John Chookasezian, a native of New York, who has been playing Armenian Folk Music for over 35 years, founded the Chookasian Armenian Concert Ensemble. He has performed with for both Armenian and non-Armenian communities from the Eastern Seaboard to the West Coast in United States. He holds a Graduate degree from University of Nevada in Music and Education, where he taught Music and Ethnic Studies for three years. John, who is a premier clarinetist, along with his singer wife Barbara and the entire Chookasian Armenian Concert Ensemble were invited to Armenia for performances in 1999. This turned out to be a historic series of concerts in the Republic of Armenia. Since 1994 the ensemble has been presenting Traditional Armenian Concert Programs encompassing the classical, folkloric, and the troubadour music from both Eastern and western Armenia.

Barbara Chookasezian was raised in a family of musicians in San Francisco. Her entire life was centered around the music, dance, and culture of her heritage. For the past 25 years Barbara has taught Armenian singing and Armenian folk dance classes. Presently she is the premier-featured vocalist and a percussionist of the Chookasian Armenian Concert Ensemble.

Vergine Alimian and her family recently immigrated to the United States from Armenia. At a very young age she began her training on the kanun (similar to zither). She studied the kanun in her formative years and graduated from the Yerevan Conservatory of Music where she mastered the most difficult techniques on the kanun. She was the principal kanun player in many traditional ensembles. She is a musical purist with a vast repertoire of is a tremendous asset to the Chookasian the troubadour and rare folk music of Armenia.

Henrick Avoyan was attracted to percussion instruments since early childhood. He started playing the dohul (double-sided hand drum) at an early age. A graduate of Yerevan Conservatory of Music, he was invited to begin his musical career by joining the National State Folk Ensemble in 1972. He performed within this ensemble throughout the world for over25 years. He Armenian Concert Ensemble.

Suren Mekhrabian, born in Yerevan moved to Baku, Azerbaijan with his family during his teenage years. After graduating from the Conservatory of Music in Baku, Suren excelled on the tar, traditional double-bodied, fretted lute. Since, he has been a super star in his own right. Suren became one of the most sought after instrumentalists in the Caucasus. He has recorded with the most famous artists from the Caucasus and the Balkan countries. Suren, a rare talent indeed is the newest member of the Ensemble.

Sarkis Petrosyan began his musical education at a very early age, by playing percussion instruments first, and later gravitated to string instruments. He chose to play a unique but difficult instrument called santur (similar to dulcimer). Upon graduating Music Conservatory of Yerevan he joined the outstanding Armenian State Folk Ensemble and toured for many years. His great artistry adds a new dimension to the Chookasian Armenian Concert Ensemble.

Albert Vartanian studied music formally in a number of musical institutions throughout Armenia. He is a master performer on the wide range of Armenian wind instruments. The main instrument that Albert plays in the Ensemble is the duduk, (a double reed, wooden flute made from sycamore tree). This uniquely Armenian instrument has a soft, beautifully haunting sound.

Chookasian Armenian Concert Ensemble

"We do not often hear the time-honored Armenian music played anymore. The music is seldom presented on the original instruments, which we (Armenians) have played over the ages. My wife and I are greatly concerned about where traditional Armenian music is headed…our place in Armenian music is to preserve the old songs, and to present them in the traditional way. It is our vision that in the future, our children's grandchildren will also know this beautiful music."

John Chookasian

The Fresno-based Chookasian Armenian Concert Ensemble is in a rather enviable position; it is the only performing ensemble of Armenian music in the United States. It is also the only group of its kind to present concerts specifically designed to included both Eastern and Western Armenian musical selections in the same performance. The main aspiration of the Ensemble is to preserve, promote and perpetuate the music of the Armenian people, as well as to promote intra-Armenian culture understanding.

Under the direction of John Chookasian, this noteworthy ensemble performs the classical folkloric and troubadour musical works of the 16th to 19th centuries. Their interpretation of Armenian melodies are performed on a variety of traditional instruments. In 1999, the Chookasian Armenian Ensemble received an invitation from Robert Kocharianthe, Armenian President, inviting them to present a series of concerts in Armenia. Received with great enthusiasm, the Ensemble was awarded an Armenian Gold Medal Music Award, thereby making them the only musical group in the United States to receive such an honor from the Armenian government.

The ensemble features John Chookasian on clarinet and percussion, Barabara Chookasian as principal vocalist and on percussion, Vergine Alimian on kanun, Henrick Avoyan on dohol, Suren Mekhrabian on tar and oud, Sarkis Petrosyan on santur, and Albert Vardanyan on duduk, shivee and zurna. If you have not had the opportunity to hear the music of the Chookasian Armenian Concert Ensemble, now is the time to experience the beauty of this unique musical

Fresno resident John Chookasian's Chookasian Armenian Concert Ensemble is the one of the few of its kind in the US, performing the repertoire from the rich, centuries-old secular vein of Armenian classical music.

Performing on traditional Middle Eastern instruments, the ensemble appears as part of the Old First Church Concerts Series, and it will be a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with Armenian musical language in preparation for the SF Opera's US premiere of Tigran Chukhadjian's Arshak II this fall.

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