Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lecture on Mesopotamian Music

In search of good lectures about Mesopotamian Music, we came across this some twenty years old lecture by Rabi Paulos Khofri in Tehran. We thought it is a good source for education about our music so we put it on YouTube in three different clips as well as on The is one full 20-minutes clip.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Sample from Assyryt

The following slide show is a two minute sample from Assyryt No. 1. Mesopotamian Night 2009 will present two 10-minute Symphonic Suites named Assyryt No.1 and Assyryt No.2.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Tribute to A Patriot: Sargon Ishoo (1960-1999)

The Mesopotamian Night 2009 is somehow related to an Assyrian patriot Sargon Ishoo. It was him and Tony Khoshaba the president of AAS-A Central Valley Chapter who made a life long promise to their Assyrian language and literature teacher Rabi Nimrod Simono that the folklore Epic of Qateeni Gabbara, so beautifully documented by Rabi William Daniel, will live on and will not be forgotten. Over twenty years has passed from the day that the promise was made. Both Rabi Simono and Sargon Ishoo have already left us but the promise is finally fulfilled. Qateeni will appear in world stage as a master piece of literature and arts and will live forever in the minds of future generations of Assyrians and will lead them with the message of pride, unity and freedom.

Below is a biography of Sargon Ishoo written by his brother Ninous Ishoo.

Sargon Ishoo's Biography

Sargon Ishoo was born May 22, 1960 in a small, ordinary Assyrian family. He lost his father at the early age of 8. He had a challenging childhood but he was fortunate enough to have had a very good family and close friends. Sargon, in his teenage years, discovered his love for sport. Like his father, he had a passion for soccer. He started playing soccer for the Armenian team of Ararat. After awhile, he discovered his other passion, which was stronger than soccer. That passion was learning his native Assyrian language. He had never taken any Assyrian classes and didn’t yet know the alphabet. Sargon’s passion was strong enough to give him the determination to face the challenge. He started by asking one of his friends to write the alphabet with the pronunciations. He spent many hours of his free time learning the alphabet. With his strong motivation, it didn’t take him that long to start reading books in his own language. He used to say, “There is no better joy than to read a book in your own language”.

Reading all those books slowly but surely pulled him toward his third passion: Assyrian culture, his identity as an Assyrian and nationalism. He started researching, reading and meeting different groups of people. In this process, he made many new friends. At the same time in the neighboring country of Iraq, there was a new movement in Assyrian educators and youth called the Assyrian Democratic Movement or Zowaa. Saddam found out about it and he imprisoned some of the members and killed others to silence the movement. Saddam didn’t know that he couldn’t stop the Assyrian Youth Movement for Liberty by intimidation. Some of youth from the city went to the higher mountains and started an arms struggle against the regime. Some others went to Iran to regroup. Sargon met some of them and liked their ideology and courage, so he started helping them. When Sargon was in his early twenties; his family decided to move to the capital city of Iran (Tehran). For awhile he was far from his friends, but he kept in contact with them. In Tehran, Sargon met new friends in the Assyrian Youth National and Cultural Association (Qindroon). He joined them and started teaching the Assyrian language. At the same time he was studying the Assyrian language at an advanced level.

He later had to move out of Iran to Germany. He lived in Germany for two years and helped establish the Assyrian club and taught Assyrian. After two years, he moved to the United States and began taking English and electronic classes at Modesto Junior College. He established the Assyrian club of MJC. Also, he joined the Assyrian Aid Society and Zowaa’s local chapter. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with cancer at this time and after a year of fighting; he lost the battle to the disease in Feb 2, 1999. He left us for a better place in heaven. Although he had a short life, he was very productive.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tribute to a “selfless” Assyrian

Last year after successful completion of the Mesopotamian Night 2008, we lost one of our committed members late Susan Rasho. Susan helped us with both MN-2007 and MN-2008 projects and profoundly influenced us by her “selfless” character and her unselfish commitment to our cause.

The projects that we were involved in were tiring and sometimes stressful. But we are grateful that we got to know individuals like Susan through being part of the AAS-A team.

We will be celebrating MN-2009 project in memory of our friend Susan Rasho. She has touched our humanity in ways that will last with us forever. God bless her soul.

Here is a short biography of Susan written by her daughter Arbella.

Susan Rasho

Susan Rasho, an AAS-Central Valley Chapter committee member since 2006, was born on March 25, 1956 and passed away on October 19, 2008. She was born in Baghdad, Iraq and came to the United States in 1974 to Chicago, IL. The family then moved to Modesto, CA in 1988 where they currently reside. Susan was a wife to Ashur Rasho and a mother to three children: Mark, Ramsen and Arbella. She helped in the planning of the last two AAS Mesopotamian Night events in 2007 and 2008. She was also the Treasurer of the Ladies in Diaspora group. Her creative talents were put to use in many fundraiser events to help our brothers and sisters in our homeland.

Not only was Susan a great asset to the AAS team, but she was a trustworthy friend to many. It was in her character to give useful advice and be there when someone needed a listener. Her strong Christian faith radiated through her actions and words. Susan Rasho will be missed and forever remembered.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mesopotamian Night 2009 Post Card

The Mesopotamian Night 2009 post card will be sent out soon! Click on the image to view the information.

AAS-A LA Chapter Fund Raiser Dinner

AAS-A LA Chapter fund raiser is set for July 11, 2009. We ask AAS-A Central Valley Chapter supporters to support their sister chapter and join for an exciting dinner event with keynote speech by respected Assyrian Entrepreneur Mr. Zaya S. Younan.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The People Behind AAS-A Central Valley Chapter

Here is a few lines describing the dedicated members of the AAS-A Central Valley Chapter and the Mesopotamian Night project.

Elki Issa

Elki was born in Modesto, California. She earned her degree in Political Science from California State University, Stanislaus where she currently works as an Administrative Coordinator. She resides in Modesto with her husband George and children Andrew and Arbella. A fervent supporter of AAS, Elki is currently the VP of the Central Valley Chapter of AAS-A.

