WHITTIER, CA – Whittier Law School law student Artoor Minas is on a quest. Actually, he is pursuing two dreams. At the same time he is preparing for a demanding law career, he dreams of introducing an ancient Middle Eastern musical instrument, the oud, to as many people around the world as possible. The John Bilezikjian Foundation is helping to make his vision a reality with a grant allowing him to study with celebrated world musician oudist John Bilezikjian.
Minas’ love of Middle Eastern music had been nurtured from a young age at home.
“My parents were from Iran and I grew up with this type of music in the household,” said Minas.
But, his musical passion was inspired during a sojourn in Hungary. “I saw a Moroccan group where the oud was played in their concerts. I was able to go to their shows regularly because they were based in Budapest.”
Upon his return to the United States, Minas enrolled at Whittier University to study law, which required he devote many hours in the library. Even so, the demands of his course work did not extinguish his musical interests and he occasionally wandered into the library’s music section.
His browsings revealed the instrument’s history reaching back more than 2,000 years. An eleven-stringed, fretless Persian instrument, the oud is played with an eagle’s feather. It is the precursor of the lute, guitar and other western stringed instruments, having been brought back to Europe by returning crusaders. Oud makers spend hundreds of hours creating the exquisite gourd shaped instrument out of meticulously shaped exotic wood.
The library also offered recordings, including some by John Bilezikjian, an artist to whom the young enthusiast found himself increasingly drawn.
I was exploring the world music section in the public library and I found John Bilezikjian’s ‘Music of the Armenian Diaspora’ CD,” Minas recalled. “I checked it out immediately because it looked so interesting and that’s how I found John – inadvertently, accidently, by fate, whatever you want to call it – by going through the library and checking out CDs.”
He called the number on the back of the CD and was surprised when Bilezikjian answered the phone. As he recalls, they connected immediately through their shared Armenian heritage and love of the oud. Once he learned Bilezikjian lived in Southern California, they transformed from phone acquaintances to student and teacher.
Minas was astonished that this man was willing to work with a beginner as Bilezikjian, a musician of worldwide reputation, has performed worldwide, on concert tours and with orchestras such as the Boston Pops, as featured soloist. He has recorded sound tracks for more than eighty films, including “Prince of Egypt”, “Spy Game”, “Siriana”, “Must Love Dogs”, “Schindler’s List” and “Beowulf”.
As Minas’ appreciation of the music has deepened, so also has his connection to his Persian Armenian heritage. Each lesson begins with a background of the songs to be learned: where they are from and the history behind them.
My parents are immigrants. I’m first generation here. My parents are descendants of the Armenian genocide. They fled to Iran but the Iranian revolution of 1979 forced them to come here. So I connect with this background.”
His musical studies have reinforced his desire to specialize in immigration law.
Minas hopes to carry on Bilezikjian’s quest to make the oud as well known and appreciated as classical instruments such as the violin. In fact, Bilezikjian’s first instrument was the violin, but he, too, fell passionately, deeply in love with the beauty of the oud.
I hope to introduce it as much as I can to the world. John has done that in an amazing way, such as by bringing it to the concert level. I would like to do the same,” said Minas. “I would like to do it with my own style, with my own identity. I want to do this with a group of musicians that I know are interested in different types of instruments and, I hope, present it in a new and unique way.”
The John Bilezikjian Foundation is a non-profit organization created to honor the lifetime achievements of John Bilezikjian in music and education, and to support those striving to continue his legacy. For more information, please call 1-855-OUDDIST (683-3478) or visit the website at JohnBilezikjianFoundation.com.
NOTE: An earlier article regarding this grant mistakenly reported that Minas attended the law school at Chapman University instead of Whittier Law School. The article was titled “Chapman University Law Student Receives Armenian Music Scholarship”.