Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Young Assyrian Composer: George Somi

The least we can say is that the "cultural stimulus" effect of the Mesopotamian Night project is working within the community. In 2010 concert we will be introducing the musical talent of George Somi, a college student with big ambitions including being an Assyrian classical music composer, by premiering excerpts from his orchestral suite called "The Assyrian Legecy". Below is George's story in his own words.

I was born on November 13, 1988 in Chicago. The story of how I got into music started when I was 3 years old. My mother tells me that I watched somebody play "Happy Birthday" on the piano and after he got off, I took the seat and played back the song. She consequently put me into piano lessons when I was seven and I've been playing ever since.

In the summer of 1999, I moved to the Phoenix, AZ area, where many more musical opportunities presented themselves to me. I joined the school band playing the tenor saxophone when I was 10. From then on, music became an integral part of who I was. I quickly learned the saxophone, and my band director offered me private lessons to introduce me to jazz. A year later, I became part of the Peoria Honor Jazz Band playing lead tenor. I fell in love with jazz in that year and have been playing it ever since. Today, I play lead tenor in Yavapai College's Big Band II in Prescott, AZ. I also serve as the church organist for the St. George Ancient Church of the East in Phoenix.

As for composing, that started quite early. I had always had musical ideas bouncing around in my mind; I can even remember contemplating melodies at the age of 5. However, I never really thought of putting them down on paper. That changed when I turned 12; I composed my first song, "Taking Action", written for a typical school concert band (about 60 people). My band director then told me about a state competition of young composers, which I subsequently participated in. My song was 1 of 12 picked for performance at the Phoenix Civic Plaza.

My compositions continued through my first year at high school and each added a more complex element as I went along. In my sophomore year of high school, I decided that it was time that I devote my energies to a major project. At the same moment, I thought about how sparse any symphonic music was within the Assyrian realm. I knew of very few prominent Assyrian classical musicians and I didn't know of any major orchestral works by Assyrians. I felt an obligation to perform some sort of duty to my people, something that would stand out. Thus, I meshed the two ideas together. Major musical project plus duty to my people equals a major symphonic work following the story of the Assyrian people. I began writing the first notes in my sophomore year and penned the last notes in the first half of my senior year.

I am now pursuing a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, AZ. You may ask what the a person with such a passion for music is doing pursuing an engineering degree. I get that a lot. The answer to that question is that I have a second passion, a passion for space. I have always been intrigued by it and find myself looking at the stars very frequently. I also have a passion for the maths and sciences, hence, the engineering part of the picture. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity of interning at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA in the fall of 2009, an invaluable experience. Now, I am back at school, a junior of aerospace engineering, and I'm very excited to finish up my degree!

I have two dreams. One is to be able to stand and direct a symphony orchestra in a concert. The other is to go to space and ultimately, walk on Mars.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Tribute to A Legent: Sooren Alexander

By: Tony Khoshaba

Late Sooren Alexander perhaps is one of the most influential individuals in modern Assyrian folkloric and pop music. The Mesopotamian Night project in 2010 will celebrate the music of Sooren. With the permission of his daughter, Athena Alexander Betsamo, we have been given access to an unpublished book prepared by Rabi Essarhadoun Khofri, and Mr. Bellos Nisan. Thanks to tireless efforts of Mr. Noray Betbaba who sent us a copy of this book titled "A Selection of the Folkloric Dance Music of Assyrians of Iran and Other Creations of Sooren Alexander". This book contains sixteen pieces of folkloric dances and songs by Sooren Alexander. These pieces will be arranged and orchestrated for performance at Mesopotamian Nigh 2010 and upcoming other AAS-A events.