Rita Awdow Mulhim

Rita was born in Dora, Iraq. She moved to U.S.A in 1975.
Rita has an associate degree in accounting and business from Truman College, Chicago, Illinois. She has worked in banking system for over 25 years has has a California real estate license.

Rita has been a volunteer for the Assyrian Aid Society of America Central Valley Chapter since September 2006. She has also served as vice president of the United Assyrian Chaldean Woman Union in Diaspora for two years. Rita is married to Albert Mulhim and has three children Rosemary, Ramson and Ryan.

“I will continue my work by helping my people in ATRA. My dream is to see our national rights to be recognized in Iraq, our ancestral homeland.”

Tony Khoshaba

Tony was born in Urmi, Iran. He finished his high school in Urmi. He earned an Electrical Engineering degree from Tabriz University in 1987 and then moved to Tehran. In Tehran he earned a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering and completed his Ph. D. course works in Biomedical Engineering. In 1991 he moved to US and joined Northwestern University in Evanston to complete his Ph. D. degree. However he later settled for a Masters degree in biomedical engineering from Northwestern in 1995 and joined the workforce as a software engineer. Since then he has worked in various medical and telecommunication industries as a senior software engineer. Currently he works for a startup telecommunication company in Bay area California while he lives in Modesto with his wife Nahrin and three daughters Ayla, Edena, and Elona.

Tony has worked and contributed to various Assyrian organizations. In Urmi during 1980s he was one of the founders of Nissan Cultural and Art Association. He was also a member of Urmi branch of editorial board of Ishtar bi-weekly. When he was in Tabriz, along with other Assyrian students he helped revive the Assyrian Youth Center of Tabriz which published a newsletter and performed nationalistic performances. In Tehran while a graduate student he joined the Assyrian Youth National and Cultural Association and for several years served as member of its central committee. In Chicago, for several years he has served as a member of board of directors of the Assyrian Academic Society. In the past three years he has served as the president of the AAS-A Central Valley Chapter.

Sargon Alkurge

Sargon was born in Dora , Iraq , but his father moved the family to Kuwait in 1975 to seek employment opportunities. After graduating from high school Sargon moved to the U.S. in 1987 to join his uncle and lived with him in Sunnyvale , CA. The rest of Sargon’s family joined him four years later and settled in San Jose , CA. Sargon received his Associate degree in business from De Anza College in Cupertino , CA and pursued his education at San Jose State University for a Bachelor degree in Accounting. Later he switched to University of Phoenix and graduated in 1999. He’s worked as an accountant since 1993 and currently he holds the position of vice president of finance for a manufacturing company in Livermore , CA . In late 90’s, he joined the Assyrian Aid Society- San Jose chapter by serving as their Treasurer. Working along side great individuals such as Ashur Yoseph, Youkie Khaninia , Fred Aprim, Fouad Sada, Neil Karaman , Sam Kasim and others made Sargon realize the passion of helping our people. In 2001, Sargon married his lovely wife Rita and moved to Modesto , CA . They now are blessed with two daughters Bretele and Edessa. After few years away to take care of his new family, Sargon has decided to join the AAS-Central Valley chapter as their Treasurer.

“I passionately admire and support the Assyrian Aid Society for all their great accomplishments to our nation. I’m hoping that I could bring my passion and energy to this honorable organization and contribute in any way possible.”

Bata Sada-Younan

Mrs. Bata Sada-Younan was born in Barwar, Iraq and spent her childhood in Basrah. She received her Bachelors degree from University of Basrah in Geography. After teaching high school for seven years she immigrated to Canada in 1980.

Her family relocated to Modesto, CA to be closer to the Assyrian community. Bata started working with AAS in 1992. She was among the pioneers who greatly contributed to the foundation of the AAS-Central Valley Chapter.

She is a believer that knowledge is power and that the only way to maintain our culture, language and history is through continued education of our young people. She is a passionate supporter of the AAS because of the support it lends the Assyrian schools in Northern Iraq. She is married to Andreous Younan and has three daughters, Vian, Marian, and Suzan.

"I'm devoted to AAS because of our hard work in maintaining our roots in our homeland. I have been involved with AAS long enough to see our dreams of having Assyrian language schools come to fruition. It is a pleasure to see those young students who have started out in elementary school and who now have gone on to graduate from college."

Fred Isaac

Fred Isaac was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1960 and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1977. He joined the work force at the age of 18 while attending school and received AS degree in Graphic Arts in 1981. He established Artistic Printing Inc. in Modesto, California, in March, 1981.

Fred has actively served in many charity organizations. He is a member of Rotary International (Modesto East Club) since 1990 and has served as a its president (2006-2007) and two terms as International Director. He has served as a president for AAS-A Central Valley Chapter, vice president of the Board of Directors (1999-2000) of St. George Assyrian Church of the East, president (1990) of St. Zaia Youth Group, and vice President (1980) of the Assyrian Student Association at Modesto Junior College.

Fred is married to Romella since 1985 and has one son Elbroun.

"I first got involved with the AAS-A (Central Valley Chapter) in 1999, It has been an honor to be part of such organization and serve along side so many honorable and dedicated individuals, in my opinion AAS-A is the most reputable and trustworthy organization with great track record in helping our people in need and with humanitarian projects."

MN 2009 Program Book Ad Form

The ad form for Mesopotamian Night 2009 event is ready. Your ads cover our printing costs for the event including the program book. By advertising in our event you get exposure to a large audience. Consider advertising for your business or your book and art works or honor a loved one by purchasing a one page memorial ad for a family member or a friend.

Please print the following page and mail it to us with your information and payment or email us at

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mesopotamian Achievement Awards in Arts and Literature

In recognition of the culturally gifted persons in our community who have worked ceaselessly to advance arts and literature, the AAS-Central Valley Chapter announces the Mesopotamian Achievement Awards in Arts and Literature. With these awards, we will honor men and women who have dedicated themselves to bringing our artistic and literary heritage forward.

Two awards will be presented in a ceremony as part of the Mesopotamian Night annual fund raiser concert 2009.

