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S.L. choir going to Armenia

Utah group will blend music with humanitarianism

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It's been a hard century for Armenia. From the genocide in 1915 to the earthquake that devastated the country in 1989 (and everything in between), the nation has seen better times.

The good news is that despite its troubles, Armenia has been around for a long time and likely will be around for a lot longer. The country was the first in the world to adopt Christianity as the official state religion 1,700 years ago this year, and that's cause for celebration.

Representing the United States, our own Salt Lake Symphonic Choir will be traveling to Armenia Sept. 19-29 to help celebrate, commemorate and rebuild. "Armenia, as we have learned about it, is a fascinating country," said choir president Greg Bettinson. "It's very old. It has a lot of biblical and Christian background in it."

Bettinson said that the celebration to commemorate the adoption of Christianity will run all year, although it will peak in September. Dignitaries, including Pope John Paul II, will be there.

Director George A. Welch added that the choir will be doing several things. "Number one, we will be representing the United States in a series of concerts that will be presented in Armenia. Additionally, there is a significant humanitarian undertaking that we have taken upon ourselves, as well and independent of that, we now are going to go over there to perform the 'Symphony of Tears,' by Jeff Manookian, with the Armenian National Symphony."

"It should be a marvelous experience," Bettinson said, "not only as a tourism and sight-seeing experience but also from the humanitarian end of things. I think it will be possibly a life-altering experience for most of us."

Bettinson said that the choir has been soliciting and collecting donations to ship and carry over with them. "We have gathered a lot of new and almost-new clothing, and we will be shipping out a 40-foot ocean container here in the next couple of weeks. It will include boxes of clothing, computers, school supplies, hygiene kits and that type of thing."

Although the ocean container will arrive after the choir leaves, members of the choir will bring suitcases of donations to give away, particularly to 189 orphans "adopted" by the choir, according to Welch. He pointed out that much of the itinerary involves visiting orphanages and schools. "All of us are taking a suitcase full of things that their ministry of culture requested — such as musical instruments, ballet shoes, school supplies, textbooks and other items for their schools.

"We will split the choir into two groups — this is all being done by the ministry of culture — and we go out into the orphanages to sing."

In addition to the casual performances for schools and orphanages, Welch said that the choir will perform six formal concerts. "We are going to present to them what I would characterize as a 'typical' symphonic choir repertoire, although because of the kinds of oppression that country has been subjected to, we are not doing a lot of Russian composers and that kind of thing."

For more information, visit the choir's Web site at www.saltlakesymphonicchoir.com.

E-mail: rcline@desnews.com