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Armenian Teen Bell Choir - 2002-12-17

English Feature #7-37041 Broadcast December 23, 2002

In multi-cultural, multi-faith America, the holiday season brings out a rich variety of ethnic and cultural combinations. Last week, for instance, a bell choir of Armenian teenagers performed American and Armenian Christmas music in Washington’s Mormon temple. Oksana Dragan has more about this in today’s edition of New American Voices.

St. Mary’s children’s bell choir consists of ten teenagers, all but two of whom were born in Armenia and immigrated to the United States with their families within the last ten years. Leon Khoja-Eynatyan, the choir director, says participating in the bell choir keeps the teenagers connected to their Armenian roots.

“They learn, first of all, they learn the Armenian liturgy, we don’t just play the music part, we also learn the words – we don’t use them, but we learn the words because we need to know the text for better understanding of the music, and we play a lot of Armenian folk music.”

During the Christmas season, the bell choir performs seasonal music in church, but also introduces American audiences to Armenian carols.

The choir director’s 14-year-old daughter Tatevik is a member of the choir. She says she loves both the musical and the social aspects of bell ringing.

“It’s lovely, it’s fun. I don’t know – just the atmosphere of it all. I love the group.”

Tatevik, who plans to be a psychologist when she grows up, also plans to retain her Armenian culture and identity.

“Oh, all the way. I mean, I’ve been Armenian since I was born [laughs], so that would kind of make that… Well, I mean, there’s like an Armenian community here, and that helps. Like, you’re not alone.”

Her father being a professional percussionist -– in addition to being the choir director --, Tatevik Khoja-Eynatyan was the featured drummer during the bell choir’s rendition of one of America’s favorite Christmas songs, The Little Drummer Boy.

Another member of the choir is fifteen-year-old Seda Ambarzumian, who immigrated to the United States ten years ago. Seda also wants to retain her Armenian identity.

“I definitely do, because I think it’s a very important part of my life right now, to be able to say that I’m Armenian and to stand up for my Armenian beliefs. And I want that to continue on in generations for my family, also.”

On the other hand, Seda says she likes living in the United States very much.

“I like everything. I like that it’s a sort of melting pot of different cultures, and I like how everyone can preserve their culture while not living in their homeland.”

Seda Ambarzumian says that her American friends at school respect her for maintaining her Armenian culture in the American melting pot.

“They’re very supportive of it, because I always drill it into their heads, and I started an Armenian club at school, so it’s kind of hard for them not to notice.”

While the members of the children’s bell choir go to American schools and have many American friends, in their free time they tend to gravitate to activities with other young Armenians.

“We have ACYOA juniors club, which is just teenagers that are Armenian, and we participate in different things such as Bible readings, and hold different events, and also we have different Armenian activities. Different artists come and visit, and people showing their talents. I like to do as much Armenian activities as possible.”

Among the numbers performed by the Armenian bell choir was another seasonal favorite, the Carol of the Bells, based on a traditional Ukrainian Christmas carol.

As one member of the audience said after this performance – “an Armenian bell choir performing a Ukrainian carol in a Mormon temple in Washington. What could be more American?!”