This year the award will be given as follows:

1. The Mesopotamian Arts Award (Raab-Amne) to be presented to Assyrian calligrapher and journalist Rabi Issa Benyamin.

2. The Mesopotamian Literature Award (Raab-Sayoomeh) to be presented to Assyrian writer, poet and publisher Rabi Daniel Benyamin.

Lida Lawandoo to perform at Mesopotamian Night 2009 Concert

Lida Lawando will be working with a 50-piece Gottschalk Music Center Orchestra sponsored by AAS-A Central Valley Chapter to perform in the Mesopotamian Night 2009 concert. The arrangement of the music for her songs is under progress currently. Lida will also be part of the newly created choir group (Mesopotamian Singers Group) which will perform several multi-voice songs in the concert. We will be posting more details about this group soon.

Lida Lawando Biography

Lida was born in Syria, Tel-Tamer “Assyrian Village.” In the beautiful village, Lida began her journey on the edges of the Khabor river. Her talent was evident ever since she was a young girl. She participated in several festivals at schools and cities in Syria, winning many awards. She gained the respect of her family and friends and this motivation kept her going to succeed in her dream of becoming an Assyrian superstar.

After graduating from high school, she joined an institution that prepared and educated musical teachers in Syria's Capital city, Damascus. There, all universities and Institutions were joined together in a huge festival where Lida was then assigned as a pro Syrian singer by the main committee of musicians in Syria. This recognition was one of the many major rewards she was soon to uphold.

Lida wanted to teach the music in her village of Tel-Tamer to the students of high school in order for them to follow their dreams as well. She taught for four years but had to leave the village short after. She migrated to America (U.S.A.) due to the fact that her family was already in Chicago, IL. After her arrival in Chicago, she spent time producing her first cassette of Assyrian songs, and she recorded 6 of them and one compound CD. The cassettes included a nationalistic one, and another cassette for Assyrian children.

These were the foundations of Lida’s bright career and now she has done everything from playing guitar, making music videos, traveling the world to perform, and she was also fortunate to be able to record many more cassettes and CD’s after the approval among her fans for the first ones. Lida’s current desire and wish is to sing opera and to develop and promote the Assyrian music to be on the level of other major national singing superstars. She feels so blessed to have come this far and is overwhelmed by the response and support of her life long fans!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pop Music Section in Mesopotamian Night Concert

Some of our audience have asked us about our plans for popular music section in Mesopotamian Night 2009 concert. We would like to gladly inform those passionate for our popular music that this year two Assyrian singers Lida Lawando and Emanuel Bet Yonan will perform with a 50-piece orchestra. This is rather unprecedented and even surpasses what we offered last year. We will soon announce the detailed information as they become available. But rest assure we have not forgotten our pop and folklore music!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Assyrian Film in a Theater Near You...

By: Natalie Babella

A new Assyrian film, We Are Assyrian, will have a screening in San Jose, California on May 31, 2009. Nineveh Student Union of the Bay Area and Central Valley are presenting this film to the Bay Area Assyrian community for the first time. This film is produced and directed by an Assyrian filmmaker, Victor Davoody. It's a beautiful documentary that portrays the night of the Mesopotamian Night concert of August 2008 in a way that has never been seen before. There are scenes from the night of the concert, interviews with our great singers, Ashur Bet Sargis, Walter Aziz, Lorraine Davis, and touching interviews with famous Assyrian musicians and Assyrian Aid Society members who organized this concert. For the first time, we see our music captured in a unique way and a new level of appreciation. Being present at the concert last year is not the only way to enjoy this film and appreciate Assyrian music, you will enjoy it either way! You will enjoy it just as much or even more than if you were actually there. We Are Assyrian is the most beautiful film that portrays our culture today, most of which is being preserved through Assyrian music. It's coming to San Jose sooner than you think, so please reserve your ticket(s) as soon as possible.

We Are Assyrian
When: May 31, 2009
Showtime: 6 pm
Tickets: $10
Where: Camera 12 Theater
201 South Second Street San Jose , CA

About the Nineveh Student Union of Northern California

Nineveh Student Union of Northern California was created August of 2008 and it exists to promote cultural, academic, and nationalistic awareness among the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac students in the Diaspora. As a result, the Nineveh Student Union is building a structure and a bridge between the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac students in our ancestral Homeland of Beth Nahrain and those students in the Diaspora. It will be developing communication and unity of ideas and projects with other Assyrian Chaldean Syriac student groups throughout the world. Promoting our culture with innovative ways, encouraging academic achievements and introducing nationalistic awareness among our students will be the foundation of Nineveh Student Union to help preserve our culture, language, and history. These endeavors and principles will prepare the students for future responsibilities that will benefit our Nation.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Our appreciation for Domara Orchestra

Mesopotamian Night 2008 concert would not have been as successful as it was without the dedication and hard work of the music director Mr. Pierre Noghli and his qualified team of Assyrian musicians that he gathered for the concert. This team now is being branded as Domara Orchestra. To appreciate their contribution we would like to introduce this bright team to the readers of this blog. We hope we will continue to work with this team on future projects.

Pierre Noghli

Pierre’s fascination for drums began at the early age of 5 in Tehran, Iran when he stumbled upon a drum magazine that belonged to his uncle Robert Noghli Master Drummer. It was then when he realized that he was destined to make music. It wasn’t until the age of ten when Pierre received his first blue 1960’s Slingerland drum set. His uncle Robert taught him how to set it up and also how to play a few basic patterns.

Over the years Pierre has performed along with some of the finest Assyrian Musicians and singers such as the late Sooren, Ashur Betsargis, Evan Agassi, Walter Aziz, Shamiram Urshan, Linda George, Sargon Gabriel and Ogin Betsamo. In the mid 1980’s Pierre helped Shahabal Shapare start a band called Black Cats in the United States. Amongst the band members were David Bestamo, Brent Fischer, and Piruz. Shortly after, Pierre moved on to travel the world performing in concerts with some of the greatest Persian/Iranian Singers, the late Vigen and Hayedeh, Shaharam, Andy, Kouros, Dariush, Ebi, Moein, and Bijan Mortazavi just to name a few. In October of 2007, Pierre sponsored and promoted a concert bringing Bijan Mortazavi to the Central Valley for the first time ever.

