Friday, June 22, 2018

Çidem İnç - Bank Ottoman: Memoirs of Armen Garo

Garegin Pasdermadjian
     While reading The Fool by Raffi, I had already decided to read Armen Garo’s memoirs next. The only translation I knew of was in 1990 and was published in Detroit. It was one of the many Armenian excellent projects of our family friend Armen Topouzian who passed away last year. When I finished the Raffi book, I was still in Detroit and sought out the Armen Garo book on my parent’s bookshelf. I was surprised not to find it as I thought for sure that they had it. I know I had seen it somewhere. Actually, upon returning home, I was surprised to find it on my own bookshelves.
     Armen Garo was the nom de guerre of Dr. Garegin Pasdermadjian (1872 – 1923). He was born in Garin (Erzerum). Garegin studied first at Sanasarian College in Garin, later getting a degree in Agronomie in France, and eventually a PhD in Physical Chemistry in Switzerland. He was known early on for his role in the Zeitun Resistance. He became an Armenian hero because of the August 26, 1896 raid on Bank Ottoman in Istanbul. Papken Siuni (Bedros Parian) planned the raid but as he was killed in the first moments of the raid, Armen Garo, being educated and fluent in French and Turkish, became the leader of the Armenians. Later, Armen Garo was the Ambassador to the United States from the 1918 – 1920 Republic of Armenia.
     There are things I should have known and probably did not remember from my Armenian Education in the Armenian Youth Federation. First, Bank Ottoman was not an exclusively Ottoman Bank. It was established 1856 as a joint venture of the British, French, and the Ottoman Government. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation decided to take over the bank to bring to the attention of the Brits and French the plight of the Armenians which included the massacres perpetrated under Sultan Abdul Hamid II 1895. While the takeover is viewed as a major heroic deed, revered in song and history, by the Armenians, it was viewed as an act of terrorism by the Ottoman Government. The takeover evoked some European sympathy and attempts to influence the Ottoman
Bank Ottoman in 1896
Government nothing came of it. Outside of the Armenians, it is barely a blip in Turkish, British, or French history. The surviving Armenians of the Bank Ottoman takeover were taken aboard the director of the bank’s, Sir Edgar Vincent, private yacht and given safe passage to Europe and exile from the Ottoman Empire.
     After the incident, President Grover Cleveland spoke out against these atrocities as part of a longer address to Congress and reported in the December 8, 1896 New York Times. He stopped short of any intervention as is often the case in such circumstances. He closed his comments on the Armenians with the following comment to the Ottoman subjects:
For centuries our forbears have been living with you in peace and harmony...but recently your government, conceived in crimes, began to sow discord among us in order to strangle us and you with greater ease. You, people, did not understand this diabolical scheme of politics and, soaking yourselves in the blood of our brothers, you became an accomplice in the perpetration of this heinous crime. Nevertheless, know well that our fight is not against you, but your government, against which your own best sons are fighting also.
     Change did come however. The Young Turks, officially the Committee of Unity and Progress, took control of the Ottoman Government in 1908. There was a brief honeymoon period in which the Armenians were encourage that unity and progress might actually happen. The exiles returned home, and Armen Garo became one of the ARF deputies in the Turkish Parliament. He served from 1908 to 1912 where he lost an election to a more pro-CUP Armenian. He then took an active role in ARF military activities in the Caucuses perhaps foreseeing the dark events of 1915.
     When the first Republic of Armenia was founded on May 28, 1918, Armen Garo became the first and only Ambassador to the United States. After the fall of the Republic to the Soviets, Armen Garo was overwhelmed with had happened to his people and country. He died in Geneva in 1923 at the young age of 51.
      As Simon Vratzian wrote in the introduction to these memoirs:
When Armen Garo arrived in Paris in November, 1922, only a ghost was left of the Armen Garo we knew. He was worn out and broken down, yet he had not lost his hope for the future. He wanted to hear endlessly about events, the accomplishments and the comrades in Armenia. He would sigh with deep sorrow that he had been away from it all… “Oh, but if I could only breathe the air and eat the grapes of Erevan all my ailments would be cured,” he would say quite often.
     The book is an easy read. It is not a finished or polished memoir but rather taken from Armen Garo’s notes and journals presumably without a lot of editing. It was clear that Armen Garo was a bright, educated, and pragmatic man. He was deeply devoted to the plight of the Armenian people. Given that we just celebrated the 100thanniversary of the establishment of the 1918 Republic, these Memoirs of Armen Garo were a great read.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

First Father's Day without...

