Pittsburgh, Pa. (GreekNewsOnline)
This December marks 125 years since the arrival and settlement of the first fifty Greek immigrants to the City of Pittsburgh (1893). Fifteen years later, the first significant wave of Greek women would arrive from the homeland. The American Hellenic Foundation of Western Pennsylvania, together with the Greek Room Committee of the Nationality Rooms Program at the University of Pittsburgh is sponsoring three events in the month of December crossing into January of the New Year (2019).
First event is a commemorative concert by the Byzantine Choir of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh, which is also celebrating its 20th Anniversary. The Choir is the longest-in-existence Byzantine Choir in the USA and the concert is taking place on Sunday, December 2, at 6:30 pm, at the Greek Orthodox St. Nicholas Cathedral.
The American Hellenic Foundation of Western Pennsylvania will celebrate a Proclamation on the 125th Anniversary issued by the City and the Mayor’s Office on December 9th.
Finally, an exhibit will be featured inside the Main Lobby of City Hall at the transition between the end of 2018 – the beginning of the New Year (December 29th, 2018 – January 6, 2019).
According to records in the City of Pittsburgh, the first Greek immigrants began to arrive in Allegheny County in the 1890s. By December 1893 there were about 50 men in the city of Pittsburgh. Most were sailors from various Greek islands and engaged in manual labor at first. Soon, many entered business for themselves; some were street vendors, others were restaurateurs, coffee shop owners, or confectioners. Men were often employed in restaurants owned by father or brother until they either assumed the business or opened a new one. The first Greek restaurant in Pittsburgh was located at Diamond Square in the Market District.
The peak of Greek immigration to Allegheny County was reached between 1910-1912. Most immigrants were from the Aegean islands, Asia Minor and the Greek mainland. The main settlements at the time were North Side, Oakland, Downtown, East Pittsburgh, McKeesport and Monessen.
Serapheim Canoutas reports that, in 1908, there were approximately 3500 Greeks living in the wider Allegheny County region (The Immigrant’s Guide in America; Serapheim Canoutas, NY). According to the statistics in volume I of the “Reports of the 13th Census of Pittsburgh”, between 1908-1910 there were: 816 Greeks from Greece of Greek immigrant parentage, 130 Greeks of mixed immigrant and American parentage, 37 families of Greek immigration were localized inside the tenement population of Greater Pittsburgh (mainly in the Penn Ave. district). The number of Greek students in Pittsburgh was the third largest in the USA, after New York and Chicago, and the largest per capita in terms of Greek parentage.There were 66 Greek students attending public elementary and high schools in December 1908 of which 60 were in the first three grades of elementary.
No matter what the motivation was to come to America, traditional values and ethics shaped the Greek immigrant’s life and contribution to the American community.
The first Greek community, as a formal organization was formally founded in 1905, consisting of 3000-4000 individuals residing in and around the city of Pittsburgh. In 1909, the community purchased a building, 97 Fulton Street. This location also served a house of Greek Orthodox Christian worship. By 1912, there were two organized churches: Evangelismos (Annunciation), 10 Whiteside Road, and St. Nicholas, 547 6th Avenue; the latter also operated a Greek language school. Other organized Greek communities were established in East Pittsburgh, 803 Braddock Ave., Ambridge, Aliquippa, and Verona.
After a merger with Annunciation Church in September, 1918, it was agreed that worshipers would unite under the name “The Greek Community of Allegheny County-St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church”. St. Nicholas is the oldest Greek-Orthodox Christian community and church in Allegheny County (now located at 419 South Dithridge).
The largest, in membership, brotherhood was that of immigrants from the Aegean island of Ikaria and of those from the town of Vlachokerasia (proximal to Tripolis, Peloponnese).
In 1914, a chapter of the Panhellenic Enosis (Union) was organized in Pittsburgh. The Greek-American Progressive Association, focused on preserving Greek traditions, culture, and language was founded in Pittsburgh in 1923.
