The Epiphany Project Breathes Sacred Texts Into Song

Husband and wife musical team John Hodian and Bet Williams.

WATERTOWN, Mass.–Following a 6-year hiatus of touring in the U.S., husband and wife musical team John Hodian and Bet Williams will bring their band, the Epiphany Project, to U.S. stages on both coasts with live shows that took place in New York City (Nov. 21), Philadelphia (Nov. 23), as well as upcoming shows in Los Angeles (Dec. 8), San Diego (Dec. 5) and Santa Barbara (Dec. 4).

The band will perform music from their latest CD, Hin Dagh, a work rooted in ancient Armenian and other sacred texts, set to new music. Hodian and vocalist Williams have been performing and recording as the Epiphany Project since 1992.

Hin Dagh was conceived as Hodian and Williams traveled through the countryside of the Caucuses and Armenia between 2005 and 2008, with their young son, Jack. They began working and recording with a variety of local master musicians playing santur, kamancha, duduk, zorna and many forms of hand percussion.

The Hin Dagh album was recorded in Yerevan, with all Armenian musicians, including the percussionist Arto Tunboyacian. The CD was developed over a year, as the musicians experimented and improvised. Many of the initial raw instrumental performances and vocals became the final work presented on the CD.

During their time in Armenia, Hodian and Williams successfully participated musically in the commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. They also became involved with the Naregatsi Art Institute, a philanthropic arts organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Armenian culture.

Subsequently they founded the Armenian Music Initiatives, an organization that works to develop and promote a new generation of creative musical artists living and working in Armenia. Hodian and Williams also created a competition for composers in all genres and organized a showcase concert at the Komitas Chamber Music Hall.

After raising money to build a recording studio, the duo taught composers in the use of new technologies and traveled to, and performed in Karabakh, where they developed a second Naregatsi Art Institute. Currently, they are also advisory board members for the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance and have performed at ADAA events.

Speaking to the Weekly, Hodian said of their time since performing in the U.S., “We’ve been playing mostly in Europe and we have a pretty good following there;Usually we go to Armenia for about 8 months at a time.”

Of their music he said, “Epiphany is the ensemble I have with my wife. It’s very hard to pin down our style because it’s really part art, part world music, rock, pop, etc. I think that’s why it’s easier for us to play in Europe, because there, there is no emphasis on music on labels or putting things in boxes.”

Hodian said of their inspiration for their newest album Hin Dagh that, “We’ve both always loved languages and use a lot of sacred texts in our lyrics. Many are ancient texts from a variety of sources, including Armenian, Old Persian and Sanskrit.”

Of his wife Williams he recounted lovingly, “We met back in 1990 in Philadelphia;I was making a living scoring films and was more classically-trained as a musician. She was more of a singer-songwriter with a background in theater;But she gave me this CD of hers she’d recorded with very experimental background vocals and that’s what I was into.”

Hodian said he never consciously tries to write an Armenian-sounding song. “But I grew up with Armenian music at home–so all those influences get mixed in–along, of course, with all the other pop cultures influences we’re all subject to, be it the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc.”

He continued, “I’m most interested in music that has roots in Armenian culture but does something different with the sound of it. Even with Gomidas, what made his music so interesting was that he was combining Armenian folk influences with European string quartet compositions.”

Speaking about his many experiences with musicians and arts communities in Armenia, Hodian said, “What I see as one of the major problems in Armenia is that there’s no support for the arts anymore–there’s no money for artists whatsoever;Armenia’s are so fond of their poets and composers but the support is almost completely gone.”

“You see this great mix of Diaspora and Yerevansi musicians playing together and really mixing it up and it’s wonderful. That’s why Bet and I try and spend so much time there when we’re not playing in our other favorite cities, New York and Paris,” he noted.

Hodian concluded by saying that it’s the Naraghatsi Institute that’s largely responsible for putting the album out and “they really did a great job putting work into producing it.”

Tour dates and venues for The Epiphany Project on their U.S. tour include: Santa Barbara, Dec. 4, (www.myspace.com/mercurylounge), San Diego, Calif. Dec. 5, (www.acousticmusicsandiego.com), Ojai, Calif., Dec. 6 (www.ojaiartcenter.org), and Los Angeles, Calif. Dec. 8 (www.themintla.com). For more information visit: www.epiphanyrecords.com.

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