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Armen Babamian, Music Mentor, to Be Honored for Years of Dedicated Service to the Armenian Community

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Armen Babamian, Music Mentor, to Be Honored for Years of Dedicated Service to the Armenian Community

By Charles Kasbarian and Lucine Kasbarian

Published in The Armenian Reporter

December 16, 2000

On Sunday, January 14, 2001, the Board of Trustees, Church Choir, and congregation of Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church here will honor Mr. Armen Babamian for his years of service as Choirmaster, and as a leading guardian of our nation's musical heritage in the Armenian Diaspora.

Armen has bridged Armenian musical customs from the past into the present to instruct countless Armenian-American community choirs. In Ridgefield, New Jersey, he has been instrumental in establishing one of the most harmonious Armenians choirs in the United States - a group which consists of generations of Armenian Americans, young and old - whom he trained to perform the traditional interpretation of our beloved Armenian Divine Liturgy.

Armen Babamian sang his first solo at the age of twelve in the Holy Cross Armenian Church of Union City, NJ. He was featured as tenor soloist in his junior and senior years in high school and subsequently studied voice with Manley Price Boone at the Metropolitan Opera Studios. Following an audition by director, Robert Shaw, Armen was accepted in the Collegiate Chorale, and qualified for the Varsity Choir and Shaw's CBS Radio Choir.

As an active member of the Armenian community, Armen sang tenor leads in operas and operettas such as Anoush, Arshin Mal Alan, and Gharabaghi Melikner. In addition, he joined the New Jersey Chorale and, as a featured tenor soloist for many years, performed lead roles in Oklahoma, Showboat, Annie, Get Your Gun, and the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, Mikado, Pirates of Penzance, Ruddigore, and Trial by Jury. He has performed under the batons of orchestral conductors such as Leopold Stokowski, Sir Thomas Beecham, and Arturo Toscanini. He appeared with Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians and assisted Paul Robeson in the presentation of Ballad for Americans at Lewisohn Stadium in NY.

As a tribute to his Armenian heritage, Armen has specialized in performing the classical songs of the godfather of Armenian folk music, Gomidas Vartabed. He credits his "Varbed," Mihran Toumajan - one of the famous "five" pupils of Gomidas - for helping him to better appreciate the Master's musical genius. Toumajan declared Armen to be the foremost American-born interpreter of Gomidas. Armen is the first American-born Armenian tenor to have attempted the challenging study and execution of the work of the famed 18th-century Armenian troubadour, Sayat Nova. As poetess Sosy Krikorian Kadian so eloquently stated, "Armen Babamian is the gifted child of a new world, from which the mountains of Armenia might have never been seen; yet he never ceased to ascend them in song, and brought the genius of Gomidas, Ganatchian, and the passions of the minstrel Sayat Nova to generations of American Armenians who might otherwise have been denied the joy and knowledge of that treasured music which is their rightful inheritance."

Armen was the Choirmaster of St. Illuminator's Armenian Apostolic Cathedral in New York for 25 years, and since 1965 has been Choirmaster of Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Church of Ridgefield, NJ. After singing as principal soloist for the Armenian National Chorus of New York under successive conductors - Haroutiun Mehrab, Florence Mardirosian, and Mihran Toumajan - Armen took over the conducting duties of the chorus from 1949 to 1955.

In the absence of maestro Krikor Pidedjian, Armen directed the Kousan Chorus of NY in 1964 at the New York World's Fair. At a time when some communities did not have choirmasters of their own, Armen would travel to St. Gregory Armenian Church in Philadelphia, PA and St. Gregory Armenian Church in Indian Orchard, MA on a weekly basis in the 1950s and 60s to teach the Soorp Badarak to their choirs.

In 1966, he founded and, for many years, directed the Armenian Chorale of New Jersey. A highlight occurred in Armen's musical career when, on April 13, 1970, he conducted a 75-voice choir at Riverside Church in New York City. Two thousand people were on hand to hear Catholicos Khoren of the Holy See of Cilicia celebrate High Pontifical Mass.

Armen's musical abilities were also put to use for other church communities. In the 1980s, he was invited to assist the Assyrian community in recording their own liturgy in which melodies, centuries old, had never been documented in written form. Armen audiotaped the liturgy performed at St. Mary's Assyrian Church of Paramus, NJ, annotated the music, and subsequently taught the choir their own liturgy in three-part harmony.

On September 29, 1973, Armen's many friends and admirers gathered at a testimonial banquet honoring him for his many years of dedicated service to the Armenian community. Karekin I, Catholicos of All Armenians, who was then the newly elected Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, as an honored guest at the banquet, praised the entire community for acknowledging their profound gratitude and paying tribute to a true son of the Armenian nation. And in 1999, the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church sponsored the presentation of the treasured St. Mesrob Mashdots Medal and Holy Encyclical by Catholicos Aram I of Antelias in acknowledgment of and appreciation for Armen's years of devoted service.

In honoring Armen on the occasion of his retirement as Choirmaster, the Sts. Vartanantz Church Board, Choir, and congregation hope to show their gratitude for the invaluable service he has performed in his contribution to the preservation of our precious Armenian cultural legacy. The event, which begins at 1 p.m. at Sts. Vartanantz Church Hall, 461 Bergen Boulevard in Ridgefield, N.J., will include a gourmet Armenian luncheon catered by the Krichian Armenian Kitchen, performances of musical selections, brief remarks, and the presentation of gifts by the Church Board, Choir, and congregation. The cost of admission is $25 for adults and $15 for children ages 10 and under. Reservations will be accepted only in advance, and absolutely no tickets will be sold at the door. Reservations for tables of ten are also being accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. To reserve seating, or for more information, please call the Sts. Vartanantz Church Office at: (201) 943-2960 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.