Pierre has played Assyrian, Persian, Armenian, Greek and Arabic Music.
For more than 30 years he has developed and maintained the respect of his peers in the music community, his dynamic and diverse drumming style has inspired Middle Eastern musicians throughout the world. Pierre devotes his love to music by continuing to perform regularly with his long time friend Bijan Mortazavi, and also jams with local Jazz and Blues Musicians.

Pierre’s dream is to take Assyrian music the highest level to be included in Billboard world music charts. As the music director for the second part of Mesopotamian Night concert, Pierre was instrumental to make this concert happen.

Robert Noghli

An Assyrian born in Iran in 1951, Robert Noghli began his professional musical career at the age of seventeen. Over the past forty years, Robert has enjoyed playing drums for some of the best known Iranian, Assyrian, and Armenian singers, such as Shamiram, Gougoush, and Dariush just to name a few. He has also produced and promoted several concerts and albums for many famous Middle Eastern artists.

Robert has recorded over 100 albums in seven different languages. He is considered by many to be a master drummer due to his individual technique and rhythmic style of playing, which has earned him the respect and admiration of his peers. Today, Robert is the musical director for EBI and continues to perform internationally.

Ronik Ital

A proud Assyrian musician, Ronik Ital Sporghan was born on January 26th, 1957 in Tehran, Iran. He grew up influenced by his uncle Youska and was destined to play music. His mentor was Babakhan, the famous Assyrian “davula” (drum) player. Ronik began his musical career playing percussion at the young age of 16. He launched his career playing with Assyrian singers and brothers, Ninos and Evin Aghassi.

Ronik’s good friend, Pierre Noghli, introduced him to the world of Persian music. Ronik was taught the art of Latin percussion by Iraj Lashgari (famous Iranian percussionists). Later, Ronik joined a band with the two great musicians; Robert Noghli (master drummer) and Antranik Assatourian (composer), both of whom taught him more diverse and advanced playing techniques. Musician Hovick Shahijanian inspired Ronik to play the“zarb” a traditional Persian drum. Recognized as being one of the percussionists in Middle Eastern music, Ronik has been featured in many music videos playing for famous Persian and American bands like Andy & Kuros, Dariush, La Vienta, and The Beauties.

Ninos Dikho

Ninos has been in music business for more than 30 years. His first performance live on stage was at the age of 12. He pursued his academic education along with his passion for music, he is a self taught musician, and veterinarian.

Ninos produced and arranged three Assyrian albums and one English album in Canada. He has been a recording session player and performer for Assyrians, Canadians, Arabs, and Persians artists. He currently holds a position as a Church Choir Director, and a music teacher at the Assyrian American Christian School in Los Angeles California. Ninos shares his life with his beautiful wife and two lovely daughters.

Tiglat Palasar Issabey

Tiglat was born in 1958 in Tehran, Iran to Shamiram Issabey and Nebu Issabey. It was his mom Shamiram, a famous Assyrian singer, who was Tiglat’s most significant musical influence. And it was this influence that led him to the accordion, his first instrument, at the age of 7. His interest for music grew rapidly and he began studying piano and violin at the Music Conservatory of Tehran.

Tiglat was not only influenced on a musical level, He had a strong influence on a personal level from his uncle, George Issabey an Olympic champion. George was a very strong figure in Tiglat’s early years and taught him the value of perseverance.

Tiglat has always been interested in writing music and he has wholeheartedly thrown himself into the study of music composition. Bringing a melody and harmony to fruition has certainly become a passion for him. With this passion for composing, Tiglat’s nationalistic goal is to become an Assyrian composer and create music representing his nation. With or without land, Tiglat’s wish is to see his people united under the Assyrian name.

David Betsamo

David Betsamo, born in Bet Nahrain (Mesopotamia) was introduced to music at a very young age by his older brother Ogin Betsamo. Ogin began playing the guitar at home and influenced his younger siblings David, Ashur, and Awia to become musicians.
David’s first musical instrument was the “melodica” (a wind blown keyboard). Playing the keyboard came naturally for David and he began playing beautiful melodies quickly. David’s musical influences came from the late Sooren, Naser Cheshmazar, Yuel Dan and Hilal Matti. At the age of 14, David along with his brother Ogin started an Assyrian band in the United States. Soon after, David met Pierre Noghli an Assyrian drummer, their instant chemistry lead them to become musical brothers, and has established a genuine friendship over the years. In 1987 Pierre introduced David to Shahbal Shabpareh who was the founder of the group the black cats in Iran, this opened lots of doors to the Persian music industry.

David started producing and arranging music for Black Cats, it was then that he became very successful in his field. David has also written and produced for many Persian and Assyrian singers such as Ashur Bet Sargis, Walter Aziz, Ogin Betsamo, Charles Tooma, Evin Aghassi, Dariush, Shahram, and EBI. Today David is a respected and well-known keyboard player, and plays in concerts all over the world.

Join our growing list of sponsors

The list of sponsors for the Mesopotamian Night 2009 is growing fast. To ensure the continuity of this project we need to attract more sponsors. Interested individuals or organizations email us at Here is a glimpse on our list so far:

Dr. Nagham Brikha and Dr. Edison Ishaya: This generous couple have been our sponsors for three years in a row now. This year they are our major sponsor. The orchestration of Assyryt: The Symphonic Suite Assyria is made possible by their donation. They are joining us this as members of our honorary committee for the event.

Dr. Eden Naby and Dr. Richard N. Frye sponsored our 2007 event and this year they are joining us a member of the our honorary committee and a major sponsor for the production of the Qateeni Opera.

Mrs. Rozet and Dr. Ebby Paul Jiddo also have been our sponsor for three years. This year they are joining us as member of our honorary committee and sponsors for the Qateeni Opera.

Dr. Christine and Dr. John Michael have also sponsored us for three years now. They are also joining us as members of our honorary committee and sponsors for the symphony orchestra.

Mrs. Beth and Dr. Rami Yelda also is our sponsor for three years in a row now. This year he donated for the production of Qateeni.

Mrs. Rosa and Dr. Sargon Bet Sargis are joining us this year all the way from Denmark to sponsor our symphony orchestra.