Three Generation Photo:
Nephew/Grandson Jacob Niffin, Dad, and me
     It is Father’s Day. It is my first Father’s Day since my Father, Aram Martin Gavoor better known as Sonny, passed away on June 3.
     It has only been two weeks. At times it doesn’t seen that long and at others it seems like two years. Time moves differently, in funny ways, in times of grief or crisis. It is simply bent by the swirl of emotions.
     In perusing Facebook today, I saw postings of others honoring their fathers who passed away ten, fifteen, and twenty of more years. Their posts were touching and honoring the memory of their father. As they say, while the pain of loss eventually subsides, the hole in our lives remains. I mourn and miss my Dad for sure. At the same time, I have to be thankful that I had him just shy of 65 years. Those in the Facebook postings lost their Dads in their 30s and 40s. These same folks were the first to tell me it doesn’t matter at what age one loses a parent. I see their point for sure.
     With Dad’s passing, we were positively overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, memories, and condolences. As a renowned track coach in Armenian circles, he was a dynamic, sometimes larger than life, influence on many young people. Those who could came to the viewing or funeral and shared their memories while others called, texted, sent emails, or posted them on Facebook. They shared touching memories about how they never forgot what he had told them way back when and how that message or inspiration still guided them today. Other stories had we on the lighter side. People waited up to an hour and a half at the viewing. There were 220 people at the hokedjash (the traditional Armenian memorial dinner after the funeral). While we were mourning his passing, it was truly a celebration of his life, a life well lived.
     We, in the family, collectively wrote his obituary which was published in The Armenian Weekly. This post is not really about Sonny Gavoor the coach or community figure, but, as it is Father’s Day, more about Sonny being my Dad. As the emcee at the hokedjash, I gave my speech in between the other speakers. For the closing, I chose to, wanted to, and probably even had to share a moment that stood out in my mind. It was a simple memory but important to me. It was, certainly, cathartic for me but did not have the impact I wanted it to. In retrospect, it was a bit lame after all the great coaching vignettes. It was better suited for this venue but, let’s face it, I was not thinking so clearly at that time.
     Here is what I spoke about:
One of my fondest memories was back in 1967. It was in September barely a month and half after the riots that rocked the city. We were painting the outside of our first house, a two-flat house on Freeland, that we were then using as a rental property. The weather was glorious, the kind of September days we live for in Detroit with the bluest of skies, golden almost autumn sunshine, and temperatures in the low 70s with just a hint of fall crispness in the air. We painted. While we painted, we listened to baseball games on the radio. That year the Tigers were in a heated pennant race with the Red Sox and Twins. It was a Field of Dreams kind of memory. On different weekends we listened to the radio play by play by George Kell and the icon, the legend, Ernie Harwell. We painted and felt like were at the game. We didn’t talk at all during the game. Kell and Harwell did all the talking. We talked plenty before and after the games. I wanted the Tigers to take the pennant. Dad was a fan of both the Tigers and the Red Sox… oddly he never really favored one over the other at this time. In the weekends of painting, we listened to games against the Red Sox, Senators, Yankees and Angels. I have no recall who actually won they games. I remember the nailbiters against the Red Sox and we lost both of those games. The Tigers did not win the pennant, the Red Sox did. But we got a glimpse of the greatness the Tigers would display in 1968. Most importantly, it was a beautiful memory of baseball, fresh air, painting, and hanging out with my Dad.
     Later my wife, Judy, asked why I chose to share that story. It was a treasured memory to me, but I never asked myself why it was. When she asked me that question, I thought about it. I knew it was kind of a dud and I knew she felt the same way, hence the question. There were certainly many other memorable times and significant moments. Why did this one stand-out to the point where I wanted to share it with others? After some reflection, I decided this was important to me because it was a rite of passage kind of memory.
     I was all of fourteen years old. It was the first time, that we did something when he didn’t have to really tell me what to do or how to do it. It was the first time, I felt I was an adult and we were working together as men. I was about the same age, a little older, as when Jewish boys are Bar Mitzvahed. It was the first time I did not feel like a boy around my Dad. I do believe my relationship with him changed from being a kid toward being more adult. That was pretty cool and why this memory sticks out.
     The only thing we didn’t do was crack a beer at the end of day… which he did. Today, I had one in his honor this being my first Father’s Day without him.

Friday, June 1, 2018

     I have heard the concept before, but last night I really heard the acronym FOMO for the first time. It is a slang acronym that stands for “Fear of Missing Out.” According to it means:
a feeling of anxiety or insecurity over the possibility of missing out on something, as an event or an opportunity.
     It is indeed a condition, a side-effect, of our obsession with social media. It happens when one goes online, primarily to Facebook or Instagram. One encounters posts and photos of people having fun, attending some very cool looking event, or travelling to some exotic location. It appears that everyone is doing something more meaningful, far more fun, exotic, or way cooler than anything they are doing at that moment. As a result, one then feels lesser, more insignificant, and less important, all because of this fear of missing out… and comparing themselves to others.
     I have had to come to terms with this myself. I have seen folks travelling hither or yon and wishing I could do the same. I have seen friends playing music here or there with various musicians and wish I were with them. I have had to learn to appreciate what everyone else is doing without feeling like I was missing anything. I have also had to learn to appreciate all of what I do… much of which I am aware causes FOMO in others.
     Part of coming to terms with FOMO is the feedback other people have given me in person. They will make comments like, “I cannot believe all the stuff you do” or “Wow…
you have a pretty full life.” Hearing such comments was a bit of a slap in the face, a zen-like, slap in the face. Indeed, I do have an interesting and fun life. I have a great family and enjoy all the gatherings that we do. I have a cool encore career as a college professor that allows me to continue to travel around the world as well. I play music. I write. What am I missing out on? Not much really. Actually nothing. So, I have learned to simply be aware and thankful for all the cool and wonderful things I am doing and, simultaneously, appreciate and marvel at what everyone else is also doing.
     Sidebar: Before the internet and social media explosion that has facilitated this FOMO concept, I had a similar thought about American television and movies. By the 1980s and 90s, our TV shows and movies were available throughout the world. I believed that the distribution of this media to some of the poorest peoples in the Middle East. They see the lifestyle, bounty, luxuries, and conspicuous consumption that some these TV shows and movies flaunt. I could see how zealots could use a kind of FOMO to radicalize people who have nothing and who barely scrape out an existence.