Essarhadoun Khofri in the introduction of this book writes:

One of the artists of this new generation was Sooren Alexander, a talented local musician who was gifted in the creation of new, folkloric pieces for the violin and accordion. Known as one of the best contemporary Assyrian musicians since the beginning of his compositional career in 1949, his many pieces were based on pure folk music. His numerous Assyrian songs and dance compositions are filled with his feelings about his own experiences, things both seen and heard. His pieces take the listener on a journey through suspense and sweet dreams, anxiety and love. Sooren's creation are well-known throughout the Iranian artistic world, not only in Iranian Radio and Television productions, but also Iranians worldwide, and there are few who do not know of Sooren and his art.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sooren Alexander's Music to be Performed Soon

AAS-A Central Valley Chapter has recently taken the initiative to revive the music of the legendary Assyrian musician Sooren Alexander with new arrangements. It is expected that five of Sooren's music pieces to be performed at AAS-A Board of Directors annual meeting fund raiser in Modesto in February (details to follow). AAS-A CVC team has commissioned William Jeong a jazz musician from New York to take on this task. In description of this work William says, "I am trying to rearrange the music with jazz feel. Keeping all the original melody and making a little bit of re-harmonization on the chords. Because throughout the music the chords are very simple, I am trying to make more movements, also adding improvisation sections".

We will post more information later.

About William Jeong

William (Ji Hoon) Jeong has degrees from Unitec University - Bachelor of Automotive Engineering and New Zealand School of Music-Bachelor/Master of Music in Jazz Saxophone.  He was the leader, saxophonist and founder of “History of Jazz”. He also formed a worship group called "Sing for God" and toured in Oceania region.

He is also involved in a lot of commercial and short film music as an arranger and a composer. Currently he is based in New York.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Michel Bosc to Compose the Music for Shamiram-Ninos

It is a pleasure to announce that Michel Bosc the composer of the Qateeni Opera which was performed in Mesopotamian Night 2009, has taken on the composition of music for Rabi Yosip Bet Yosip's Shamiram-Ninos poetry piece. This piece which Michel calls "Heroic Pastoral" is expected to be performed in Mesopotamian Night 2010 concert. In his recent email Michel Bosc writes:

"The first step composing the music for Ninos and Shamiram is to imagine both of them as characters and vocal colours. Ninos must be a tenor, heroic and elegant ; Shamiram is a brilliant and sensual high soprano coloratura. Then, you have to cut the text into different parts, to plan recitatives, arias and duets, and build all the text as a true music piece. It’s a Pastorale. French baroque music was rich in this kind of piece for voices and instruments. The orchestra must take its place too. Shamiram’s orchestral colours are harp, celesta, strings and winds ; prince Ninos has brasses and deeper colours. I plan a brilliant virtuoso piece for Shamiram when she evocates the dove flying ; a “vocal firework” for coloratura soprano, I guess it could become the highlight piece of the Pastorale. It’s a real change after the epic Qateeni opera first act, with masculine colours."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

An Appeal for Sponsorship of 2010 Mesopotamian Night Concert

Dear friends and sponsors of The Mesopotamian Night musical fund raiser

Mesopotamian Night project now is in its fourth year of operation. We have produced so far three important Assyrian cultural events. These events not only made significant contributions to the production, documentation and revival of Assyrian music in various forms (classical, opera, folklore and pop music) and promotion of Assyrian visual arts, but also raised over $165,000 in the span of three years for the humanitarian and cultural projects of Assyrian Aid Society of America. This an unprecedented success story and it has only been possible by hard work of our committee members, passionate contribution of our artists, and the generous support of our sponsors like yourself.

Like last year, in this letter of appeal, I am going to give you a short progress report on the Mesopotamian Night project. I am hoping I can count on you again to remain our sponsor for 2010 concert which will be held in Modesto, California in Summer 2010.

1. Despite all the economic difficulties of 2009, Mesopotamian Night 2009 raised $35,000 for AAS-A general funds to be used directly on Education projects in Bet-Nahrin, Iraq.

2. We funded and completed two Assyrian folklore classical symphonic suites based on the composition works of the Assyrian composer Paulos Khofri. Suite No. 1 was performed and Suite No.2 to be performed in 2010.

3. We helped form a new choir group called “Mesopotamian Choir Ensemble”. This group performed three choir songs from Rabi Paulos Khofri and Rabi Nebu Issabey. These choir songs for the first time were performed with a fifty three piece symphony orchestra.

4. We added two more songs to our collection of William Daniel classical folklore music which were performed by Assyrian soprano Lorraine Davis.

5. We successfully kicked off the creation of the opera Qateeni and successfully premiered one act of this opera reviving the already forgotten epic poem master piece of William Daniel.