Dr. Nahrin and Tony Khoshaba for the Qateeni opera

Mrs. Ramika and Dr. Ben Taimoorazy for the symphony orchesra

Anonymous Sponsor No.1 for the symphony orchestra

Anonymous Sponsor No.2: This sponsor has donated significant amount in honor of our writer Mr. Fred Aprim.

Mrs. Sharon and Mr. Behrooz Abdi donated for the production of the Qateeni Opera.

Mrs. Nanette and Mr. Edward Nazaradeh orchestra sponsors

Mrs. Rachelle S Daniel and Mr. Richard C Griffiths orchestra sponsors

Guest Article: Reflections on Mesopotamian Night Concert

By: Obelit Yadgar
Master of Ceremonies
Program Annotator

The stage looks a lot different from the wings than it does from the seats in the audience. I have been on both sides enough times to know. It’s like two sides of a coin.

That warm August evening in 2008, I was master of ceremonies at the second annual A Mesopotamian Night: Melodies from the East, presented by the Assyrian Aid Society, Central Valley Chapter, at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto, California.
Watching the production from the wing, I realized that more than ever I also needed to see part of it as other Assyrians at the concert. I needed to be in the audience myself, to share with my fellow Assyrians something that was a first for all of us. I was enthralled as well as curious, as they seemed to be, by selections from the opera Gilgamesh — sung in Assyrian, our language.

I had seen many an opera throughout the years of devouring classical music — in Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Prague, London, Chicago and San Francisco — all elaborate productions, with full costumes, staging, orchestra, and some of the greatest singers in the world. I also had seen a production of Semiramide, an opera based on the life of our queen Shamiram.

I can count 10 different versions of Semiramide: by Rossini, Ziani, Cimarosa, Gluck, Salieri, Porpora, Respighi, Paisiello, Meyerbeer and Handel. Except for Rossini’s version, the others are rarely or never performed. There is also the opera Nabucco, Verdi’s first big hit, from 1842, with the backdrop of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Judith and Holofernes, centers on love and betrayal, about Judith and the Assyrian army commander Holofernes. Versions of the opera include those by Serov, Nathaniel Berg, Vivaldi, Mozart (as La Betulia Liberata), Siegfried Matthus, Emile Von Reznicek, Myron Fink, Eugene Goossens, John Gibson, and David Lang whose version is a puppet opera.

Rossini’s is the only version of Semiramide I have. I have also seen Verdi’s Nabucco, in one production of which I was also the narrator. Neither of these, plus the countless other operas I have enjoyed in some of Europe’s most magnificent opera houses, with all the glorious music, all the great singers, none has meant more to me than what I heard that night — an opera in Assyrian, my own language. The American composer John Craton set the music to the transliteration by Rabi Addai Alkhas of portions from Gilgamesh. The music was presented in concert form.
The excerpts included the opera’s overture and the Bull of the Heaven scene. Lorraine Davis, a classically trained Assyrian soprano with a rich voice, sang the role of Ishtar, and Donn Bradley was Gilgamesh. Ironically, Bradley, who is an American and speaks no Assyrian, did a remarkable job of singing the role, yes, in Assyrian.

When the overture began, I slipped away from backstage and for a few minutes sat in the last row with the audience. The production was simple, the singing good, but I think all of us in the audience realized, each in his or her own way, that we were witnessing a newly discovered nugget in the Assyrian history. Yes, an opera playing to the rhythm of our language. It was a wonderful experience for me.
Sitting back there, I envisioned other Assyrian operas in full production, using Assyrian composers, librettists, orchestras, singers, stage designers and directors — magnificent operas with the original stamp of Assyrian. I heard glorious voices soaring with the warmth and passion of Assyrians. I envisioned colorful tales from Assyria, ancient and new, brought to life by Assyrian artists from every field of our arts.

My mind soared in search of fellow Assyrian artists around the world. I know we have the singers, dancers, librettists, stage designers, composers, conductors, directors, painters and writers. They are out there, scattered around the world, and I know it takes dedicated Assyrians to find them. I include myself in that group of Assyrian artists in search of my fellow Assyrian artists. All we need is support and encouragement from our nation to find them. To present them. To acknowledge their creations. And yes, to ask them to take a deserved bow for making our nation proud.
So yes, a complete opera with a story and a music score that would grab one of the thousands of stories lining our long history. I wondered if that day would ever come during my lifetime: when I would attend an Assyrian grand opera. For me, it would be a miracle, but then, I do believe in miracles. Perhaps I would write a libretto myself, and one of our composers would set it to music. What a fine dream for me.

I returned to my perch as master of ceremonies backstage and enjoyed the rest of the evening from there. In the second half, Assyrian pop singer Walter Aziz and Ashur Bet Sargis rocked the concert hall, topping an evening many would find an unforgettable experience. That the proceeds from the production would be used by the Assyrian Aid Society to help Assyrians of Iraq in need, made the night even more remarkable.

This year, again as the master of ceremonies and program annotator, I invite you to join the Assyrian Aid Society and me for a new and compelling production of A Mesopotamian Night: Melodies From the East. The evening will offer an exciting program of Assyrian classical and popular music performed by some of our finest artists.

But more about the music for this year’s production in later posts. For now, mark your calendar for August 15 at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto, California. I promise you will go home whistling. I know I will as I fly back the next day to my home in Wisconsin. See you at the concert.

Obelit Yadgar

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A tribute to a living legend: Rabi Issa Benyamin

We are hoping Mesopotamian Night 2009 will be an occasion to honor Rabi Issa Benyamin, a living Assyrian legend among us. In the past two Mesopotamian Night concerts, while he has not been able to attend, he has been a gracious contributor by sending us beautiful pieces of calligraphy to auction. We are hoping he will be in good health snd will be able to join us this August. It is worth mentioning that Rabi Paulos Khofri and Rabi Assurhadoun Khorfi are Rabi Issa's first cousins.

We are presenting here an article contributed to this blog by the Assyrian scholar Eden Naby. Dr. Naby this year is joining us as an honorary committee member and a major sponsor of the Qateeni Opera.

