Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In Which our Author sings Chinar Es and becomes a Peace Corps Volunteer

Some have asked to hear me singing Chinar Es. Thanks to technology, that is possible! Follow the link below, which is to the recording of the live video stream of the A-19 Swearing In Ceremony, and fast-forward to about minute 43:00 on the video. You can also watch the entire thing if you're interested in seeing the entirety of the wonderful ceremony we had that day. Enjoy!

A-19 Swearing In Ceremony.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Wherein our Illustrious Author Ruminates on Why he has Not Posted, Reflects on Swearing-In, and Looks Forward to the Future

Dear reader, my reader,

I feel that this blog post should start with an apology. I had hoped that my blog could have been something to track my various exploits during my Peace Corps Service, but, unfortunately, I have let it fall by the wayside during my past two and a half months here.

I have spent the past few days attempting to summarize my past two and a half months, known as Pre-Service Training, or PST. I tried describing things. I tried doing a Letterman-style Top Ten List. I tried and tried to figure out a way to summarize that which has occurred since I first set foot on Armenian soil, and I have failed at every turn.

And so, sometimes, it's just best, in the interest of moving on, to cut bait. My attempts to summarize the past two months are getting in the way of me reflecting on my current situation, and so I'm just letting it go. And, maybe, that is the best possible commentary about PST--it's long, and hard, there's not much time to think, let alone blog,, and it's impossible to summarize. Let's just say it was the most trying two months of my life, involved learning a lot of things and meeting a lot of new people, and will always stay with me as an incredibly formative, trying, and, ultimately successful, time.

Before I do cut bait there is one thing that I want to memorialize here: at the swearing in ceremony, I had the distinct honor to be asked to perform "Chinar Es" by Komitas as a solo in the Komitas Chamber Music Hall in Yerevan, accompanied by Michael Braz on piano and Stephanie Conrad on cello. According to The Virtual Museum of Komitas:

One of the best concert halls of Yerevan, the Chamber Music Hall also bears the name of Komitas. This small but very original building was constructed in 1978 (architect: Stepan Kurkchian). It is located in the city center, deep in the park. Nowadays, Komitas Chamber Music Hall hosts concerts of chamber, vocal-instrumental, choral and organ music. Though the hall is not so large in size, it can seat about three hundred. Many distinguished figures of Armenian and international music have performed on the stage of Komitas Chamber Music Hall. International musical festivals are regularly held here as well.

I was asked to prepare this solo by the PST staff about three weeks before our swearing-in ceremony. The piece, a version of which can be heard here, is a beautiful, sad ode from a boy to his lover. He speaks of her beauty ("Chinar es" means "You are a poplar tree"), and then asks her never to leave, which, if I understand the song correctly, she has. Much of the song is just singing the "nai nai nai," which is like "la la la" but is full of lament.

Anyway, this song is beloved by Armenians. I had three weeks to prepare it, which would have been impossible without the amazing musical talent of Michael Braz. He spent countless hours helping me rehearse, arranging the piece for cello, voice, and piano, and working to make the piece as beautiful as possible. On top of that, Mike was arranging two works for choir and rehearsing said choir for the swearing in ceremony. On top of that on top of that, he was also doing what the rest of us were doing: preparing to finish PST, take the language exam, and move out to a new site where he will be working for the next two years.

My hat is off to Mike. He is one of the finest musicians I have ever had the pleasure to work with, and I hope we will get to collaborate in the future. The fact that after such an accomplished musical career, he went on to serve his country in the Peace Corps makes me respect him even more. And, just for fun, watch him play the Mickey Mouse Club song in various musical styles here.

The reason why I'm gushing so much about Mike is because working with him gave me one of the most amazing musical experiences of my life. Standing there, on the stage of the Komitas Chamber Music Hall, singing a beloved Komitas song before a sea of Americans and Armenians, during the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Celebration…I almost don't know how to describe it. It was beautiful and moving and I will never forget it. I will never forget the loud applause once I was done, the "bravo"s I heard, and when I got off the stage, the cameraman grabbed me and said "that was amazing." I'll never forget all the people who said they were moved by my performance. It makes me wish I had gone forward with music.

Even more important than that, right before I had the pleasure of singing that song, I took the Peace Corps Oath with 39 of the most wonderful, dedicated Americans I have ever met. I wish I had the time to gush about them as much as I gushed about Mr. Braz there, but let me tell you that each of them deserves several paragraphs each. They are all unique, wonderful people, who range from business execuitives with over 50 years of experence, a woman who worked with the UN to help set up the President of East Timor's office when East Timor became a country, to lawyers (not just me!) and bankers, and people right out of college who knew, in their hearts, that the most important thing they could do with their education and experence was to spend two years serving others. With these 39 amazing Americans, I took the Peace Corps Oath, as prescribed by 22 USC §2504(j) and 5 USC §3331, before the chargĂ© d'affaires from the United States to Armenia:

I, Joseph Andriano, do solemnly affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge my duties in the Peace Corps.

Anyway, that's all you're getting out of me about PST. And swearing-in. And such related things.

So where does that leave us now? I first have to say that I'm not allowed to say publicly where I am for security reasons. What I can say is that I am in an undisclosed location in Gegharkunik Marz in Armenia. My town is larger than most but smaller than some, and I am assigned to work with an NGO which mostly focuses on children, but also works on rural development issues as well. They work very closely with World Vision Armenia, which is nice because it gives them a lot of opportunities to work on more complex issues.

One of the best things about my site so far are my coworkers. My counterpart is a highly active, intelligent, motivated woman who is doing everything to integrate me in to the NGO and in to our community. She is one of the hardest working people I have ever met, and I feel honored to be assigned to work with her over the next two years.

While that would be wonderful in its own right, the rest of the people at my NGO are outstanding as well. They all are friendly, fun-loving people who have a palpable motivation to make this community better. It has been a pleasure to work with them for a week, and I look forward to collaborating with them for the next two years.

I am also very lucky to have three amazing sitemates who have been living here for a year already. We've already gotten together multiple times, and I enjoy their company tremendously. They've been very supportive during this difficult transition, and are also just a lot of fun to hang out with.

I guess that all is to say that, after nearly three months in the Peace Corps, I feel as if this is the best experience of my life and I am looking forward to more. The sheer pleasure of living in this country, meeting amazing Americans and Armenians, and working towards making Armenia a better place has been excellent. I hope to continue to post in this blog about my exploits, but, until then, dear reader, be well.