In the 1910s, a large movie theater together with a billiard hall on Fifth Avenue, between Smithfield and Wood, was owned by Greek-Americans; Mr. Baziotis and Mr. Antonopoulos.
Other areas in Western PA with Greek immigrant presence were Ambridge, Canonsburg, New Castle, McKeesport, Aliquippa, and Monessen.
THE BYZANTINE CHOIR
Sunday December 2, 2018, marks a milestone for the Byzantine Choir of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh as one of less than five centers in North America where the tradition of Orthodox ecclesiastic chant in the manner of the Mother Church, the Great Church of Christ, has not only been preserved, but has been passed down to the younger generations.
The choir was formally blessed into existence on December 5th 1998 by the blessing and directive of His Eminence Maximos, formerly Pittsburgh, and consists of almost all of the chanters of Western PA and Eastern OH. Since then, the choir has served the good name of the Metropolis in many ways. The choir has performed in support of academic lectures at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, University of Notre Dame, Ohio State University (at the Byzantine Studies Conference of 2002), the University of St-Louis at Missouri, University of Virginia at Richmond, and it was the first ever Orthodox choir in America to perform at the Roman Catholic Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida and indeed inside the basilica upon official invitation. The choir has been invited and featured three times on the US national Cornerstone Broadcasting Network TV channel (twice on “His Place” and twice on “Real Life 360”). More recently, the choir has performed at St. Bernard Roman Catholic Church, St. Thomas More Catholic Church (Pittsburgh, PA) and Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church (Irwin, PA) offering the rich musical legacy of Byzantium to the sister churches in the region. In 2018, it participated in a first-in-kind historical event in the US that brought together the African-American and Greek-American communities of Pittsburgh to commemorate the friendship between the Great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Archbishop Iakovos of late blessed memory and the historical march in 1965.
The Choir has performed in support of a number of lectures at the University of Pittsburgh and has offered lecture-concerts every year (often twice a year) on the hymnology of the Orthodox Church in the theologic, poetic, musical, and musicological context. In 2014, it offered a historic two day programme-tribute to the 60 year anniversary of the poetic anthology of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, which was under the auspices of the Alumni Graduate Society of the Great School of the Peoples of Constantinople. The choir has also been invited to chant a number of festive services of many parishes across the US including in Florida, Virginia, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, and regionally in Bethlehem, PA and here in almost all parishes of Western PA and Northeastern OH.
The Byzantine Choir of the Metropolis of Pittsburgh is a distinct entry (lemma) in the volume on Ecclesiastic Music of the “Great Orthodox Christian Encyclopedia”, a monumental and historic multi-volume works under the Aegis of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and is also a distinct lemma in the chapter on “Greek Choirs of the Diaspora” by Prof. Ursula Vryzakis, in the Commemorative Proceedings (2018) in memoriam of Olympia Psychopaidis-Fragos, Department of Music Studies, University of Athens.
In addition to four CDs (“Hymns of the Pentecostarion”, “Byzantine Hymnologic Soundscapes”, “Hymns of the Transfiguration” featuring guest soloist George Hatzichronoglou, Archon Hymnodist of the Great Church of Christ, and “Έως Υπάρχω” – a tribute to St. Paul the Apostle on the 50th Anniversary of the ordination of the renowned Very Rev. Evangelos Krontiris, Paiania, Greece) and a DVD dedicated to the Panaghia Pammakaristos and to His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the choir is on Facebook, Youtube and is featured at the www.ieropsaltis.com and psaltiri.org websites, which exhibit traditional choirs and chantors of Greece and abroad.
The inception of the choir was, and its direction remains under Dr. Nick Giannoukakis, Protopsaltis at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Pittsburgh, and Protopsaltis, Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh. Dr. Giannoukakis is internationally-recognized and respected as one of the few Master Cantors of Byzantine Chant in North America, having studied for many years under the supervision and tutelage of historically-renowned and legendary Protopsaltae Constantinos Lagouros, Georgios Syrkas, and Manolis Hatzimarkos.