We Honor Rabi Issa Benyamin because…

- He has dedicated a large portion of his life to promote Assyrian culture
- He has been instrumental in promoting, throughout the world, calligraphy in the Assyrian Aramaic language,
- He worked to restart Assyrian journalism among Assyrians in Iran after the genocide had dealt a grievous wound to a culture with the oldest tradition of periodical publication in all of Iran.
- He has created beautiful art works that give new life to our written word, the oldest continuous written and spoken language of the Middle East.

His Life

Rabi Issa now lives in Illinois (USA) but he was born in Tabriz (Iran) to a family originally from Salamas. In 1924, the year of his birth, Mirza Benyamin Kaldani (1879-1966) and his wife Esther were still refugees in Tabriz, waiting, like thousands of other Assyrians from Urmiah and Salamas to return to the towns and villages they had been forced to abandon between 1914 and 1918. Only one-third of the Assyrians living in the string of settlements stretching westward from Urmiah to Urfa (Edessa), survived the attacks by Kurds, Turks, and Azeris. Less than half that portion were ever allowed to return to reclaim their homes. The others entered the diaspora in Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, many parts of the Middle East, Europe, South and Central America, the US, Cananda, and then Australia and New Zealand. The pattern of persecution of Christians in the Middle East continues and adds to Assyrian refugees especially from Iraq.

Returning to Urmiah, Mirza Benyamin continued his activities in Assyrian cultural circles, working closely with Mar Havel Zaya (1892-1950), the Archbishop of Urmiah and Salamas. Rabi Issa’s love of his mother language gained encouragement from Mar Zaya, his mentor and teacher from the age of seventeen.

As he built his professional life and started a family, Rabi Issa worked as a math teacher, and later as a human resources administrator at the Iranian environmental ministry in Tehran. He married Clara Manassarians of a leading family in Golpashan, and they raised a son, Ramsin and a daughter, Ramica, both of whom have played key roles in promoting their father’s journalism work and his calligraphy.

Journalism Avocation

The long tradition of Assyrian journalism, beginning with Zahrira d-bahra (Rays of Light 1849-1918) died out when two-thirds of Assyrians died. The genocide reduced a community that had had the highest literacy rate in Iran (men and women) to one that had trouble mustering the resources to publish any periodicals. Their presses had been stolen and their trained printers, journalists and editors scattered and killed. The first Assyrian printing appeared as a mimeographed calendar meticulously hand written by Rabi Issa in 1948. Surgada Umtanaya (national calendar) started Rabi Issa on the road to journalism. He, together with friends such as Rabi Kooresh Benyamin (no relation) worked on Datid Barana (A rosy future) in 1951, and then Ishtar, a publication that battled mightily to preserve ethnic and religious rights in Iran on the eve of the consolidation of the Islamic Republic in Iran. Rabi Issa was the Assyrian language editor of this weekly Assyrian-Persian publication: Majlis representative Dr. Sargon Bet Oshana (1927-1988) was its licensed publisher from 1981 to 1983 when his arrest on political charges brought an end to this fascinating documentation at a key turning point of Assyrian and Iranian history. (For more about the role of Ishtar and its editors in Assyrian life, see Ishtar: Documenting The Crisis In The Assyrian Iranian Community.)

The Calligrapher

Rabi Issa’s most artistic contribution to Assyrian culture lies in the field of calligraphy. Some of the most beautiful and creative tableaus of our words and alphabet have flowed from his pens – on paper and on leather. Many exemplars may be seen in the book Assyrian Calligraphy but others are in private homes such as that of his niece, the operatic singer, Marganita Vogt-Khofri of Zurich.

Words take shape, in the hands of this master, to suit their meaning so that they may inspire us to action: khuyada (unity), or teach us to avoid their curse: pulaqa (divisiveness). In another creative use of Assyrian calligraphy Rabi Issa enfolds the letters of a person’s name to form an inspiring shape suited to that person’s contribution to Assyrian culture. Arian Ishaya, Rosie Malek-Yonan, among others have been honored with such personalized calligraphy.

One of the most enduring ways in which Rabi Issa has promoted Assyrian calligraphy is through the poster in which he represents all our letters and through the book, The Assyrian Alphabet Manual, in which he shows where to begin each letter when writing cursively. His development to fifty-two fonts for our alphabet will inspire future generations through digital reproduction. More about Rabi Issa and his calligraphic work may be found at

Anyone who has seen the calligraphy of this great artist will know why has been honored with awards in Paris, Tehran, Chicago, San Jose and why his work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC.

Tribute to Our Heroes: Paulos Khofri 1923 - 2000

One of the main focuses of the Mesopotamian Night concert 2009 is celebrating the music of Rabi Paulos Khofri. He is probably one of the most productive Assyrian composers who took the classical Assyrian folklore music to another level. In Autumn 2008, Ms. Marganita Khofri, Rabi Paulos daughter, generously granted AAS-A Central Valley Chapter the permission to use and arrange Rabi Paulos Khofri's music for performance in our concert. We chose to present Assyryt a 30-piece piano Assyrian classical folklore music (composed in 1984 in Tehran) as the first symphonic suite of our music. In the search for a musician to take on this task and following a recommendation from John Craton, we chose the French composer Michel Bosc. Twenty pieces of Assyryt were arranged by Mr. Bosc for a full orchestra in two 10-set pieces which we named Assyryt No. 1 and Assyryt No. 2. Both of these pieces will be performed by a 50-piece orchestra on August 15. This will be an unprecedented art and musical event in our community, perhaps giving us the momentum to start a new cultural revolution in our Assyrian Nation.

Rabi Paulos Khofri's Biography

Paulus Khofri was born in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug 7, 1923. His father, Jibrael Khofri, a gifted artisan, who during WWI, when the heavy-duty-truck spare parts were scarce, manufactured them single handedly, punching them with embossed Assyrian characters which he made himself that read "Oomanoota Atoreta".

