Sahan Arzruni

Knights Honor Arzruni, Kalfayan for Contributions to Culture


By Taleen Babayan

NEW YORK — Two lifelong musical members of the New York community who have contributed greatly to the Armenian heritage and culture — Sahan Arzruni and Kris Kalfayan — were honored for their decades of service in a special banquet hosted by the Knights and Daughters of Vartan at the Eastern Diocese in New York City on Friday, May 18.

It was a fitting occasion, fulfilling the theme of “A Legacy of Dedication, Commitment and Service,” to highlight the talents and generosity of both men who have enhanced the rich cultural tradition of sacred and classical music, which was under the auspices of Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern).

For both Arzruni and Kalfayan, their musical and cultural roots were instilled in them in a young age in Istanbul, Turkey, before they emigrated to the US to pursue opportunities, but maintaining the Armenian Church and community as priorities in their lives.

Director of the Diocesan Gomidas Choir for over three decades, Kalfayan attended the Dadyan School as a youngster and his local Armenian Church in Bakirkoy.

“My father would take me to church on Sundays and once he and the choirmaster taught me to read Armenian notation, I started singing along,” said Kalfayan. “The seed was planted without me having a clue.”

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The seed flourished when his family moved to Washington Heights, NY, just a few blocks from Holy Cross Church, where he became further involved in the church’s rituals and music where “Saturdays and Sundays were spent at church.”

Paralleling his experiences in church, he sang in the Children’s choruses of the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera and attended the High School of Music and Art in New York. During his high school years, he sang with the All City High School Chorus and in college he was a member of the Men’s Glee Club at Fordham University.

His friend and fellow Fordham Glee Club member, Dr. Joseph Van Houten, in his remarks, reflected on his 45-year friendship with Kalfayan and his “generous spirit that has manifested in his lifelong service to the Armenian Church.”

“Through his love of music and dedication to God, Kris has enriched religious services and celebrations throughout his life,” said Van Houten.

In service to the Armenian Church, Kalfayan was the organist at Holy Cross Church and St. Vartan Cathedral, where he was also the director of the St. Vartan Cathedral Boys Choir and the St. Vartan Cathedral Choir. Since 1981 he has been serving as musical director of the Diocesan Gomidas Choir and was recently invited by Barsamian to conduct the choir for the Pontifical Divine Liturgy on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the consecration of the St. Vartan Cathedral.

“The nourishment for me has been the beautiful music of the hymns of our divine liturgy,” said Kalfayan, who was awarded the Pontifical Encyclical and the St. Nerses the Graceful Medal from Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians in 2008.

Dr. Vartan Abdo, Founder and Director of the Armenian Radio Hour of New Jersey, served as master of ceremonies of the banquet, acknowledging the significance of the evening’s honorees and the importance of being active members of the community in order for it to progress.

In his remarks, composer and pianist Arzruni elaborated on the meaning of his Armenian ancestry.

“Being Armenian is the most important aspect of my existence,” said Arzruni, who has achieved recognition as an ethnomusicologist, teacher, recording artist and producer. “We all want to belong and we all need to belong so to endure.”

“We need to retain at all costs our Armenian script, language and land, the most important things Armenians possess,” said Arzruni, who holds degrees from The Juilliard School and has pursued doctoral studies at New York University. “Let us not lose that.”

Motivated by ethnic awareness in the United States, Arzruni has continuously researched the musical roots of his Armenian heritage, recording anthologies of Armenian piano music as well as instrumental and vocal Armenian music. He has also delivered academic papers and organized symposia for Harvard University, Columbia University and University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, in addition to writing books and contributing articles for academic journals.

Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin I awarded him an encyclical and the Sts. Sahak and Mesrob Medal in 1996; and in 2016, Arzruni he received the Movses Khorenatsi medal for promoting the cultural ties between Armenia and the Diaspora.

During the Knights and Daughters of Vartan awards ceremony, Tigran Sahakyan, Sbarabed of the Mamigonian Lodge and Christine Akyemeniciyan, Dirouhie of the Anahid Otyag, presented Arzruni and Kalfayan with their medals.

“I’m truly humbled to be honored for doing something I love to do, serving our church and our community to the best of my ability,” said Kalfayan, who recognized the legacy of the founding members of the Gomidas Choir.

“It’s an honor and privilege to direct the Gomidas Choir,” said Kalfayan. “I’m here this evening because 70 years ago, three dedicated, faithful servants of the Armenian Church decided to continue what they were a part of in Istanbul.”

“There is a need for a renewed spirit of collaboration, a need to stay faithful to our ageless values, a need to reclaim our language and culture, and a need to endure under the guidance of our noble Armenian characteristics,” said Arzruni. “The Knights and Daughters of Vartan is an organization that helps us reach such a goal.”

Continuing the musical richness of the evening was a cultural presentation by Maria Sahakyan, founder and director of Astghikner Junior Vocal Ensemble of St. Gregory the Illuminator Parish in Brooklyn, accompanied on the piano by Lina Panfilova.

“As an artist, I feel it’s very important for the community to honor lifelong musical contributors, such as Kris and Sahan, because they are the people who are keeping Armenian music alive, and making the whole world recognize Armenian music and culture,” said Sahakyan.

In his benediction, Barsamian expressed thanks to the Knights and Daughters of Vartan who gave everyone an opportunity to “come together to honor dedicated and committed members of our community.”

“I can say proudly that Sahan and Kris are my brothers,” said Barsamian. “Each one of us are given so many gifts by God but it is our choice to use those gifts in our selves and share those gifts with others.”

The honorary banquets, the brainchild of Chairman Emeritus, Hirant Gulian, has become a tradition for the Knights and Daughters of Vartan. The objective of the event is to shed light on the tireless participants in the community, who drive the Armenian people forward, while also benefiting Armenia. Proceeds from the evening supported the organization’s educational program at American University of Armenia.

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