I remember one set of grandparents.  My maternal grandparents.  They had come to America early.  They had escaped the massacres or the genocide of the Armenian people.  But my father’s people were almost, I would say, seventy-five percent lost in that time period.

The only people that I knew from my father’s side was his older brother and an older sister.  That sister had come to America as a bride early, just right after the turn of the century.  She was the key person that was responsible for my father immigrating to the United States, after he was found, several years later.

But with my one set of grandparents, my mother’s parents, we had a good relationship.  My grandfather was a lover of music.  He enjoyed music very much.  He had a little hand accordion.  One of these little round jobs, that he used to play sometimes.  He also piddled at the piano one hand.  Sometimes he’d even play the tambourine.  My mother played piano in the home a lot of times.  My father sang pretty well and played the tambourine and danced.         In those days, of course, the Armenian community was very close.  Neighbors and friends and extended family.  There was much visiting among people, and they always mostly spoke the native language, and we ate the native foods, and they would put on the records.

https://www.arts.gov/honors/heritage/fellows/richard-avedis-hagopian

Richard Hagopian, Armenian-American Oud Player and National Heritage Fellow, was 57 years old when interviewed by Robert Atkinson in 1994.

I remember when I was very young, we had the old victrola, with the crank, and my father would play the records, and they’d get up and dance, and sometimes some records were sad, and they’d cry because the records or the songs were about experiences of their village or what they’d gone through.  Some of them were in the Turkish language.  A lot of them were.          At that point, you’d hear the same stories over and over.  “This is the way that we were put out of our village, and this is the route that we walked up.”  They used to say, “Yes, we eventually ended up on that route in the deserts.”  So we used to hear all the stories, usually by my father and his friends, those who had experienced it.

Of course, at that time, younger kids like myself didn’t pay much attention.  We’d try to get off to one side and play games, or play with one another.  But I heard it so many times that I could almost verbally, word-for-word say what they said.  It was remarkable.  It wasn’t then, because it didn’t sink too much, but as I grew older, it was remarkable how some of the friends were not even close to my father’s place where he lived.  It was like maybe two hundred or three hundred miles away.  But in all of the cases, the similarities were almost the same as how it was, how they were put out, no notice or anything.

There were a lot of functions that were given at the time, either by the church, or they were compatriotic organizations started to help those who were left behind, in the old country.  These organizations would collect money through various functions that were given, and most of the time, those functions were at the church hall, or some local hall that might have been, like Knights of Pythius or Woodmen of the World.  They always had a group of musicians who played.  These people were, of course, from the old country.

I was, at a very young age, very fascinated with that.  That was one place that I didn’t play with the kids anymore.  I would sit right close to them, and I always watched.  I would go home.  I would get an old pipe out of the garage or something, and sort of reenact that I was that guy that was playing the clarinet or some string or something.  I always thought I was them.  Eventually, I had various instruments that my father got.

I started playing at an early age.  Before then, at these affairs, I used to dance with my father.  While my mother was born here, and was first generation, I was like half-and-half.  And at that time, it was a novelty to see kids doing ethnic dances or something.

My father and I danced to raise money.  They used to throw money, and that money was collected for the purpose of helping either orphans or families in need that were in Islamic countries or in the Arabian countries or Lebanon, that area, and even some in Turkey.

All of the functions, of course, that were to raise money with very few exceptions, always had musicians.  These musicians were from different areas or different provinces and villages, so they each had a little bit of a different flavor.  In those days, when they’d have a gathering, what we called a picnic, in the summertime.  They’d go next to a river close by, or a place where there was water, and they’d set-up everything to eat.  These old-timers would play, and each group that would do a dance usually would be people from the same village.  Now, each village might dance the same song, but they had different steps and different styles.  In some instances, even the songs were a little bit different.  But they never ever danced outside of their village people.  They’d even call them up.  You’d see forty or forty-five people doing a circle dance.  Fortunately, as I was growing up, this folk music or this village music sort of was instilled in me.  I heard it over and over.