His mother, Victoria, a good-natured lady tended the family. When Paulus was only five years old, the family returned to Iran and settled in Kermanshah. After graduating from high school, he was employed by the British Bank of Iran. During this time, Paulus performed with his own four-piece band in Kermanshah and continued to play with yet another band. In 1950, when this bank closed in Paulus moved to Abadan and worked for the Anglo Iranian Oil Company.

Khofri's musical career started when he resumed his musical studies with the goal of becoming a composer. In 1964 he earned his diploma in music composition and harmony from the United States School of Music, Port Washington, New York. Mean while, he was busy giving concerts raising money for building the Assyrian School and Club in Abadan. He also gave exhibitions of his Oil and Watercolor paintings. Proceeds from these exhibitions went towards financing the said school building.

After transferring to the Tehran National Iranian Oil Company, Paulus Khofri continued his studies in music and music law. He studied under the direction of some famous scholars like Paul Hindemit of Yale University, Arnold Schonberg and Professor Walter Piston of Harvard University and he finally achieved his goal of obtaining his B.M. degree in Music from the Royal Academy of Music in England.

Paulus stopped giving concerts and painting and resumed composing music, styling and writing musical notation with different nibs, thousands of notes, inserted verses with tiny characters by hand as well as writing the lyrics with grammatical precision as well as Illustration. His musical compositions comprise of three classifications; Vocal Music, Instrumental Music and Orchestral Music.

The Conductor for Mesopotamian Night 2009 Concert

AAS-A Central Valley Chapter has asked John Kendall Bailey, a conductor from the San Francisco Bay Area to conduct our 50-piece orchestra for the Mesopotamian Night concert 2009. Mr. Bailey will closely work with Ms. Raeeka Shehabi for the production of the Qateeni opera as well as the Death of Enkidu scene form the Gilgamesh opera.

John Kendall Bailey Biography

John Kendall Bailey is Music Director, Principal Conductor and Chorus Master of Trinity Lyric Opera, Music Director and Conductor of Voices of Musica Sacra, Associate Conductor of the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra, and Artistic Director of the San Francisco Song Festival.

In 1994, Mr. Bailey founded the Berkeley Lyric Opera and served as its Music Director and Conductor until 2001. Since then he has been a guest conductor with the Oakland East Bay Symphony, American Philharmonic-Sonoma County, Oakland Youth Orchestra, and Oakland Ballet, and music director and conductor for productions with North Bay Opera, Pocket Opera, Mission City Opera, the Crowden School, Dominican University, Thick Description, Goat Hall Productions, Opera Frontier, Solo Opera, Shoebox Opera, and Golden State Theater Productions. He has recently conducted the premieres of two of David Conte’s operas, America Tropical and Famous. Mr. Bailey has taught conducting at the University of California at Davis and Notre Dame de Namur University.

As a choral director, Mr. Bailey was Chorus Master of the Festival Opera of Walnut Creek from 2002-2006, Chorus Master for Opera San Jose in 2009, and has been guest conductor for the University of California-Berkeley Chamber Chorus, the University of California-Davis Chorus, Chamber Singers, and Alumni Chorus, and the Berkeley Broadway Singers.

Mr. Bailey is also a composer, and his works have been performed and commissioned in the Bay Area and abroad.

Mr. Bailey also maintains a busy performance schedule as a baritone, oboist, and pianist, and has performed with the San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Oakland East Bay, Berkeley, Redding, Napa, Sacramento, and Prometheus symphonies, American Bach Soloists, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the Midsummer Mozart and West Marin music festivals, San Francisco Bach Choir, Coro Hispano de San Francisco, Pacific Mozart Ensemble, Sacred and Profane, California Vocal Academy, San Francisco Concerto Orchestra, Masterworks Chorale of San Mateo, Baroque Arts Ensemble, San Francisco Korean Master Chorale, the Master Sinfonia, the Mark Morris and Merce Cunningham dance companies, Goat Hall Productions, Opera Piccola, the Berkeley, Golden Gate, and Oakland Lyric Opera companies, and many other groups. He has recorded for the Harmonia Mundi, Koch International, Pro Musica, Wildboar, Centaur, and Angelus Music labels.

Mr. Bailey has been a pre-performance lecturer for the Oakland East Bay Symphony, San Francisco Opera, American Bach Soloists and Festival Opera of Walnut Creek, a critic for the San Francisco Classical Voice, and a writer of real-time commentary for the Concert Companion.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Reservation Form for Mesopotamian Night 2009

Dear Friends,

The following document is the reservation form for our third annual fund raiser event in Modesto which will be held on August 15th in Gallo Center for the Arts. This year's event is titled "Symphonic Suite Assyria and the Opera Qateeni". Please consider reserving your tickets early on by sending your reservation form (click on the image to get an enlarged version). This will guarantee better seating assignment. The tickets are also available online at the Gallo Center's Website.

AAS-A Central Valley Chapter California

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Master of Ceremonies for Mesopotamian Night 2009

It is an honor to announce that AAS-A Central Valley Chapter has asked Mr. Obelit Yadgar to join us again as the master of ceremonies. The tremendous positive feedback that we received from our audience as well as those that have watched the Mesopotamian Night 2008 DVD, encouraged us to invite him again to help with another successful event in 2009. Mr. Yadgar has promised to contribute to this blog in the coming months.

Obelit (“Obie”) Yadgar Biography

Obelit (“Obie”) Yadgar has enjoyed a dual career as writer and radio broadcaster.
He spent more than 30 years as classical/jazz music radio host and arts interviewer for commercial and NPR stations in major U.S. cities. Obelit’s writing career began with his tour of duty in Vietnam as a U.S. Army combat correspondent.

Since then, he has written short stories, print and online magazine features and essays, radio/TV commercials, promotional and industrial video scripts. Obelit’s essays on the Assyrian life appeared in Zinda Magazine ( in his column Musing With My Samovar.

“Will’s Music,” his first novel, published in 2005, is a love story based in the world of radio and dance. His second book, “Obie’s Opus,” published in 2007, sprinkles tiny bits of Obelit’s autobiography with a large collection of amusing little stories and anecdotes about the great composers. Currently he is finishing a second novel. His books are available from:

Obelit, who is of Assyrian heritage and is named for the Assyrian King Ashur-Uballit I (1363-1328 B.C.), credits his writing inspiration to his great uncle, the renowned Assyrian writer, teacher and nationalist Binyamin Arsanis (1884-1957).

