Alan Semerdjian: Exploring Universal Truths through Art

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By Gabriella Gage

Mirror-Spectator Staff

NEW YORK — Musician Alan Semerdjian’s recently released his album, “Quiet Songs for Loud Times,” represents a fresh, personal take on the challenges that affect society as a whole, but it can also be viewed as a return to basics for the singer who has spent the last 20 years dedicated to creative expression through music, writing and art.

From an early age, Semerdjian exhibited the qualities of a writer, composing poems and lyrics. Semerdjian was born in Woodside, Queens and grew up in Melville, Long Island. His musical journey began in high school, when he was asked to fill in for a lead singer in a local alternative rock band who had taken ill. Semerdjian continued writing lyrics and composing songs for the band, later known as Surreal. “I suppose the passion to make something as ethereal and as haunting as the Armenian church music I heard my grandfather play on Sundays throughout our house was present as a child, but the impetus to seriously consider making music came a bit later,” said Semerdjian.

Semerdjian grew up speaking Armenian at home with his family and grandparents. Participating in traditional holidays, eating Armenian cuisine, his culture played an evident role in shaping his creative aesthetics. Semerdjian came to understand the world through an “Armenian cultural lens,” he said. “I have come to understand Armenians as a hearty and imaginative folk full of life, yes, but also filled with a deep longing — all modifiers critics have used to describe my work.”

Today, he calls the East Village his “urban home,” while the beaches and bays of the island of Manhattan serve as his “rural home.” His passion for artistic expression of the human condition has led him to channel those feelings and sensations in variety of different forms and roles — as a musician, a poet, a writer, an artist and a teacher. The lines between these roles are not clearly defined, but rather interact and inform one another. Semerdjian also shares his propensity for artistic expression with others. “Ultimately, the goal of making art, for me, is to enter conversations about the human condition. All three [writing, music, teaching] do this for me. They each shine a light into what it means to be human and alive and full of love and fear and joy and hesitation and reflection.” He also credited his position teaching high school English with informing his process and noted the importance of sharing in “a community of thinkers.”

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For Semerdjian, the composition and the creation of lyrics are intertwined with the art of performance — singing and performing his works for others. In addition to guitar, Semerdjian plays some piano and light percussion, but says he would love to learn the oud and the duduk, noting, “Someday, I want to do versions of my indie folk music accompanied by duduk and oud.

From the British invasion to Armenian church music, bands like U2, The Cure, Anouar Brahem, jazz of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, contemporary voices like David Bazan and Jose Gonzalez, to his grandfather’s favorite, Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, Semerdjian’s musical influences are wide-ranging and evolving, but comprising “Wonderful writers who are supremely inventive but who haven’t lost the capacity to be human,” he said.

It is easy to see how the same attributes he sees within his own Armenian cultural atmosphere — the themes of longing and reflection — are also applicable at the universal level. “We come into this world surging and full of intention, but so rarely do we get what we want. The Buddhists say life is suffering and advocate compassion as the path. My art is one step towards fostering that compassion for me. For Semerdjian, creating music and writing are a way of making sense of the world around him and his place within in it. “I can only hope that my songs about desire and confusion are significant for some listeners because maybe they have felt that desire and confusion too.  The act of constructing them is the first layer of meaning…how they resonate for others is the second and, especially lately, the more important layer.”

Semerdjian will be performing in Los Angeles on October 13 at The Hotel Café and at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC on December 9. For more information on Semerdjian’s work and upcoming show dates, visit www.alansemerdjian.com.

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