     The cure for FOMO? Do less social media. Take a sobering look at the things that you actually do and the people that you interact with. You might be more fulfilled and happy than the FOMO fog has you feeling. Lastly, if there are things you really wish you might want to do from a hobby, travel, avocation, or vocation… pursue them. Will it all be exactly what you envision? Sometimes. In reality, most of the time for most of us not. For me, things do work out but never as I envisioned them, but I have realized that 70-80% of a vision or goal (many goals) can be quite fulfilling. So, no FOMO… Live Your Own Life (LYOL) and as the hippies used to say, Keep On Keepin’ On (KOKO).

Monday, May 28, 2018

Chidem Inch: Our Literature is Unread

     It is May 28, 2018. It is Memorial Day in the United States. It is also the 100thAnniversary of the establishment of the Armenian Republic that lasted from 1918 – 1920. It is the kind of day where both my American citizenship and my Armenian heritage have converged and are in sync.
     We went to a commemoration in Lake Forest’s Market Square hosted by the local American Legion Post. Afterwards we went to visit the graves of our family members. We went to the two cemeteries where the Armenians who migrated to Waukegan from 1900 to 1920 are buried. There I saw grave markers from people that I knew and never knew that stated that they were from Harput, Khapert, Kharpert – Tadem, Tadem, or Khoulakiugh (also in the Harput or Kharpert region). They were both proud of where they were from. They were making a statement of preserving where they were from and why they were buried half-way around the world in a corner of Northeast Illinois.
     It made me think of places, I have heard about and read about in memoirs and histories but never actually seen. It made me think about being Armenian in the Diaspora and, in my case, the United States. In his famous quote, William Saroyan’s stated“whose literature is unread” in reference to Armenia and the Armenians. Indeed, for the most part, our literature is unread. Very few in my circle of Armenian family and friends have ever talked about reading this novelist or that poet.
      I have actually read some of our poetry. I have three books of Armenian poetry with translations in English either on the facing page or in an appendix. I have enjoyed reading selections of the poems of Kouchag, Charents, Toumanian, Varoujan, Siamanto, Isahakian, Gaboudikian, Sevag and others. I especially like Sarmen. He is not a major poet but at least two of his poems have been put to music and are songs I actually perform. The language he uses is closer to the Armenian I grew up with. I read all these poems in Armenian and then in English. I repeat the process over and over again. I understand a bit more or a bit differently in each reading. That is the beauty of poetry.
     When I was graduating from Armenian school, I wanted to read and learn more Armenian. I wanted to study further. I would have benefitted from studying Armenian at the university level. Sadly, I was in school before either Wayne State University or the University of Michigan was offering Armenian courses. I did ask our Der Hayr, our parish priest, about what I might do. He suggested I read Malkas nee Ardashes Hovsepian (1877
Trabizon – 1962 Beirut). He thought Malkhas’s novels were at a level that would have been only a little challenge given where he thought my vocabulary level was. He said he would get me book to read. He never did and I never followed up. I came to learn later that Malkhas was a neighbor of my Uncle Reuben and Aunt Rose Marie in Washington, DC in the 1950s. His three-volume classic, Zartonk (Awakening), has been translated into English. I need to secure copies in both English and Armenian and finally get to reading Malkhas.
     The classic book that probably every Armenian should read is a novel, Kentuh or The Fool, from the late 1800s by Raffi. Raffi (nee Hakob Melik Hakobian) is so notable in Armenian history that his nom de plume is a popular Armenian name to this day. I know several Raffi’s. They were all named for the famous writer… that most of us have not read. There is a decent biography of Raffi on Wikipedia.
     While most Armenian’s know of Raffi, some lesser number can name any of his books, and even less have read any of them. Raffi is best known for his classic novel: Khentuh (The Fool). It is important in our history. This book came at the time when, as a subjugated people of the Ottoman Empire, we were waking to the idea of wanting and need more self-determination and freedom. Thus, reading The Fool is important for any Armenian who takes his or her culture and heritage seriously. I had never read it. So, while in Detroit the last two weeks, I took Donald Abcarian’s translation from my parent’s bookcase and read it.
      I immediately saw why Raffi was so important. He highlighted the plight of the Armenian peasants in the eastern millets. They were subjected to over-taxation and pillaging from Turks and Kurds. He highlighted the complicity of some self-serving Armenians working with the Turks. He, to me at least, was surprisingly critical of the clergy who seemed to preach that the peasants’ lot was God’s will while trying to maintain their status in the community and scratching out a living. As for the church hierarchy, he seemed to note that they were more interested with their career tracks than their flock.
     His heroes were the few Armenians that were educated and abhorred by the status

