Some of John Bilezikjian’s earliest memories are of Sunday afternoons when his house filled with scores of friends and family who often brought their instruments for a day of fellowship and the songs they loved. In a home imbued with Armenian tradition and music, Bilezikjian became fascinated with a strange looking instrument in his grandfather’s bedroom.
As the boy held the instrument in his lap and experimented with its 11 strings, he didn’t care that it was the forerunner to the lute or that its history reached back 2,500 years. He just wanted to make the wonderful music he saw others performing in his living room.
For half a century, Bilezikjian has immersed himself in the study and performance of the oud, becoming the most distinguished oudist in America. During his accomplished career, he never forgot those early gatherings and was determined to preserve this musical heritage.
In his quest to preserve the music of the Armenian Diaspora, Bilezikjian has transcribed all of the songs and melodies he has encountered into musical notation. It is doubtful a more complete collection of written Armenian music can be found anywhere.
In the course of his studies, Bilezikjian has amassed a library of books, sheet music, and recordings equal to many universities. The sheet music and recordings of the Mediterranean area alone fill one wall. His books fill another with volumes on history, sociology, anthropology, and cultural materials. His library also features several file cabinets filled with original compositions, each piece dated and signed.
In addition to his library, Bilezikjian’s collection of folk instruments includes more than 50 ouds. Two of the finest modern luthiers lived in the early 20th century, Emmanuel Manol, a Greek, and Onnik Karibyan, an Armenian. Bilezikjian’s collection includes 10 ouds made by Manol and 40 made by Karibyan. His hope is to help preserve the rich history of the oud, and prevent the work of these artists from being lost.
Part of preserving a musical tradition is passing it on to younger musicians. To this end, Bilezikjian has taught hundreds of students. He mentors not only their musical technique, but also their understanding of the cultural and historical context of the music.
On August 21, 2011, Bilezikjian will be performing in concert at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center. In celebration of the 50 years he has dedicated to music, “The Magic of John Bilezikjian” concert will include friends with whom he has performed over the years, including members of his first band, the Halehs, formed when he was 10 years old.
For information on the upcoming concert, please visit FriendsOfJohnBilezikjian.com or call 1-855-OUD-DIST (1-855-683-3478).