Saturday, May 2, 2009

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.

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