quo. They dedicated their lives to educating, awakening, and arming the peasants. This was important because how the Turks would squeeze and crush the Armenians in wartime when the enemy was a Christian nation. Raffi wrote about this in 1880. This was well before the Hamidian massacres, the Adana massacres, and well before the 1915 Genocide. He foretold this by relating the events of the 1877 – 1878 Russo-Turkish War.
      I know of a small group of Armenian fellows, all retired, in Chicago. A few years ago, they would meet for coffee and breakfast as retired Armenians around the US are prone to do. These fellows had a mission beyond the normal catching-up and solving the world’s problems conversation. They were reading The Fool in Armenian. I was impressed and made a mental note to do the same myself someday.
      The Fool is available online in Armenianand English(translation by Jane Wingate). It seems that someday is here thanks to the internet.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Farmers and Factory Workers

Desecdents of Nishan and Almas Asoian in front of offices at
the Andover Country Club.  This renovated structure was
their farmhouse in the 1930s

     Things change. I know this. In life, some things change rather abruptly. Other changes are so gradual they I might not even notice it happening. But when I do I am taken aback and blog about it.
     I realized just this past few weeks just how few farmers and factory workers I actually knew.
     I teach Microeconomics. One of the central topics is the study of Perfectly Competitive industries or markets of which the best examples are agriculture. Many producers grow the same product say a class of corn, wheat, or, something that many Armenians in Fresno made their livelihood at, growing grapes for raisins. There are many growers and they have to accept the market price.
     I have been teaching this class for four years now and am just realizing that no one in our family farms. We haven’t had a farmer in the family for decades. My father spent summers in Andover, Massachusetts where his maternal grandparent’s families, the Asoians and Lusignians, all worked the land. I have met some Armenians in Fresno that still farm but they are not related to me. I know a lady at the university, she told me that her father, who recently passed away, and his brothers are farmers in Kansas. The father of another lady who reported to me at Newell Rubbermaid is also a farmer. Growing up in Detroit, my friend Brad’s family had a farm in Hale, MI. When I visited the farm in the Boy Scouts, they were no longer working the farm themselves but leasing the land to neighboring farmers.
      A childhood acquaintance, Bruce, took being a hippie quite seriously and actually got himself back to the land. He eschewed his suburban upbringing and may have even dropped out of college and became a farmer in rural Michigan. I was always amazed that he did this, basically going against the grain of what everyone else I knew was doing. An internet search showed that he is still active and participating in farmer’s markets selling vegetables, herbs, eggs, wool, and maple syrup. I have always wanted to sit down and get his perspective on this… but we were never that close. I may actually talk to some local folks, at our local farmer’s market that have done essentially the same thing.
      In the same vein, I know and less and less folks that work in factories. I grew up in Detroit. Back then, Detroit was more of a manufacturing town than it is today. I knew a lot of people, friends, family, and neighbors that worked in manufacturing plants. In the summer of 1973, I actually worked in a machine shop myself. My maternal grandfather, Levon, worked in the Ford Foundry at the Rouge Complex.  That experience provided great motivation to excel in my studies. Today? The last of my extended family have retired from their factory jobs. So, at this time, I can barely of anyone I know that actually works in a factory.
Ford's Rouge Complex c. 1927 - Wikipedia

      There are few factors in play here. First, times have changed. There is simply less family farmers and less factory jobs these days. Corporate farming has taken over the production of most foods we buy in the grocery stores. The loss of manufacturing jobs is well known and well documented. Secondly, my demographics have changed. In the Detroit I grew up in, we lived in a neighborhood that had blue and white collar, executives

and factory, workers living side-by-side. This influenced my experiences in school, Boy Scouts, and church. Now? Since I moved from Detroit, I have lived in mostly amongst households had the same kinds of executive positions I had. While this was OK for the most part, as my children got excellent educations and experiences… just different from mine growing up.
     I wonder what the next fifty years will bring.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The MEME Arab Concert - A Conversation with Sophia Uddin

Sophia Uddin
     This coming Sunday, May 27, the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble (MEME) of the University will present The Arab Concert. This concert marks the end of the 20th Anniversary of this wonderful ensemble. The concert begins at 6 pm in the concert hall of at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts located at 915 E. 60th Street in Chicago. Come and listen to our amazing ensemble for 40+ musician present classical, folk, and popular selections from the vast Arab repertoire. If you are remotely interested in this genre, this is not a concert to be missed.

