CultureGenocide 100

Dan Yessian reflects on Armenian Genocide through music

Dan Yessian hopes his first classical music trilogy teaches an Armenian history lesson that leaves listeners wanting to learn more.

“Maybe, just maybe having listened to the work, they will be spurred on to dig a little deeper from a cultural perspective and historical perspective to see what it’s all about,” said Yessian, founder of Yessian Music, Inc., in Farmington Hills, reports.

Yessian’s An Armenian Trilogy focuses on the Armenian massacre by the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1915. He wrote the 13 1/2-minute piece for violin and piano, but plans to score it for orchestra next year. Its three movements reflect on freedom, fear and faith..

It will debut at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29, at the Macomb Center of the Performing Arts, 44575 Garfield, Clinton Township. Violinist Sonia Lee and pianist Shawn McDonald will perform the work during Hope Dies Last, a multidisciplinary program commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The Detroit Chamber Wind and Strings also will play a new composition for chamber ensemble by Alexandra du Bois, which will be accompanied by photographer Michelle Andonian’s works.

Yessian said he was at a concert in church when his parish priest, the Rev. Garabed Kochakian of St. John Armenian Church in Southfield, asked him to write the commemorative music.

“I said yes. It would be a tremendous challenge. It’s not in my wheelhouse of music that I’d customarily write. I started in January or February writing. I was writing that music in between writing apple pie, hot dogs and Chevrolet,” he said, referring to his commercial compositions. “I’ve written thousands of ads in 40-plus years of doing music. Although I’ve written serious music, this is more involved and complex. It was a labor of love.”

While growing up Yessian occasionally heard his grandparents talk about the massacre. He remembers hearing that his grandfather saw his spouse die. There were other stories of enforced marches, with women, children, and the elderly left to die in the desert. Children were stabbed, women were raped and bodies were thrown into the river.

”I told my wife of 43 years I didn’t feel like I was writing it myself. I felt like it was writing itself. Maybe God was in control,” said Yessian, who composed the piece mostly by ear at his Milford home on a piano formerly owned by Burt Bacharach.

Yessian studied classical and jazz clarinet and saxophone, but didn’t formally study piano. After he wrote and recorded the trilogy, one of his staff composers transcribed the work.

“I’m an ear musician and that is a good thing and not such a good thing. You worry less about technicalities of it and work off of emotion more than anything else,” he said, adding that the trilogy is influenced by jazz.

“The thing that grates me about Armenian hymns is that it’s sad stuff. It’s like funeral music. I wanted to take a western spin on it. I wanted to put myself through a reflection of history and bring some Americana into it.”

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