From Armenia to South Africa - musical expressions of hope and longing
Music and art are perhaps the most prominent and most lasting forms of expression by the oppressed and revolutionary. We think of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Curtis Mayfield or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in their protests against Vietnam and how their iconic songs have survived half a century as popular music, but have you ever heard of Enoch Sontonga? Sontonga, a member of the Xhosa-speaking Mpinga clan of the Tembu tribe, was born in 1873 in Uitenhage, Eastern Province, South Africa. An educated musician, he was a distinguished and productive poet and preached in his church. In 1897, while serving as a choirmaster in a Methodist Mission school, Sontonga composed Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika (Lord Bless Africa), which by 1925 became the official song of the African National Congress and is closely associated with the anti-apartheid movement.
To this day Sontonga’s work survives as the national anthem of not only South Africa but also Namibia and Zambia. Echoes of this history are also enshrined in The University of Pittsburgh’s African Heritage Room, which you will have a chance to glimpse during our pre-concert guided tour!
Armenian-American composer Mary Kouyoumdjian’s work Groung will be featured alongside Sontonga, with more overt pleas for freedom from oppression. Kouyoumdjian, a first generation American whose family was forced to flee civil war in Lebanon as well as the Armenian Genocide, draws upon her heritage and interest in music as documentary to create her compelling work. Arranged for string quartet, this piece is based upon an Armenian folk song in which the singer calls out to a crane (a common character in Armenian folklore and poetry) pleading for news from their country.
In celebration of Armenia’s ancient culture, the Armenian Nationality Room is modeled after the library of a famous 10th century Armenian monastery. Remarkably, it is the only Nationality Room to be completely fabricated from stone. As if the monolithic Cathedral of Learning wasn’t hefty enough, 22 tons of stones required metal braces to be installed under the floor!