     There are myriad benefits of playing in the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble of the University of Chicago. One of them is hearing the exceptional talents of a few musicians. For example, our maestro, Wanees Zarour, is an unbelievable composer, arranger, and musician who is accomplished and world-class on several instruments from violin to oud to bouzouk. Where he really shines, in my humble view, is on the def, the tambourine popular in Arab and Turkish music. He dazzles me with the way he makes that thing talk. His articulation, timing, and ornamentation surpass what I imagine, and I have a pretty good imagination. He also makes it all look so… effortless and natural. 
Jim Stoynoff
     Another favorite of mine is Jim Stoynoff. He is a clarinet master. He is a fixture of Greek, Macedonian, Balkan, Turkish, and other Middle Eastern genres in Chicago for sure and around the US. He is an honorary member of MEME for his talent, years of dedication, being a friend and mentor to all, and his exceptional knowledge of Makam Theory which he has made a lifelong study. Certainly, I love to hear Jim’s taksims introducing various pieces and his improvisations in the pieces during the practices and concerts. But, a bonus for me, is simply hearing Jim warm up before practice. I often find myself stopping my tuning and warming up simply to listen to Jim… in awe and admiration. As we practice around 27 times throughout the academic year, I get to hang out with and hear Jim that many times. 
     Jim and Wanees were born listening to this music.  I believe that for some of us the appreciation of and dedication to this music is in our very DNA. In MEME, I am truly impressed with the musicians that do not come from the heritage and only got into it because of MEME. The third musician, to whom this piece is truly dedicated, is Sophia Uddin, a superb violinist and our concertmaster. She is truly amazing in all three concerts: Turkish, Persian, and Arab. To me, however she shines the most in the Arab concert. When Wanees asks her to demonstrate a passage for the rest of the strings, I actually think she has played with orchestras in Beirut, Damascus, or Cairo her entire life. Her feel, interpretation, and style simply amazes me. 
     I had the opportunity to chat a bit with Sophia and ask her a few questions:
What this music means to you?
Because I didn't really play any Middle Eastern music until a few years ago, I don't have any long-ago memories associated with it. However, since joining MEME in 2013, this music has come to occupy a special place in my heart. Because I grew up playing almost exclusively Western classical music, Middle Eastern music presents a total paradigm shift. It's a way for me to challenge myself on the violin and as a musician (for example, learning to hear whether half-flats are in tune, and learning to produce them on the violin...or learning to play in a G-D-G-D tuning rather than G-D-A-E).

I also love the sense of community from playing Middle Eastern music. When I joined MEME, I noticed two things. First, I noticed how friendly everyone is with one another. Second, I noticed how Wanees is not the "orchestra conductor" in the Western symphony orchestra sense; he's never standing up front with a baton during our shows. It's a very different approach to musical hierarchy than I grew up with, and I love that. Rather than being told exactly what to do in every measure of the music, we're thrown into a situation where novices, masters, and everyone in between play the same music together. This gives the newcomers (like me!) the opportunity to learn organically from the masters.

Finally, especially in today's political climate, I am especially glad to be playing Middle Eastern music, because for me it is a way of showing support and love to cultures that are discriminated against in the US right now. It's easy to feel pessimistic about where the US is headed currently, but it helps cheer me up to remember that this is still a place where a descendant of Oregon trail pioneers and Muslims from the Indian subcontinent (i.e., me) can spend every Thursday playing Middle Eastern music with amazing people from all over the world.

What has being part of MEME meant to you?

Being part of MEME has been wonderful! It's a friendly, welcoming environment and has become a cherished group of friends. Back in 2013 when I joined, I was new to Chicago, and didn't know very many people around the city. The lovely people in MEME were among the first who made me feel at home in a new city.

MEME is also a great way to give my brain a break from studying. I'm in the U Chicago MSTP which means I spend a lot of time reading papers, writing, and memorizing things. It is wonderful to have one protected night a week where I can forget about all that and just play music.

How you got into playing this music?
Honestly, before joining MEME I didn't play any Arab, Turkish, or Persian music! The closest I came was a folk music ensemble I was in for a couple years as a kid. We played lots of Irish and bluegrass fiddle music, as well as a couple Balkan and Klezmer songs. My parents had a couple world music CDs that we'd listen to as kids, and those had a couple Egyptian songs on them if I recall correctly, but the first time I learned to play this music was when I joined MEME.

What brought you to MEME?
When I showed up in Chicago to start my program at U of C, I didn't know anyone in Chicago and I didn't know about MEME, but I had been playing violin in chamber groups and orchestras since high school. I knew I wanted to continue playing, but after beyond-wonderful experiences playing in chamber groups and the school orchestra at Swarthmore college, everything else felt like a letdown. My quartet in college used to practice ~10 hours a week so that we could focus on thorny, dissonant music like Schoenberg and Bartók, and I couldn't envision building something like that from the ground up again with entirely new people. I decided I needed a total genre change, and I found out about MEME just by scrolling through the U of C website that describes all the ensembles. I showed up at the first practice of the quarter for the 2013 Turkish Concert, and after that I was hooked. 

