New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
The Archdiocesan Youth Choir’s performance, included in the Archdiocesan Byzantine Choir’s concert titled, ASMA KAINON (A New Song): Chant of the Greek Orthodox Church, at Weill Recital Hall, at Carnegie Hall, on December 14, was not only an appropriate prelude to Christmas and a satisfying reiteration of classic Greek regional Christmas Carols, but resounding evidence of the interest and involvement of the Greek Orthodox community’s youth in the musical aspect of their heritage It takes effort to learn music and text and to rehearse, and in spite of their demanding school schedules, these young Greek Americans have taken the time to do it.
Apart from its initial purpose as a vehicle for the transmission and exploration of Hellenic music, the Archdiocesan Youth Choir, the premier Greek American youth vocal ensemble, is succeeding in its equally important mission to help young people of Hellenic heritage and of the Orthodox faith to appreciate their roots and to achieve their potential as musicians and as individuals with high standards of excellence.
The choir has the spiritual guidance and tireless support of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, and the leadership of Mr. Panicos Papanicolaou, who heads the Cyprus Federation. Most of the choir members–who range from 7 to 21 years of age and are first, second, and third generation Greek Americans–are students from the Greek American Parochial Schools, the Afternoon Greek schools, and Sunday schools of the New York metropolitan area.
The Archdiocesan Youth Choir explores and showcases the diversity and depth of the Hellenic and the Western musical tradition through its repertoire, in eight languages, of ecclesiastical, classical, popular, and traditional folk music from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and contemporary times.
The choir’s concert at Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall was just the latest in a string of appearances at prestigious venues. To name a few, the choir’s 2003 debut performance was with George Dalaras at the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, celebrating the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece, and at the United Nations, during the Torch Relay Ceremony prior to the Olympic Games in 2004. They have performed at the White house, in Washington, DC, twice, in 2008 and 2009. A major undertaking was their spectacular international summer tour during which they sang in the Church of Aghia Irini in Constantinople in honor of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in the Presidential Palace of Dimitris Christofias, President of Cyprus, and in the Amphitheater of the Ionian Village National Camp of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in Vartholomio, Greece in the presence of Pavlos Geroulanos, Greece’s Minister of Culture and Tourism.
The choir’s 2003 debut performance with George Dalaras was Constantine Haskopoulos’s first concert. Haskopoulos, who was the only boy singing at the Weill Recital Hall concert on December 14, notes that many boys have joined, but not continued singing with the choir. “Many boys have left, but I have been very dedicated and committed to the choir, and for that I thank my family,” says the 16 year-old high school student, who as the “assistant” of conductor, Maria Koleva—-under whose direction the choir has been since it began–prepares the choir before every performance. As would be expected, the members of the choir, have had “good and bad moments” while living together on their travels, says Haskopolous, “but at the end, we are one big happy family, and Maestro Ms. Maria is our mother… I feel extremely fortunate to have accomplished such extraordinary achievements at such a young age.”
Eleftheria Papadopoulos, 10 year-old daughter of Archdeacon Panteleimon Papadopoulos, director and manager of the Archdiocesan Byzantine Choir, who, as a member of the choir since she was 6 years old, has been participated in all the concerts. “Miss Maria first came to the Cathedral School to audition some of the children, and, I have to admit, I was a little nervous to be part of the choir. But after being in the choir for so many years I would not trade this opportunity for anything,” she remembers, noting her ”amazing experience of traveling to Turkey, Cyprus, and seeing so many churches and interesting places in all those countries…. I hope that the choir continues to stay strong and gives the members more opportunities to attend these kinds of trips.” For Eleftheria, being in the choir also means developing friendships. “I feel that I have gotten closer to the choir members and I look forward to seeing them on Saturdays,” she says, delivering a piece of information that speaks highly of the older members: “The older girls are very nice and try to help the younger girls with the music.”
21 year-old college student, Evangelia Haskopoulos, who is honored not only to have performed in all the choir’s prestigious concerts over the past ten years (together with her 18 year-old sister, Vasiliki, and brother Constantine, quoted above), but also to have had the opportunity to develop many wonderful friendships with peers who “share the same love for music”, entered the choir when she was a “shy, quiet, eleven year-old with a passion for music”. In a testimonial to Ms. Maria Koleva’s help and dedication, Ms. Haskopoulos stresses that Ms. Koleva, her “passion for music and musical training have intensified and strengthened”. For Ms. Haskopoulos, the choir also serves to “keep the Greek community close and our heritage strong, which is very important to me as a second generation Greek-American. As time passes, I realize how fortunate and privileged I am to have been a part of the choir for so long…. I will hold and cherish my memories of our experiences close to my heart throughout my life”, says Ms. Haskopoulos.
Her mother, Denise (Dionisia) Haskopoulos, manager of the choir since its inception, is an excellent role model for her children’s dedication to a project: managing the choir is no small job. Handling all of the choir’s correspondence and programs, organizing trips, parties, and raffles, Mrs. Haskopoulos does “pretty much everything”, and it is her labor of love.
For Georgia Linaris, who has been a member of the choir since 2004, along with her younger sister Mariyanthie, the years she has spent in the choir have been “the most joyous years” of her life. “Not only do I get to express myself through music , but I also had the pleasure of making friendships that will last a lifetime… the experiences I have made in this choir will be some that I will never forget,” says Ms. Linaris, “This choir has given me the necessary tools to develop myself as a singer and for that I am forever thankful. This choir has also allowed me to become closer to my Greek Orthodox faith as well as my Greek heritage. I look forward to being a member of the Archdiocesan Youth Choir for years to come!”
The choir has been under direction Bulgaria-born Ms. Maria Koleva since its inception. “Working with the Archdiocesan Youth Choir keeps me motivated, happy, and young!”, says Ms. Koleva, a professional conductor and choir master whose teaching and creativity have led the choir to a level of excellence demonstrated by their performances and their presentation as seasoned performers, “It’s about giving of myself, and how thankful they are, especially when we share the stage. When they come to me and hug me after a performance, they say how much they love me and how I have opened their eyes to see the world in different colors. I hope to teach them to appreciate classical music, because without that they can’t go very far. I also want to say that I deeply appreciate Hellenism. And of course, because of my deep respect for my Orthodox faith, it is an honor for me to be under the wing of Archbishop Demetrios and to receive his blessing.”