CultureGenocide 100

Dan Yessian’s ‘An Armenian Trilogy’ to premiere at Macomb Center

Gina Joseph,
The Macomb Daily

The first time Detroit composer Dan Yessian was formally introduced to the unusual rhythms of Armenian music, he was just a teen. While playing clarinet for a rock and roll/jazz band, a group of musicians asked him to join their Armenian wedding band.

“I was 16. These guys were old men… who smoked stogies and drank hard liquor,” said Yessian, during an interview at the office of his award-winning musical production company Yessian Music. “I told them I didn’t know how to play Armenian music, but they said they could teach me and that I would get paid $10 for one night of playing. Now I am 71, and I am the old man.”

And, for the second time in his life he has been asked to create the music of his Armenian ancestry.

This time, however, he would be the one to compose the rhythms for what would become, “An Armenian Trilogy.”

This musical composition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide will premiere at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 29.

Yessian was born and raised in America. But like many children of his generation, whose grandparents immigrated from Armenia to the United States, he grew up hearing the tragic stories that survived the genocide in Armenia, where 1.5 million Armenian citizens were murdered by the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1915.

“My grandmother used to talk about how she carried raw meat hidden under her breasts to feed her children,” said Yessian. “The pregnant women were gutted. Unborn fetuses were removed and tossed into the air,” Yessian said, in his composer notes. “(Others) were raped in front of their husbands and children. This was a cleansing not unlike the Jewish Holocaust.” When asked by the Rev. Garabed Kochakian of St. John Armenian Church in Southfield to consider writing a commemorative piece of music evocative of those dark times he did not hesitate.

“For the past 43 years, our company, Yessian Music, has been creating original music for national television commercials, movie trailers and theme parks across the world,” said Yessian, whose sons, Brian and Michael also work for the company. “This was a different kind of opportunity and a challenge I couldn’t resist -– retelling the story of my ancestors in the way I do best, through music.”

Audiences at the Macomb Center will hear three movements written for violin and piano. Performed by Korean violinist Sonia Lee and pianist Shawn McDonald –- each movement represents the years surrounding the genocide in Armenia. From the days of freedom when Armenians enjoyed the rewards of their work and loving family along with the usual struggles of life, to the fear of being marched to their death in the desert and the final movement of faith for a brighter future ahead.

“When I write music I think in very visual ways with the intent that the listener might see what I see and feel what I feel,” said Yessian, whose company produced the music for national commercials like the iconic, “Think Ford First,” or promos for television shows like, “The Blacklist,” “Sunday Night Football,” and “The Voice.”

“And so it goes without saying that ‘An Armenian Trilogy’ is my desire for you to share this journey with me from a musical, yet, cinematic perspective.”

What follows the movement, which Yessian will eventually score for an orchestra, is a multi-media concert by Michelle Andonian that showcases photographs of the period and the Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings performing a new score by Alexandra du Bois.

“In the end, I’m hopeful, aside from enjoying the music it will be an informative cultural experience,” Yessiam said.

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