6. We continued work on the Assyrian opera Gilgamesh and premiered another scene from this opera.

7. By our support for the first time an Assyrian classical composer (Rev. Samuel Khangaldy) started the creation of a magnificent piece of Assyrian classical music called “Gilgamesh Oratorio”. The overture for this work was successfully performed in 2009.

8. For the first time in addition to attracting support from community resources (individuals and organizations), we managed to attract funding in the form of a two year grant from The James Irvine Foundation a well respected California based organization that supports creation of works of art, music and education by those organizations that make significant contribution to the life of people of California.

9. We managed to produce yet another DVD/CD product from our 2009 project which will help propagate the project throughout the world and enrich the artistic content of Assyrian TV and radio channels worldwide. This time we managed to attract the department of film and TV production of the Modesto Junior College to help us with this ambitious undertaking.

10. We continued working with our pop singers to bring better quality performances to the community. In 2009 Lida Lawando and Emanouel Bet Younan had the opportunity to represent the Assyrian pop music to our audience. Our project commissioned the orchestration and arrangement of their songs for a larger orchestra.

For the Mesopotamian Night 2010 project we have already planned an ambitious set of goals:

1. The string quartets of William Daniel have already been given to Assyrian musician Sam Madoo to be prepared for performance.

2. The music compositions of late Alexander Sooren (a total of sixteen pieces) which were initially documented and scored by Assurhadoun Khofri have been commissioned to another musician for orchestration and score preparation.

3. A new project is initiated for the creation of an Assyrian operetta based on the folkloric tales of Shamiram and Ninous documented by Rabi Yosip Bet Yosip as a poetry piece.

4. More Assyrian classical composers have joined the Mesopotamian Night project. In 2010 two new young composers will be introduced to our community. The Mesopotamian Night project already has motivated more Assyrian talents to produce new works of music as they see an opportunity for their work to be premiered.

5. We will continue the completion of two operas (Gilgamesh and Qateeni) and the Gilgamesh Oratorio hoping that at some point in future we would be able to produce full Assyrian operas.

6. We will add more to the collection of our choir songs. Two important works of Nebu Issabey including the historical “Mar Benyamin Shamon Oratorio” will be orchestrated and performed in 2010.

7. We will continue to produce more quality pop music by our renowned pop singers. This year we plan to mesmerize our audience with songs from 70s and 80s with new instrumental arrangements.

Without contribution of our sponsors we cannot complete the above projects. It is critical that in the next three months we raise enough funds to complete all the composition and arrangement works. I am confident I can again count on your support and sponsorship.

If you have any question you could contact me by my email or my cell phone 209-606-5438. The donations could be sent to AAS-A Central Valley Chapter P. O. Box. 579843, Modesto, CA 95357. Please write in memo “MN2010 Sponsor”.


Tony Khoshaba
Assyrian Aid Society of America – Central Valley Chapter President

Saturday, January 2, 2010

William Daniel String Quartets

In continuation of our effort to revive, document, and perform important works of Assyrian classical music, AAS-A Central Valley Chapter has commissioned the Assyrian musician Sam Madoo to transcribe and prepare the music scores of William Daniel String Quartets for the upcoming Mesopotamian Night 2010 concert fund raiser (the date to be announced later). These pieces were found by Dr. Oshana Beblis (the writer of the book titled "Myth of Enuma Elish/Assyrian And Babylonian Myth: First Story of Evolution" available at an old time friend of William Daniel and were once performed in Florida several years ago. These four string quartets are:

1. Assyrian Rhapsody

2. Elegy (for Armine Beblis)

3. Sonatta in ‘F’

4. On Assyrian Mountains

About Sam Madoo

Sam Madoo was born in 1974 in Iran. In Tehran he studied piano, music theory and harmony with Hanibal Yousef a talented Assyrian musician. Later on, he pursued his dream in California, by attending various music schools such as San Jose State University, Cal State San Bernardino, UC Riverside, and UC Irvine and received multiple degrees in Music Technology and Computer Music. He has recently been involved in live sound, recording, composition, production and post production for commercials and radio shows.

AAS-A Central Valley Chapter is pleased to work with young Assyrian talents such as Sam Madoo for our upcoming projects.