An Evening of Dinner and Music at the Diocese

By Florence Avakian

It was an evening of fun, fellowship, feasting and special music in the Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium of the Diocesan Center on Saturday, February 14. More than 200 people from the metropolitan area, as well as from nearby states, had come to celebrate Poon Paregentan (the Armenian “Mardi Gras”) and Valentine’s Day with friends, and hear celebrated singer Farah Siraj who has been hailed as a “musical ambassadress.”

Special guests included the Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian; Diocesan Vicar Very Reverend Fr. Simeon Odabashian; St. Vartan Cathedral dean Very Reverend Fr. Mamigon Kiledjian; the Jordanian Ambassador to the United Nations Dina Kawar; Armenia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Zohrab Mnatsakanian; Diocesan Director of Administration Jacob Yahiayan and his wife Sylva; and Mrs. Astrid Dadourian.

Continental Advisory Services, LLC, Mr. Yahiayan’s family office, sponsored the St. Vartan Cathedral Community in NYC roll-out dinner event.

Following a cocktail reception, the Primate in his opening prayer, asked all to “pray for justice and peace for all people throughout the world.” He noted that the guest singer Farah Siraj, with her great talent, “reaches across the world through the healing power of music.”

In a conversation during the filet mignon and shrimp dinner, Ms. Siraj, who is closely related to the Jordanian royal family, related that she uses her music to raise awareness of such crucial humanitarian causes as the genocides in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the military conflicts against Gaza.

She revealed that she first went on stage at age three. “My parents wanted to take me off the stage, but I didn’t want to leave. I loved every minute of it, and have loved it since then,” she said.

And that love was apparent as Farah, dressed in a colorful Middle Eastern dress, gracefully ascended the stage with her two musicians, jazz and flamenco guitarist Andreas Arnold, and percussionist Adam Maalouf, both of whom accompanied her with great resonance and musicality.

For more than an hour, the professional singer, who has performed in such notable venues as the United Nations, Lincoln Center, and the John F. Kennedy Center, delighted the audience with a group of Arabic, Spanish and American specialties. Her vocal interpretations, sometimes self-accompanied on her own guitar, brought on enthusiastic high-pitched celebratory trilling from female members of the audience, a well-known practice in the Middle East.

Graciously thanking those responsible for her performance, she related that “music is a medium for people to come together peacefully. It engages the soul so that we can connect with each other on a deep level where the superficial differences become irrelevant.”

Ms. Siraj, a native of Jordan, has lived in Spain and the United States, receiving her musical training at London’s Trinity College of Music, and Boston’s Berkley College of Music. She cites the legendary Oum Kalthoum, Paco de Lucia, and Ella Fitzgerald as her inspirations, and in her presentations she fuses flamenco, Middle Eastern, jazz, bossa-nova and pop.

During the evening, surprise birthday cakes from Mr. Yahiayan were presented to birthday celebrators St. Vartan Cathedral Choir Director Khoren Mekanejian, and Pedro Peixoto, an analyst at Continental Advisory Services, LLC, as the audience sang a spirited “Happy Birthday” to them.

It was an event with meticulous planning and organization, and top class musical entertainment, one of several such happenings being planned by Jacob Yahiayan and his staff.

Other events spearheaded by Jacob Yahiayan to revitalize the St. Vartan Cathedral Community of New York City have included a Christmas party and performance by the Brooklyn Armenian School in December, and the Christmas party for the Diocesan staff and St. Vartan Cathedral choir members.

The Gulbenkian classrooms and Vartan Hall at the Diocesan Center have been refurbished for activities, and there has been great enthusiasm for the recently initiated Sunday brunch get-togethers after church services at St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral. The St. Vartan Cathedral Community currently boasts over 100 new and legacy families further supported by its new website, managed by Taleen Babayan, an analyst at Continental Advisory Services, LLC.

For the future, there are plans for a Women’s Guild, a growing Young Professionals organization, networking, cultural collaborations with NYC entities, Armenian Mission, the Avaks Senior programs on Thursdays starting at 12:30 p.m., and much more.

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