Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rabi Polous Khofri and the Youth Choir

We received the following article from Dr. Dennis Gelyana. Dr. Gelyana has been a sponsor and supporter of the Mesopotamian Night project in 2008 and 2009. This article is timely as we have only one day to MN2009 concert and that we have revived a glimpse of Rabi Paulus Khofri Choir group with the creation of Mesopotamian Choir Ensemble. This new choir group will perform two Rabi Khofri's songs (Nation Sacrifices and Vacant Nineveh) with the orchestra as well as the Nation song by Rabi Nebu Issabey.

My name is Dennis Gelyana. I had the privilege of being a member of the Assyrian National and Cultural Youth Center (Qhendroun) Choir in 1980s. The Choir was formed by the center’s Fine Arts Committee. The committee requested Rabi Polous Khofri, a distinguished Assyrian musician who conducted the Assyrian-Chaldean Catholic Church of Tehran’s choir, to create and conduct a national Youth Choir. I remember very well the very first meeting, his magnificent optimism, and his interesting and unique way of encouraging the members to learn and spread their musical heritage.

Rabi Khofri was making the practice sessions so appealing that every single member couldn’t wait for another weekly session of practice/class. His home was also always open for the members to see him with any questions, concerns, or comments.

I would like to mention that at that time there were several political/religious/cultural groups among Assyrians in the country that were not getting along with each other. At such a time, he composed a song for the commemoration of the 50th year after the massacre of Simele, in which he declared to all the groups, “the mother nation will not stop crying unless you accept every single one of your people (with different beliefs and ideas) as your brother. (EIMAN KHOOYEDLOUKH BE KOULE BNE OMTOUKH, HEGAH BED BARZI DAMAAD YEMOUKH.)” The same theme and music seems to be completely fitting for the story of our nation at this very moment.

Another event that must be mentioned was a performance in February 1988. At that year, the Office of Religious Minorities arranged a night for the minorities ( Zorasteans, Jewish, Armenians, and Assyrians) to honor the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in the main performing arts center of the country, with each displaying their ethnic music. In short, our choir had the least members (13) compared to some choirs that had more than 50 singers. Likewise, our attire was very simple and not even comparable to other minorities. Before the show the members were somewhat discouraged, but Rabi Khofri, with his extraordinary kindness and encouraging voice of wisdom, made us very confident prior to our turn. In the end, our performance was at a much higher level than that of any other minority group; none of the other choirs could compete with it. I remember that backstage the conductor of the Armenian Choir told us that Rabi Khofri was one of his music teachers in Abadan, and the conductor of the Jewish Choir came to Rabi Khofri and asked him to have a performance in their cultural center. The next day the only photograph of the ceremony in the newspaper showed our choir; the only song from the ceremony that got broadcast on national radio was our song, composed by Rabi Khofri and performed by his choir.

Rabi Polous Khofri’s legacy will live on in the hearts of all those whose lives had been touched by him. He will remain a shining star in the history of our art and music for ever and ever!

About Dennis Gelyana, MD, MPH

Dennis was born in Abadan and raised in Tehran, Iran. He is a graduate of Alborz High School and Tehran University Medical School. After graduation he worked as a general practitioner in various settings in Mahshahr and Tehran. In 1995 he along with his wife Valantine, and his daughter, Eilrayna immigrated to the United States of America. He got his Masters degree in Public Health in Community Health Sciences from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); and finished his residency in Psychiatry at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Illinois. During his residency he got several awards including being elected to membership at Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society. He currently is a faculty member at the University of Chicago, Pritzker School of Medicine as well as being in private practice as a board certified psychiatrist in Illinois.

Dennis was an active member of Assyrian Evangelical Church Youth group during his high school years in Tehran, Iran. After the Islamic revolution he was selected by the Assyrian Tehran Association (Moutwa) to be a founding member of the Assyrian National and Cultural Youth Center (Qhendroun). That Youth center during 80s and 90s turned to be one of the most prominent groups that brought together younger Assyrians from different backgrounds to learn from experts and scholars of the community about their literature, culture, art, and history. The center helped the youth to believe in their potential and in the power of their unity. The outcome was outstanding activities, some at incredible high levels with endorsements from many organizations and churches. Dennis after Immigration to the United States has been active as youth counselor in different local Assyrian Churches in California and Illinois.

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