MEME performs three concerts a year: Turkish, Persian, and Arab. How do you relate to these different styles and genres?
Given that I have no background in any of these traditions, they all seem equally new to me although quite distinct from each other. I suppose the Persian music seems a little closer to the Western music I grew up with because of the harmonies, but they all have their own challenges.

I found your website... tell me a bit about the music you compose.
I've been composing for a long time, but the first time I had any formal instruction in it was in college, where I was lucky enough to study with Gerald Levinson who was one of Olivier Messiaen's students. In college I wrote a lot of typical "Western art music" - atonal chamber music pieces with extended techniques all over the place - things like that. The largest-scale piece I've ever written is a still-unperformed piano concerto that clocks in at about 45 minutes.

After I moved to Chicago, I got a 7-string electric violin and started playing live with a few prog rock-ish bands - The Gabriel Construct which is my fiance's band, and Pavlov(3) which is tapping musician Matt Tate's brainchild, to name a couple. This is exciting because now, I have real live musicians to work with, and I get to write for actual performances rather than for the desk drawer. It has been fun learning to compose outside my comfort zone (drum set! electric instruments!) and to practice my own music with the bands. People always remark that my rock music is a bit unusual; I don't think I'll ever be able to escape my roots in avant-garde Western classical music, and I'm fine with that. I've also noticed more and more Middle Eastern influences slipping into my compositions the longer I play with MEME. 
      While Sophia is an amazing musician and contributor to MEME, she is, like many members of MEME, also a student at the University of Chicago. All of the student musicians are talented musicians and gifted students. Sophia, for example, just completed her PhD in Computational Neuroscience and is rolling right into the university’s Pritzker School of Medicine to pursue her MD. On top of all this, she is genuine, warm, and engaging person. All I can really type at this point is: Wow! 
     So, on Sunday, May 27 come on down to the Logan Center at the University of Chicago and listen to Sophia, Jim, and their colleagues in the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble perform the Arab Concert orchestrated, arranged, and led by Maestro Wanees Zarour. It will be a real treat.


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Margot Kidder (1948 – 2018)

     I heard that Margot Kidder passed away on May 14. She was way too young at 69. The early press releases did not disclose the cause of the death.  The obituaries noted that she had struggled with a spinal injury from a car accident in the 1990s. In that decade, she also suffered from a serious breakdown in 1996 due to a bipolar disorder. She had gone from stardom to broke and then rehabilitated herself in this century where she returned to acting and political/social activism including supporting Bernie Sanders in the most recent presidential election.
     Margot Kidder was most well-known for the three Superman movies she made with Christopher Reeve. The movies Superman I, II, III were made in 1978, 1980 and 1983 respectively. While I certainly watched those films, they were not necessarily my favorites. I thought that Margot Kidder played a spunky and entertaining Lois Lane but that is not why I remember her.
     Margot Kidder first caught my eye in Playboy magazine of all places. She had a photo shoot in the March 1975 issue. The photos were all in black and white and of all the various photos I had seen in Playboy, Margot Kidder’s were the most memorable.
     All the other photos in Playboy were, what was then called, cheesecake. They were topless or nude pin-up shots meant to stimulate and entice men. Kidder’s photos were certainly topless and nude, but they were so much more. I recall, when I first saw them, that they were not the run of the mill Playboy photos but were actually art. They were stylish, stylized, classic, as in Greek Sculpture classic, and she was perfectly and beautifully suited for the role. They were unforgettable. Like I said, hers was the only photo shoot from Playboy that I actually recall. The photo here is, I believe, one of them: black, white, and artistic. The full photo shoot was nowhere to be found online.
     Kidder only agreed to do the photo shoot if she could could write the copy for the accompanying article. Her words resonate well today given what I have read about young girls dealing with the reality of not being, drop-dead, model gorgeous. I checked with a few buddies about my age, they two recall these photos as being the best they had ever seen in Playboy.  None of us recalled reading the accompanying article back in 1975.
     Playboy? Really? Yes, I have to admit that I did buy the occasional issue and look at others back in the 1970s. Of course, I bought or looked at them for the photos mostly. But, I did read some of the articles and interviews. Out of all the articles and interviews, the only one I recall was the March 1974 issue in which they interviewed Groucho Marx.  There must have been something special about the March issue in back then.
     These days, Playboy magazine is almost a thing of the past. I cannot even recall the last time I have even seen one.  The once popular magazine that was published monthly is down to six issues per year. In March 2016 they did what would have been unthinkable in the 1970s, they stopped using photos of nude women. Compared to the photos and porn floating about the internet these days, Playboy was the softest of the soft porn. Of course, in the 1950s and 60s, it was scandalous which accounted for its popularity at the time. Per the Los Angeles Times in an article on January 2, 2018, “U.S. circulation has dropped to less than 500,000 an issue from a peak of 5.6 million in 1975 amid struggles in the broader print magazine industry.” The private equity firm that now call the shots since the passing of Hugh Hefner is actually thinking of shutting down the magazine.
     It is funny that the magazine circulation peaked in the only years that I recall both an interview and a collection of special photos of Margot Kidder.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"The Lion in Winter"