Pretty soon, when I was about ten or eleven years old, I had a couple of cousins who started playing instruments, too.  So we said, “Well, let’s just start a little group for fun.”  I don’t think we were very good.  But there was no young person at that time playing ethnic music.  You know, they were sort of trying to get into the movement of being Americanized, or trying to grow up in America as we should, and trying to put that ethnic side to one side.         It was so overwhelming because there were so many people here that were from the old country, that you couldn’t fight that.  In our house, my aunt was very adamant.  My father’s oldest sister.  If I spoke English to her, she wouldn’t answer.  Absolutely wouldn’t answer, until I would speak in Armenian.  And then, of course, my mother’s side of the family, because the area where they lived, it was forbidden to speak Armenian.  So my mother’s side of the people mostly spoke Turkish.  While they could understand Armenian, my grandmother, of course, went to school.  She could read and write it, but my grandfather couldn’t.

I remember as a child, he couldn’t read or write in any language.  She would read the bible.  He would ask her to read the bible.  They had a big bible, and it was written in Armenian, but the words were in Turkish.  So she would actually read the Armenian alphabet, but the words would not be Armenian.  That’s the way it was in certain provinces.

So then I did start a little group with my cousins.  One played clarinet.  He was my age, about eleven.  And one was about four years younger.  He played drums.  He must have been seven or eight years old.  He could barely just hold that drum.

One day we were at one of these functions, and someone said, “There are some kids here that can actually play Armenian music.”  They all said, “Nah, they can’t play.”  Because the Armenian people didn’t pay much attention to kids. When it comes to music or speaking or something, the kids have to be quiet.  We were told, “Don’t interfere.  When the older generation is speaking, don’t talk to them unless they ask you something.  Then, be polite and answer them.”  So they told us, “Well, if they’re here, let them play a song.”

So we played a song.  We played two and three and four, and pretty soon there was a family, quite a large family that lived in our area, in Selma.  They had come quite early to that area, and they were, for their time, quite affluent.  They had a lot of vineyards, and they had some money.  They were going to have a graduation party.  All the graduates always had a nice party, and they always had music.  So they offered us a job.  They said, “We’ll pay you.”

I guess it was like five dollars a piece, or something, which we played for that party.  Oh, we were really excited.  So we went, and we played for that party.  We played a few other jobs, and then the leading group musician that had the most popular band, he was very good friends with my father, and, in fact, with my cousin’s family.  He was a pretty well-liked guy.  He sort of took offense that we were playing, because now we got a few jobs, and we were taking jobs they thought they should have.

One time they had asked us to play just a small program, and his group was going to play anyway.  We were at a big picnic, and in those days, they used to get maybe four or five thousand people to come to this picnic.  He told the committee, “If that group of kids plays, I’ll take my orchestra, and you won’t have music here today.”  So that day we didn’t play.  We were wondering what happened, and finally the word got out, and my father went and approached him and said, “Why are you doing this?  They’re not hurting you.  You should be happy that these kids are trying to learn.”

Pretty soon I got closer to being a teenager, and I progressed more.  There was another group of musicians that played a little more high-class form.  They were from not so much the interior, and their music was more sort of the classical music, but they could play some of the other music.  They needed a lute player.  The violinist knew my grandfather quite well, and he came to our house, and he said, “I want you to play in my group.”  I said, “Well, I have to get permission from my father.”  While my father was very happy that we could do this thing, they’re not very happy when you start playing music.

