By Taleen Babayan
FAIR LAWN, N.J. — On an early fall afternoon in the lower level of the St. Leon’s Armenian Church, four lively young girls were tucked away in a Sunday School classroom, their ears positioned towards the stereo speakers, as they waited anxiously for a CD to play. After months of practicing and recording sessions, they were finally ready to hear the results of their efforts. Listening to the first line of the hymn, Hamenaynee (In All Things) that emanated their sweet, angelic voices, their brown eyes widened and they held each others’ hands in excitement as their bright smiles appeared. The biggest smiles, however, were on the faces of the inspirational duo of co-producers Nvair Kadian Beylerian and Andrea Arpiarian Carden, who were the visionaries behind the album, We Sing Armenian Church Songs with Nvair & Friends (Armenian Badarak Hymns for Children), which was officially released last month.
The foundation for the innovative project was laid 10 years earlier, in that very same spot, when Nvair Beylerian, then the music teacher of the St. Leon Sunday School and Andrea, who served as Superintendent, a position she holds to this day, were sharing conversation about the growth of their parish’s diversity and the many new students coming from blended families. When discussing how to approach teaching a new generation of Armenian-Americans the hymns of the Divine Liturgy and making it accessible to them, as if by divine intervention, they came across a series of Xeroxed pages of Yegmalian Badarak hymns, which included some English translations. They knew then what they could do to make Sunday School education for their students even more fruitful. Over the course of the next few years, they taught sing-a-longs every Sunday morning and their efforts ultimately led them to the creation of the “We Sing Armenian Church Songs” album, which contains seven Armenian hymns recorded in both English and Armenian by Nvair with the HYEfamily Children’s Chorus, with a guest appearance by Ara Dinkjian.
“This album is about bringing our Armenian Church life into our daily lives,” said Nvair, who has a master’s degree in education and has been involved in “edutainment,” combining both education and entertainment elements for children, since 2001. “It can serve as a daily a reminder of who we are. By recording these hymns and placing them directly in the hands of parents, we provide them the opportunity to immerse their children in these songs & meaning simply by popping in a CD while in the car or in the playroom. Our aim is to eventually have the family singing along together, not even realizing that they’ve learned an essential part of their Armenian Christian heritage.”
“We want the kids to feel comfortable in church,” said Andrea, who holds a master of arts degree and is a special education specialist in the New Jersey Public School system. “Feeling that connection and experiencing that familiarity gives them a reason to want to be part of the Armenian Church experience.”