Gomidas Choir Brings Music of Christmas to St. Vartan Cathedral

Christmas St. Vartan Cathedral

The Diocese’s “Christmas at the Cathedral” concert featuring the Gomidas Choir and Astghikner Vocal Ensemble took place on Friday evening, December 8, 2017 in the cathedral’s sanctuary.

The choir members sang songs in the Armenian and American tradition, bringing cheer and the Christmas spirit to the Cathedral.

The overflowing crowd enjoyed the sounds of the season by the talented voices of both choirs, as well as a special solo appearance by singer Elie Berberian.

“Tonight’s performance keeps with our proud tradition of the Gomidas Choir, which has always had a home in this cathedral,” said Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern). “The Gomidas Choir has seen a renewed vision and beautiful artistry under Kris Kalfayan and listening to the children’s voices of the Astghikner Choir, under the direction of Maria Sahakyan, fills our heart with hope and optimism for our future.”

Kalfayan said it was a joy to perform at the Cathedral, which he says is their “home.”

“To carry on the legacy of our founders, is an honor and our responsibility,” said Kalfayan. “We have the responsibility today to continue singing the Gomidas Badarak so that our community has the opportunity to hear its beauty and to continue our founders’ legacy.”

A Positive Example

The Gomidas Choir, which sings Gomidas Vartabed’s version of the Divine Liturgy, was formed in 1948 at the Holy Cross Church of Armenia in New York. Under the auspices of the Eastern Diocese for the past 60 years, the choir has performed during symbolic moments in Armenian-American church history, including the consecration of St. Vartan Cathedral in 1968. The choir is now comprised of 40 members, many of whom sing in their own parish choirs.

For almost 70 years, the choir has inspired churchgoers and serves as a positive example for the younger generation.

Sahakyan noted it was symbolic for the Astghkner Vocal Ensemble to perform in the Cathedral alongside the Gomidas Choir because they had the opportunity to “experience the professionalism of their elders, which showed them how their own futures will look in the Armenian Church.”

“It was a great feeling to perform with people who have already succeeded in music and we were proud to sing in the Armenian Cathedral with the presence of Srpazan,” said Sahakyan, who formed the Astghikner Vocal Ensemble in 2015 at the St. Gregory the Illuminator Mission Parish of Brooklyn, New York.

The Gomidas Choir has long held a special place in the heart of its members, including Anoush Givelekian, who at a young age sang in Holy Cross’s church choir, where Kalfayan was an organist. She joined the Gomidas Choir in 1975, the youngest female member at the age of 13, and looked forward to the weekly rehearsals at the Diocese under the direction of Dr. Artur Misyan.

“The melodies of the Gomidasian Liturgy profoundly resonate with me on so many levels,” said Givelekian, who serves as Assistant Choir Director of the St. Gregory Armenian Church of White Plains, New York. “Not only because they are reminiscent of the wonderful times I had in the choir, but because of the way that the hymns are structured.”

She notes the tension in the music that leads to the resolution and the soaring, uplifting passages.

“At times the score is so rich and expressive, the worshipper feels as they are transported to an ethereal plane,” said Givelekian, who is a member of the Diocese’s Sacred Music Council. “While other times, melodies of his setting of the liturgy are as familiar as a regional village song. That is the magic of Gomidas.”

Family Legacies

Dr. Berdj Feredjian, who was a member of the choir in the 1970s while a student in dental school, rejoined the Gomidas Choir after a 38-year hiatus. He reflects on the efforts of the founders, who wanted to introduce Gomidas Vartabed’s Badarak to Armenian-Americans.

“It’s quite admirable that a handful of people decided to start a group years ago to continue Gomidas Vartabed’s legacy,” said Feredjian, a deacon whose service to the church began at the age of 10, alongside his father who was a priest. “Hopefully, through example, we will motivate the next generation to continue to preserve the treasures that Gomidas Vartabed has left for the Armenian people. They are indeed priceless.”

While many changes have occurred in the last seven decades, Kalfayan states that the love of the Gomidas Badarak and of the church has remained the same among the choir members and the community at large. The choir does, however, face new challenges, such as full participation during performances, without the parish choirs suffering from their member’s absences.

“Our members today come from all walks of life,” said Kalfayan. “My goal is to increase the membership with younger members so that they carry on our legacy.”

One member of the younger generation is Alyne Corrigan, who joined the choir “to carry on the legacy of our ancestors.”

She remarked that it’s time for her generation to step in and take part in preserving the music, which she learned about from her own family.

“Growing up, the love of music was instilled in me from my grandparents, who learned from their parents and grandparents,” said Corrigan, whose great-great-grandmother frequented Gomidas Vartabed’s performances in historic Armenia. “I want to continue sharing in the mystical beauties of our culture, religion and Badarak, especially as an Armenian-Irish-American.”

Corrigan first began singing in her home parish of St. Stephanos in Elberon, New Jersey, under the guidance of then-pastor Very Rev. Fr. Mamigon Kiledjian and is now the church’s Assistant Choir Director and Director of the Knar Children’s Choir.

“It is important to me that the legacy of our ancient church be preserved by not only learning and singing the hymns, but by teaching the younger generation the beautiful and meaningful hymns,” said Givelekian, “In this ever-changing world we live in, it is comforting to know that the traditions of our church are perpetuated by a continuum of hymns over millennia.”

-By Taleen Babayan

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