The Armenian culture is not high on the totem pole.  In the old country, they hardly ever wanted to give a daughter to a musician.  They didn’t think very highly of a musician.  While they always had music and hired musicians!  So my father said, “He can join that group” because the clarinet player in that group was one of my father’s best friends, and they lived down the road from us.  So I got into that group, and that group became a real popular group.  We were playing for all the functions now.  Well, of course, according to tradition in those days, we didn’t get much money, but the leader, I think, used to get ten dollars, and the clarinet player, who was next in line, got seven dollars.  And I was just a kid, so I got five dollars.  The drummer or the percussionist was also low on the totem pole because they figured that some of the musicians didn’t even figure they were musicians.  They just said, “Well, he plays the drum.”  They gave him three bucks.  That’s the way it was.

Then I started playing with several groups.  Then I had my own group.  And for a long time, I played with my group, and then in the sixties, I was invited to go play commercially with a Middle Eastern show in Las Vegas, Nevada, in a big hotel.  By that time, of course, I had been married, and I had a couple of children.  I think we had all our children, in fact.  All three boys were born.  I worked close to two years in that show.  Then I came, and I did some club work.  We had a very successful run and a good show with some good musicians.

We cut the first of our LP records at that time.  We were quite well-known.  By this time, we were doing jobs nationally.  I no longer was confined to the local area that I had before.  Before I lived in the central valley, and the furthest I would go north would be San Francisco, and the furthest south would be to Los Angeles.  We came back, and then we cut these long-play records, and we distributed them nationally.  The group, actually, I would say, set a precedent.  We were playing in Providence, we were playing in Boston, we were playing in New York City, we were playing in Detroit.  We played almost anywhere where there was a major community of Armenians or Middle Eastern people.

The first instrument that I learned to play was violin.  The second was clarinet. Oud was the third instrument.  The reason why that happened is while I had heard the oud, and wanted one, it was very difficult to get one.  In those days, there weren’t a lot of instruments around.  You had to know somebody in the old country and write a letter.  It was very difficult.  I had heard records of oud  playing, and I wanted an oud real bad.

One of my father’s friends that he knew from the old country, he had one.  He found out that I was interested.  He was visiting one afternoon like they did.  They’d play the record, and serve a little drink, alcohol or some eats.  My father said, “Go get your violin, so you can play for Uncle Harry.”

I said, “I really want an oud.”

He said, “Why didn’t you tell me you wanted an oud?  I have one.  I haven’t played it for years.  It’s just sitting there.  I’ll go get it right now.”

Oh, boy.  That was the biggest thing that happened.  He went.  He brought this instrument.  I said, “Well, I can’t tune it.”

He said, “I’ll tune it for you.”  He tuned it and he left.

I sat down and I tried to play it.  I must have played four or five hours.  To the point where I must have gotten on my father’s nerves.

He said, “Stop it.  Don’t play anymore.”

But I didn’t stop.  I was persistent.  I played until I plucked a song, and I guarantee you, by the next morning, I think three or four strings were broken.  It was all out of tune, too.  I called my father’s friend and I said, “Uncle Harry, some of the strings broke, and it’s out of tune.  I can’t tune it.”

He said, “I’ll be right over.”  So he came.  He came and he taught me.

It started like that.  My uncle’s brother who lived in LA, he plucked at the oud, too.  They used to come down once a year to vacation, and he found out and he said, “I have an extra oud.  I’m going to bring that down.  You give that one back, and you play this one.”

I would say that was the latter part of 1947.  I was about ten years old.  I played like that for a couple of years.

One day, they were having a function in Fresno.  A dance troupe that was touring the country, that not only did Armenian dances, but they did Hindu dances.  A lot of different types of dances.  They had music for this thing.  They were going to have three sets.  In between the changes of sets, they wanted someone to entertain the people.  So we got a call from Fresno, and they said to my father, “We understand your son plays, and it’s a novelty, and do you think that he can play between acts?”

My father said, “Well, okay.”  They promised us a couple free tickets.  We went.  At that time, I must have been twelve or thirteen years old.  This was 1950.  They announced me, and I came out on stage, and they had the spots on, and it just looked like a sea of people out there.  I was supposed to announce my song, and I literally couldn’t talk.  It wouldn’t come out.  So I just sat on my chair and started playing.