Born in Baghdad, Obelit grew up in Iran until immigrating to America in his early teens. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his wife Judith. He has two daughters, Sonja and Sadie. Now he devotes much of his time to writing.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mesopotamian Night 2007 Slide Show

Some of our audience have asked for information about Mesopotamian Night 2007, after watching the DVD of the Mesopotamian Night 2008. The Mesopotamian Night 2007 theme was different. While the theme was still cultural, but it was an outdoor event with full dinner and only one hour performance from the opera Inanna. The video recording for MN2007 is available but it was never released because of the low quality of the video. However we will try to post some video clips later.

For now enjoy the moments of the Mesopotamian Night 2007. In 2008 we lost two great friends who helped us with both 2007 and 2008 events: Mr. Eric Buck Townsend the director of opera in Modesto who was instrumental in helping us bringing opera to the Assyrian community and our dear friend and hardworking member of AAS-A Central Valley Chapter Committee, Susan Rasho. This slide show is also a tribute to their memory.

Mesopotamian Night 2008 Slide Show

Some of our audience have asked to remember some of the moments grabbed by the photos that we had last year. We also added two songs by Rabi Paulos Khofri to the slide show that will be performed by a new full orchestra arrangement and an Assyrian choir in Mesopotamian Night 2009 concert. These songs were performed in Tehran, Iran during 1980s by Serinas Quartet and the choir group of Assyrian Youth National and Cultural Association of Tehran (Qindroon).

Tribute to Our Heroes: William Daniel (1903 – 1988)

After forty eight years (the year that Qateeni epic poem book was published in Tehran, Iran by William Daniel) finally one of the most important works of modern Assyrian literature will come alive on stage at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto, California on August 15th, 2009. This is the realization of a dream, a promise and a covenant made in 1987 in Tehran in an Assyrian literature class between the teacher late Rabi Nimrod Simono and his two students late Sargon Ishoo and Tony Khoshaba. Now after twenty two years this dream is becoming a reality and a promise is fulfilled. Neither Rabi Nimrod Simono nor Sargon Ishoo are among us any more, but their dream and their vision is fulfilled. That is what makes August 15th and the going on stage of Qateeni opera so special. The echo of the song of prisoners of Shidda will travel across the globe as it will call for the destruction of evil and the freedom of the Assyrian people (English translation by William Warda):

Alas the heavy yoke, no end to the torture in sight.
On our bitter life shouldn't shine some light?
Where is the one to free us shall come?
To cut the shackles from our legs and arm.
O brave who was expected, with your arms so strong
Destroy this tyrant put an end to this wrong

Who was William Daniel?

Born on 17 March 1903, William Daniel belonged to the generation of Assyrians who witnessed the ravages of World War I in the Urmia region first hand. At the age of 11 he was snatched away from the comfort of his home and school and thrust into the legion of Assyrian refugees as they fled their homes with enemy forces in pursuit. After the War he settled in Hamadan and began studying music. Under the direction of an Armenian master, he excelled at the violin. He continued his musical career in Europe, at the Conservatory of Music in Basel, Switzerland and became an accomplished violinist, playing in symphonic orchestras in France and Switzerland. Returning to his homeland, William Daniel became a music instructor in Hamadan at Pahlavi High School in 1937. In 1943, after he moved to Tehran, he conducted a weekly program on national radio. There also he founded the first Assyrian music and dance group and in 1944 he published his musical compositions under the title “Zahrira-d-Oumanuta” (Rays of Art), with illustrations of performances.

Among William Daniel’s great literary accomplishment is the epic “Qateeni Gabbara” (The Great Qateeni) published in three volumes and containing more than 6000 verses. In addition William Daniel has written several outstanding plays, musical compositions, and critical social essays only some of which are published.

William Daniel moved to the United States in 1952, settled in Chicago, and later moved to San Jose, California where he passed his last years. One of William Daniel’s poetic masterpieces is the ornate work he wrote in both English and Assyrian on the occasion of the celebration of the 2500-year history of the Persian monarchy for which he received the Medal-e Homayouni (The Royal Medal) in 1971.

Tribute to Our Heros : Addai Alkhas (1897-1959)

In these series of articles we will introduce some of our Assyrian heroes who influenced us so much by their works of literature, arts, politics and activism. Our first hero is Addai Alkhas because he is so relevant to AAS-A Central Valley Mesopotamian Night project. Addai Alkhas's translation of the Gilgamesh Epic to Assyrian Aramaic is one of the most important literary works in modern Assyrian. This book which was published in 1965 in Tehran, Iran almost has been forgotten. AAS-A intends to revive this important work of literature. This effort started two years ago when AAS-A Central Valley teamed up with American composer John Craton to create the first Assyrian opera based on this work. In other posts in this blogspot, we have reported the progress made in this opera project. It is fascinating that now an Assyrian musician Pastor Samuel Khangaldy has also joined in to create another work based on this same literary work. Excerpts from both these musical compositions will be presented at the third annual Mesopotamian Night concert in Modesto on August 15, 2009.

Who was Rabi Addai Alkhas?

Rabi Addai Alkhas was born in the city of Urmia (Iran) at the height of a period of broad Assyrian cultural achievement. After graduating from the Catholic Mission School in Urmia, he enrolled at Khosrawa Seminary, which used to be located outside Salamas, to advance his education in philosophy and theology. By the time he graduated, he had gained fluency in Assyrian Aramaic, Syriac, Persian, French and Latin. In 1951 in Tehran, Rabi Addai, along with his brother Rabi Jean Alkhas (1908-1969), and Rabi Nimrod Simono (1908-2004) established a publishing house from which they issued the highly prized Assyrian literary magazine, Gilgamesh. This publication marks the start of the revival of the literary Assyrian movement in Iran, nearly destroyed by World War I and the Assyrian Genocide that took place in Iran and Turkey.

For his contribution to Assyrian culture, Rabi Addai Alkhas is known as the father of the modern Assyrian literary movement.