     What do you do when all you can do is wait and reminisce… you wait and you reminisce.
     In my case, I wait, reminisce, and now want to write a bit.
     This is what you do in when someone you love is in hospice care as my father is. We spend as much time with him and try to make him as comfortable as possible which is what hospice care is. The actual definition of hospice is a home for the terminally ill. Is my father terminally ill? He does have Parkinson’s and that degenerative disease has immobilized a man who took great pride in his athleticism and took great care of his body. That disease has simply worn him out.
     Reminiscing is, of course, remembering the past. The dictionary on my MacBook defines it as to “indulge in the enjoyable recollection of past events.” That is what we have, in part, done. When it is done in a hospice setting, it is more bittersweet than enjoyable. But, reminisce we do.
     Sometimes they call it palliative care which is the medical relief of pain while not addressing the medical condition. My Dad is not, as yet, in need of such. We have no way of knowing if he will need such or not. The body, he took such good care of, and the devoted care of my mother has sustained him through his Parkinson’s thus far. He sleeps, he tries to eat a bite here or there, and when he is awake, his mind is there. We are fortunate for the latter.
     In this day and age of social media, almost everyone is aware of what has and is happening. We are getting phone calls, texts, and emails. They are all wonderful expressions of care, thoughts, and prayers for Dad and for all of us. Many share a moment, a memory, that involved Dad and touched them in some positive or humorous way. Sometimes, the memory is something that we knew nothing about. It is like that in this kind of time. You learn things about your loved one that you did not know and see new perspectives and facets that make the bittersweet a bit sweeter.
     Dad is a lion. Our family friend, Ken Sarajian, wrote a beautiful piece on this in 2014 for the Armenian Weekly: The Last Lion. It is a lovely reminiscence. It is odd, unfair, or whatever you want to call it but Parkinson’s has taken this lion’s roar from him. The man that could bellow instructions, praise, or admonitions across the track is now reduced to speaking in an almost inaudible whisper.
     The health care folks who deal with the elderly nearing the end are special. I am not sure it is a job I could do. I am less sure that I could do it with the care that some of the nurses and aides have shown. Friends and family who have been through this before refer to them as angels. Indeed they are.
     While most of us go through this, perhaps, a few times in our lives. These care providers see it everyday. They help both patient and family navigate what are uncharted waters for most of us. They have the charts.
     So, we are reminiscing, we are waiting, we are trying to provide comfort. If you have a thought or memory you want to share, send it along. We will share those that we know will bring a smile to his face or a thumbs up.

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Livonia State of Mind

     We have all heard about a New York state of mind. I do believe that is a real thing and for a while, when I worked there, I may have actually got close to experiencing it. I definitely know people who had it and embraced but.  I know others that worked extra hard to try to get a New York state of mind not realizing that trying hard ensures that one will fall short.
     Most large cities have a state of mind or underlying culture that defines the place and the people who have lived there for a long time. There is definitely a Los Angeles, Cleveland, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, Boston, DC, and Detroit state of mind. Internationally, the same thing applies.  Think Paris and Tokyo. I love the vibe in Montevideo, Santiago, of course, Yerevan, Istanbul, Mexico City, Athens, and even Bengbu, China.
     But, a Livonia state of mind?  Yes, Livonia.  Livonia, Michigan.
     Don’t the vibes and state of mind of the larger city extend over the entire metropolitan area?  Would a Detroit state of mind cover Livonia?
     Livonia is a suburb of Detroit. It was only a township until 1950 when it was incorporated into a city. Per Wikipedia:  
First settled by pioneers from New England and New York, an act by the Legislature of the Territory of Michigan established the borders of Livonia Township on March 17, 1835. The settlers brought with them the name "Livonia", a name that had already been given to Livonia, New York, Livonia, Pennsylvania and a region on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea named Livonia in present-day Estonia and Latvia, from which many early settlers came.
     Settlers from New York?  No wonder I had such an affinity for New York City.  It is right there, the defining core of the Livonia state of mind is the New York state of mind.
     Livonia is the Michigan's nineteenth largest municipality with, a 2010 census, population of over 96 thousand. I lived in Livonia from 1969 until 1977, from the ages of sixteen to twenty-four. While, it wasn’t all that long, they were the important coming of age years. My parents still live here to this day. Thus, I do return here several times a year.
     In the mid-1970s, when I was an undergraduate, I found myself in a corridor that housed the philosophy faculty at the University of Michigan – Dearborn. A professor whose name I do not recall, had an op-ed about baby-boomers coming of age taped to his door. It was not complimentary and had the tone of “kids these days...” I don’t even remember the specifics of the article, but I do remember the professor had written in the margin, “students from places like Livonia should read this.”  He might have even used the word 
naïve in there somewhere.
     It rubbed me the wrong way. I was a bit offended by this note from a professor who wasn't yet 30.  I already thought he was a pompous, ivy league wannabe educated, northeasterner, who didn’t want to be in Michigan and was lording it over Livonia. While, I did not really feel particularly Livonian, I found myself, suddenly, in a Livonia state of mind.
     I stopped whatever it was I was planning to do, wrote a statement, and taped it on his door feeling like some Livonian Martin Luther. What did I write? If it were this era, I would have taken a photo of what I wrote. At this point, I have to rely on my memory to resurrect the gist of what I wrote some forty years ago.
     I didn’t attack the professor. But, I did defend having come to age in Livonia. I wrote about the wonderful teachers at Stevenson High School (Remembering Ms. Trosko). They taught me math, chemistry, physics, social studies, history, and English. They taught me to think and write. They along with my parents challenged me to excel beyond what I thought my capabilities were. They taught me to value education. Livonia, at that time, was a modest lower-middle class of Detroit. It was a city of auto-workers both blue collar and white collar that were closer to blue collars. It was a city where people worked hard to provide for their families where parents wanted their children to do better than they did. My Livonia peers of that era, grew-up and came of age in that city. We developed great friendships, had our first loves, first kisses, and first heartbreaks in Livonia. We experienced life and death, both in real life and on the sporting fields in Livonia. We had our first part-time and summer jobs in Livonia. We were studious and mischievous in Livonia. No matter what we might think and how others might see us, those Livonia experiences defined us.  We graduated and either went to work, to the military, or matriculated to this University where you (the professor in question) could come… and judge us?
     I guess I had a Livonia state of mind at that moment. Over the years I have found that Livonia state of mind to be quite similar with the states of minds in many other places I have come to know.  Go figure.  Maybe I am just a naive Livonian.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Annals of Customer Service