Pretty soon the guy came out.  He said, “Is something wrong?”

I said, “I can’t announce my numbers.”

He said, “Well, tell me, and I’ll announce them for you.”  But anyway, I played, and actually, the people liked it so well, they clapped so much, the manager came later on and he told my parents, “This group is going to go on.  The Armenian people really like your son, the way he plays.  We want to take him with the troupe.”

We had several meetings.  We took photographs.  They promised they would teach me on the way, you know, keep schooling going.  Then my grandfather came into the picture, and he said, “This is only a child.  You can’t do this kind of thing.  Who’s going to take care of him?”  At that point they said, “Well, we’ll take the mother along.”  Well, I had a younger sister, and my father said, “Oh no.  My family is not going to be that way.”  So that ended that.

I played on programs like that, and I played with my group until I came to Las Vegas.  Then I had a group that we played together most of the time for these big events, nationally.  We were all from different cities.  We cut the first album because we were being received very enthusiastically.  There was a lot of good time, so we said, “Hey, since this is the thing, let’s start naming the records Kef Time.”

Well ‘Kef’ is a Middle Eastern word that’s used loosely by all, even the Armenians, and it means “party time” or “good time.”  We started releasing the records.  Since we met and worked in Las Vegas, the first album was “Kef Time Las Vegas.”

Then, a year later, they had a national convention in Fresno, one of the youth groups, and they said, “We’re hiring the national group.”  So we release another record, and that was close to my hometown, so they called it “Kef Time Fresno.”

By that time, a group had established itself, and they said, “We want to sponsor a Kef Time Hartford, Connecticut.  So we said, “Okay.  We’ll release one more record.”  So we released “Kef Time Hartford.”  Then we really didn’t keep up with it, because now we were playing in Providence, we were playing outside of Boston.  We started playing all the little towns.  We probably could have released ten or fifteen records.  People were just buying them.  Until now, it’s still going pretty good.

Our family was a very traditional family.  I don’t think much had changed from what they brought from the old country.  Like I said, children only spoke to the adults when the adults spoke to you first.  Of course, when it was immediate family, like Grandpa, Grandma, Aunt or Uncle, we had more freedom.  But when we had the outer circle of people that came, the children knew their place.

We always knew that Pop was the boss of the house.  There was no question about that.  And if Grandpa was in the crowd, even if he said something that was wrong, that was the final word.  They may have not followed it later, but no one corrected or said anything more.  They carried on the traditions.

The church played an important part in our life.  The Armenian church.  We went to church on a regular basis.  Sometimes we really didn’t want to go.  Even though I spoke Armenian quite fluently, even before I entered school, the language of the church is what we call the classical and it’s hard to understand.  It’s like Latin.  It was a long service in those days, and the priest never spoke English.  And service, it was two-and-a-half hours.  The kids would not want to go, but we’d end up going.  There was no two ways about it.  We never, ever stayed home.  You went.  You went, and you sat there, and you liked it.

I learned some important lessons from my parents.  They wouldn’t tolerate idle talk or cursing, nor lying.  If they knew that you did any of those things, we got spanked.  We were taught to respect all of the elders, whether they were family or not.  And we had to call all of the people who entered our house, even if they weren’t related, we had to call them Auntie or Uncle.  We could never, ever call them by their first name.  If we did, we either got slapped or sent out of the room.

They usually served Armenian coffee, and they’d have a little candy.  All the kids were lectured at home that you were never to touch anything or take anything unless you were asked.  Then when you were asked, you had to look to your mother or father, and if they said, “Take one,” we’d take one.  All those little traditions that there were, we kept them.  We were expected to, and now that I look back at it, I don’t think I really regret it.  I think I’m happy that they did it.

My Aunt, my father’s sister, was the oldest in the family.  She had a certain respect by the older people.  If we were sick, or something of that nature happened, they’d always call her.  She’d come.  And like traditionally, in the old country, they would read verses from the bible, and bless the salt, and throw salt over and stuff.  They practiced all of these things.

