-standing ties to the AMAA, and fervent appreciation for its mission. This was the final event of a busy weekend as the AMAA Board of Directors held meetings March 2-3 in the Los Angeles area, and five local churches hosted AMAA presentations Sunday morning.
Doris Melkonian, who holds a Master of Arts in Musicology from UCLA, delivered a pre-concert lecture. Those arriving early learned that Bruckner named his work after an ancient hymn which begins “Thee, O God, we praise” and he based its text on the Apostles’ Creed.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is considered one of the greatest works in the Western musical tradition. Melkonian pointed out that the first movement starts with “the void” of the book of Genesis; while the exuberant chorus of the 4th movement celebrates joy, life, and God’s divine blessings. She concluded, “Tonight, as the contemplative music of Bruckner and Beethoven transport us upward, we join in this joyful chorus of praise and give thanks to God. We praise God for the miracles and the transformational work that have taken place through the programs initiated and sponsored by the Armenian Missionary Association of America.”
Doors to the hall opened soon afterward and almost every seat was filled as Concert Committee Chair Ken Kevorkian welcomed guests and dignitaries. Rev. Dr. Ara Chakerian, Minister to the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America blessed the concert with an invocation.
Dr. Nazareth Darakjian, President of the AMAA Board of Directors, patron of the Lark Musical Society, and a member of the Lark Mastersingers, stepped forward to provide a stirring reflection on the founding of the Armenian Republic and the founding of the AMAA in 1918, one century ago: “For 100 years the AMAA served Armenian communities in the Diaspora, and after the disastrous earthquake that hit Armenia in 1988, the AMAA extended its activities to the Motherland also. Today, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the formation of the AMAA, we are also celebrating the 100th anniversary of the rebirth of the Armenian nation, the rebirth of hope for a people who walked in the valley of the shadow of death, came face to face with the possibility of total annihilation, but survived.”
Maestro Vatsche Barsoumian led the Lark Orchestra, Lark Mastersingers, and musical artists Shoushik Barsoumian (Soprano), Garineh Avakian (Mezzo-soprano), Berj Karazian (Tenor), and Abdiel Gonzalez (Baritone) in a tremendous and moving musical program that exceeded even the high expectations set by the evening’s speakers. The Lark Musical Society, formed and supported by true artists, routinely excels in its beautifully curated and produced programs, and this was no exception. The performance was a wonderful achievement as well a fitting centennial tribute to the AMAA. Multiple ovations that followed the finale were well-deserved by all the outstanding artists and musicians who played in this program.
Maestro Barsoumian founded the Lark Musical Society, which includes a conservatory, musical education program for children, the Dilijan Chamber Series, and other successful musical and artistic endeavors. The first of many collaborations with the Lark Musical Society and the AMAA initiated in 1996 when the Lark Choir was invited to Paris, France to perform during the 150th Anniversary Celebration of the founding of the Armenian Evangelical Church.
In his concert notes, Maestro Barsoumian wrote that Lark has a focus on the cultural work of the Armenian people, but drew in this concert from the full canon of Western music. “This seems a fitting emulation of the truly global scale of the AMAA’s mission, with its charitable efforts rendered worldwide to communities in need, even as it maintains a focus on enriching the lives, both spiritual and physical, of Armenians wherever it can.” He concluded, “The spirit of these masterpieces is the spirit behind the good works of the Armenian Missionary Association of America. Long may they continue to serve. Long may they spread their Faith and Love.”