     I decided to buy some wireless headphones to watch TV. I did this to be able to watch TV without disturbing my wife. She claims that I tend to have the sound up way too loud. Yep, that probably means that my hearing is deteriorating. I know this. In conversations, I am asking people to repeat themselves with increasing frequency. I am always telling my students to “Speak louder. Pretend I am hard of hearing, which is probably not far from the truth.”
     I know, I probably need hearing aids. I should probably get them, and it couldn’t be easier as my wife is the manager of a hearing aid clinic. You might think it is vanity that is preventing me from getting hearing aids. If I was particularly vain, I would have been coloring my hair for the past several years. No, the reason I have avoided hearing aids and am not coloring my hair are the same: more laziness than vanity. Laziness? Not really. Let’s call it economic use of time. I simply do not want to fuss with more “stuff” on a routine basis. I don’t want to worry about and scheduling a hair coloring once a month. Do it myself? I want to do that even less. And as for hearing aids? Cleaning them, changing the batteries, and whatever else just seems to be a waste of time.
     I like to watch TV. I hate disturbing others. So, wireless TV headphones, however, seemed like a good idea. It is also the first step toward getting hearing aids. As modern hearing aids are loaded with technology, e.g. Bluetooth, and can be managed by cell phone apps, a hearing aid can serve as wireless headphones for watching TV or speaking on said cell phone.
     This blog is not about hearing aids. It is about the wireless headphones I bought and the company that makes them. I shopped for the headphones on Amazon. It seems the good headphones for my purposes were radio frequency and not Bluetooth. There was a variety of price ranges from $50 to over $200. I decided on a moderately, actually lower, priced set that was well-rated and had great reviews: Artiste ADH300. This was not a brand I had ever heard of. The name brand models offered by Sennheiser and Sony were all higher priced.
     I placed the order.
     Then I was surprised. Of course, I got the email from Amazon confirming my order. But, I also got another email from Amazon. For the first time, ever, using Amazon, I got an email from the company that made or distributed the headphones:
Dear markd.gavoor ,
This is Sissic from DylanDirect Store. Nice to meeting you.Thanks for chosing our TV headphones.We hope your experience is postive and you use our company again.Do not heasite to contact with us by replying this mail,if you have any questions during the using time.If you not received the headphones in 3 days since you have placed the payment,bleow is the link to track the packages:
select : an order I placed-->2018-->problem with an order-->shipping or delivery issues-->shipment is late
Here is the link of the introduction of this TV headphones,or contact with me by the mail attached,I will send you the video directly.please notice that the headphone you will received is the improved one,and the betteries will be exactly in the headphones.

Best Regards,DylanDirect Custmoer Service Team
     I was most impressed. There was some cute Chinglish in the email, the youtube, and owner's manual for sure. But the most impressive part was the heartfelt and true appreciation to me, a customer, for buying their product.  “Nice to meeting you?” “Thank you for choosing our TV headphones.” I was truly taken back… at least in the realm of online shopping. There is no way I would have gotten an email from Sennheiser or Sony and I would have paid twice as much. Furthermore, there was a link to a youtube video that was basically a video version of the user manual. The headphones were easy to set-up and work great. This company differentiated themselves in a most positive way from every other transaction I have had on Amazon.
     Perhaps everyone will be doing the same soon, that is what happens with great ideas like this. I can see it getting to the point that it is actually irritating. But, right now, when DylanDirect is the first on the block to do this: it is brilliant and greatly appreciated. To me, it is excellent customer service.