When we sat at the table and there was company, the children were always served last.  The children could never be served first.  The adults, the males were served first.  Then, the next older females.  The kids were always last.  If there was no room at the main table, the kids sat at another little table, off to one side, or in the kitchen, or some place else.  All the older generation had the respect and the honor of sitting at the table or in choice places, and eating the choice foods.  If food ran out, it ran out before it got to the kids or to family.  All the guests in the home were served first.

My father was very adamant.  I remember, when we went to the first grade, he lectured me, and said that I’d have to be a good person, and I’d have to abide by the laws of the teacher and the school, and I couldn’t dishonor our name in any way.  He said, “To dishonor our name would be a great shame,” and they wouldn’t tolerate that.

If we got into trouble, which we hardly ever did, it was for some insignificant reason.  Even then, we either got lectured very heavily and/or even spanked.  We could not talk back to the teacher.  Just like we couldn’t talk back to the elders in our house, who were mostly Armenians, we couldn’t talk back to elders who were not Armenians, or to teachers.  We had to respect the teacher and we have to have good grades.  If we didn’t have good grades, they’d get quite upset.

In the beginning, when I started playing the oud, I was taking private lessons on violin, so I had a working knowledge of the instrument, and it was helpful to me when I started playing the oud, because I started applying some of what I knew on the violin.  When I started playing music, all the musicians that played music would start coming to listen because, like I say, there were no young kids at that time that would play Armenian music.

There might be some who studied piano, western music, or other things.  But there were no young people who were interested in playing the ethnic traditional music.  So they would come, and they would try to give pointers.  “Don’t do this” and “Don’t do that” and “Listen to this” and “You have to repeat this many times, because if you don’t, it doesn’t fit with the step of what they’re dancing.”

They’d keep saying those things, and I’d listen.  My father had quite a collection of records.  And he’d still buy records, and I’d go with him.  We’d have to go.  And as I got into it, I would start picking some of the records out now.  And it got, actually, to the point where it got ridiculous.  I mean, these records were a dollar or a dollar and twenty-five cents a piece.  When we’d go there, it would be nothing for me to pick out twenty-five or thirty records, and it started mounting.  But my father never said anything because he liked the idea of me playing music, and he knew that I’d listen to the records.  I would spend a lot of times tuning my instrument to that record, so I could learn the song.

I started listening and hearing records of the person who became my teacher.  I liked the quality of the voice, and how he sang, and how it was being played.  It got to the point where I would come home from school, and I would select these records, and I’d play until dinnertime.  And after dinnertime.  And I would learn these songs, just like it was played on the record.

One day, a compatriotic society was going to have a picnic, and this person that I was learning off the records, had just retired from the east coast, and come to California.  They were bringing him and the group to play at that picnic.  So I told my father, “I have to go to that picnic.”

And he said, “Well, we’ll go to the picnic.  There’s no big thing there.  We’ll go.”

I said, “Well, I want to make sure I’m going to go.  I have to be there.”

So we went to that picnic, and they were playing, and I was standing there, walking.  And somebody went up to the group and said, “You know, there’s a young boy here.  He plays oud.  Why don’t you let him sit in and play with you.”

My teacher was an international artist.  And the older musicians that played that way — he was a lot better educated in music than the people that I played with, on the level where I was.  At first they said, “No.”

As fate would have it,  my teacher told one of the guys, “That kid you were talking about.  Tell him to come here now.  Let’s try him out.”

So I sat there.  I was shaken.  It’s just like that night that I couldn’t speak.  This is the first time I was going to do it.

He said, “Well, what do you know how to play?  What do you want to play?”

I thought and thought.  I had practiced on his record.  I said, “I’d like to play this song.”  It was a pretty difficult song for that time.

He said, “Oh, yes?  You know that song?  How did you learn that song?”

I said, “I played your record, and I learned from it.”

He said, “Well, let’s see what happens.”

We played that song.  He sang that song, and he started grinning.  He said, “What other song do you know of my songs?”

I named another song.  We played that song.  And pretty soon, that other oud player came back.  He said, “Charlie, go get something to eat.  I want to test this kid a little bit more.”

Then he started asking me some questions.  “What mode or what scale?”

I said, “I don’t know.”

He said, “You’re playing the right place.  You’re playing properly, but you don’t know what you’re doing.”

So I played a little bit more, and then I went and I told my father, “That was good.”  He said, “I’ve got another idea.  I’m going to take that group to our home, on the farm, after the picnic is over.”

Lo and behold, they got that group and about fifty other people that tagged along because they wanted to, and they all ended up at our place, and I sat down with them.  They played a lot of songs that I really didn’t know, but some of them I did know.  And when that night finished, he was staying in the next town over.  He told my father, “I want to see your son.  I want him to study with me.”  My father said, “That will be okay.”

I was, at this point, just absolutely excited.  That was on Sunday, and I went to school on Monday.  I used to ride the bus.  I got off the bus about quarter to four, and I noticed there were a couple of cars in our driveway, but usually I know the cars of who the people are visiting.  This car I didn’t know.  So I came in quietly, and I hear all these people.  I look in, and here’s the guy that wanted me to study with him.  He’s here again!  This time with his wife, and two other families.

We played again a little bit.  He said, “Well, when summer comes, I want your son to come to L.A. and start.  I want to work with him.”  We started like that.  I went for the summer, stayed with my uncle.  I started taking lessons.  He’d write things down, and he’d tell me this and that.  It continued like that until he passed away.

While I was studying, in 1950, I was always listening to records of this blind oud player.  He was an Armenian, born blind in Istanbul.  He played like an angel.  His music and the sound of it was totally different.  He introduced a new sound, and I couldn’t get over it.  I used to listen to the records, and listen and listen.  While I was studying with my teacher, I’d try to copy some of that technique.  I wanted to play like that.

He came to New York City.  At that time, you might as well say he was in Europe.  We never, ever took a vacation, or travelled that far.  There were a couple of friends of my father’s that loved that music.  He was from the same city that my teacher was.  He came over one day, and he told my Dad, “I’m going to go to New York City to see Herod.  I’m going to try to bring him to California, to concertize.”

He went, and in about two weeks he came back and came to our house again.  He said, “Herod is coming.  I’ve got a committee.  He’s going to play Los Angeles and Fresno.”

Oh, boy.  I was now really in my glory!  The day got closer, and they made the announcement.  I think it was October 12, 1950.  They’re coming to Fresno, and who is going to be in his group?  My teacher, and two other musicians.  They made an announcement that no children will be allowed at this concert.  I told my father, “I’m going to that concert.  I don’t care what happens.”

He said, “Don’t get excited.  I’ll talk to somebody.”  The group that I played with in Fresno, the violinist, he was on the committee.  My Dad went to him and said, “Islam, I want my son to come to that.”  He said, “He’ll be there.  In fact, we’ll sit him up close because he’s little, so he can see.”  Okay.  So we went to that concert, and we’re sitting there.  The man who was my father’s friend, that gave me the first oud, he was sitting right behind me.  My grandfather was sitting close.  All of my family was there.  The curtains were opened, but nobody was on the stage.  I looked.  They had a grand piano there, and on the piano were two beautiful instruments.  Two ouds.  I looked at that thing, and they were just shining.  I told my father, “That’s a beautiful instrument.  I’d like to have that instrument.”  And he came, and he picked that instrument when the concert started.  The more he played it, and I was in a trance.  I talked so much, finally, the guy behind me said, “Be quiet.”  My uncle said, “When intermission time comes, we’ll do something.”

So intermission came, and we went backstage.  We went back there, and my teacher was there.  He said, “Oh, here comes my student. Herod, I want you to meet a young man that someday is going to be pretty good.  He’s my student.”  And I went, and they introduced me.  He put his hand on my head.  He said, “I hope someday you’ll be as good as I will.”  I didn’t know what to say.  I couldn’t talk.

My father said, “By the way, are any of those instruments that you’re playing up there,  are any of them for sale?”  He said, “Yes, I’ll sell it.”  They cut a deal.  My father said, “When the concert is over, you’re going to have the instrument that he’s playing.”  Oh, boy, that was a big day for me.

We came back, after the concert finished.  My father opened his wallet.  He didn’t have enough money.  He didn’t carry that kind of money.  My grandfather loaned some money, Uncle Harry loaned some money until we got home, and he was going to pay him back.  They gave me the instrument that day, and I took it home and I still have it.  In fact, most of my recordings are made with that instrument.  It was just like a dream.  It seems like yesterday, but I guess that’s about forty-four years ago now.

A good teacher is able to instill in you the proper method and the proper theory and the proper way to play.  My teacher was very strict.  There was a lot of times I was in tears.  I’d just as soon quit taking lessons than to put up with it.  We used to sit knee-to-knee.  I remember him telling me, “It’s just as easy to learn the right way as it is the wrong.  Why do you want to play wrong when you can learn to play right?”  He used to say, “You can’t break that habit, once you learn that way.  That’s not good.  That isn’t good.  Don’t do that way.  Play it this way.  Play it that way.”  There were times when it was very difficult.  When I first started, since I was a novelty, like all kids, I thought I knew it.  But once I started lessons, I didn’t know anything.  I found out real quick that all I knew was how to play songs.  I really didn’t have any foundation, or didn’t know how to do anything else.

I started teaching when I was an artist in residence in 1979, while I had ten or twelve students, I don’t even know that that was a serious effort.  I mean, I tried to teach them.  It was only so many weeks.  And you can only teach so much to people that had no knowledge.  I passed some basic knowledge of foundation to them.

I’m not at all concerned about the survival of the oud. I see some up-and-coming musicians who play very well.  These musicians have an excellent knowledge of music.  A lot of them have graduated from music schools with degrees.  Some of them play really quite well.  They listen, and they have opportunities.

It’s been a great honor for me to become a National Heritage Fellow.  While I’ve had the great support of my people, in all of the years that I entertained or played, I guess they took it for granted.  I was never honored in any way.  The honor that was given to me when I was chosen as a Fellow, I think was one of the high points of my career.  It made me very proud, not only as my ethnic background, but I felt very proud as an American, that somehow, in some little way, I accomplished this thing.  And that I had recognition from someone that was not from my background or my people.

I think they appreciate my music and what I’ve done in their own way.  I’m happy with it because, being first generation here, when I was just very little, I used to hear my father and all of them say, “In twenty-five or thirty years there won’t be any culture of the Armenians.”              After the war there was a great decline. Then, in the fifties, there was like a rebirth. I don’t know if they found their roots, or the cultural tradition. I’m happy to say that all three of my sons play music.  Harold excels at it.  My youngest son plays clarinet.  My oldest son plays the drum.  Two years ago I figured that whatever life I have left by the grace of God, I want to entertain with my sons, which I have been doing.  I incorporated my sons into my band back home, locally. So I think I’m fulfilled because I’ve passed something to my children.  Good, bad or indifferent, I see them happy at it.  It isn’t very often that a father can be proud and to work with his children.  So everything that’s good has happened for me.

Family-wise, musical, and a lot of good experiences have happened.  I think that I’ve, in my way, left my mark for my people, in this country.  I’m happy with it.  I owe it to my parents and to my family, and to all the good people, like I said, that supported me.  The people who had faith, like my teacher, and other people.  They were always good to me.  All I can say is I look forward to playing good music, as long as the good Lord allows me to.  And as of now, I feel pretty good.

 

 

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