photo by Don Hagopian
DANCING WITH LEGENDS…
honoring the musicians who
our dance world
Where Old World Charm
Meets Musical Genius
My relationship with John Bilezikjian began when I was a baby
dancer. My teacher carried records to class back then and his music helped
me to learn to dance. As artists, we always embrace our early music. Years
later, listening to it is like reminiscing with an old familiar friend. I knew
John artistically for many years before I knew him personally. One day I boldly
decided to write him a letter to tell him how much I loved his music. I was
a struggling young artist and he was a big famous guy. I did not expect a reply
but much to my surprise, there was a warm and personal handwritten reply in
my mailbox a few weeks later. This was not a form letter but something real
and it was then that this icon became a real person to me. Over time, I replaced
his records with cassettes and then the cassettes with CDs and we continued
to correspond as the letters gave way to E-mails. It would be almost thirty
years until we finally met.
I have used
John’s music for my shows. I happily carry on the tradition
of introducing new dancers to his musical genius in class.
CDs are a lot easier to carry in our dance bags than records
were. I have continued to write to him about how his music
has impacted on my life:
John, we took you to the beach with us today. My husband and
I listened to you as we drove up the North Carolina coast.”
“Dear Friend, I took you with me to Japan. My students loved you.”
“Dear John, I had dental surgery today. It took hours but I brought my walkman
with me and was comforted by your compositions. It was like having an old friend
hold my hand.”
“Dear John, I have a friend who told me that when there is the inevitable occasional
job when she would rather stay home in her fuzzy slippers, she uses your music
because she knows it will always inspire her to have a great show. Another
friend told me that when she has trouble getting her students to feel the music,
she uses your music because she knows they will be moved by it.”
older I get, the more convinced I am that it is important
to tell fellow artists how they have influenced us. There
are thousands of lives they have touched but it is not
possible for them to actually know the full extent of it.
So, I have shared these things with John. When you say
such things to him, he has a lovely way of turning every
compliment around into a compliment about you. So, you
thank him but he ends up thanking you. This is a gift,
a gracious gift, and John is one of those rare men with
old world charm and manners. I am proud to know him.
A few years
ago we met at an event sponsored by Sidqi and Kostana of Raks-n-Rhythms and it was a tremendous pleasure to finally see him.
He was just as I imagined, every bit as gracious in person
as he had been in our correspondences. I was impressed by his
skill as he gently and patiently negotiated with the other
dancers and musicians about the show. He was dignified, funny
and knowledgeable both on and off the stage despite no sleep,
a harrowing flight across the country and no dinner. He is
a perfect gentleman, elegant and powerful. When John plays,
the story is in his face. You can read it there – his true
self, his joy, his passion, his humor and yes, even his pain
for his beloved Armenian people. He tells you the whole story
with his music.
A short while
later fate threw us together again for another concert. It
was a perfect night. Deniz of Caravan
Workshops arranged a beautiful concert in an
intimate but state-of-the-art theater in Ohio. John was playing
with his dear friend, the very fine percussionist, Vaughn
Masropian. The sound of his oud was full and rich.
We kept looking for the other oud but it was John, his eleven
strings and his genius that filled the stage. This was real
music, not synthesized machinery but flesh and blood – every
bit. The synergy between these two old friends, John and Vaughn
added a personal element. That combined with the energy from
the dancers gave truth to the adage that; “The whole is greater
than the sum of its parts.”
with John that night was a dream-come-true. And the music
was superb. As with every great concert, the music carries
the dancer and flows through her – like the blood in her
veins and the air that she breathes. The music carries
her and drives her movements. The music dances the dancer
and there are times when there is nothing in her consciousness
but the music and the dance.
the connection goes even deeper because it is the music and
the person behind the music and the dance and the person behind
the dance that all connect. These four entities create a magnificent
union. And for me, this time it was even better than other
times in my life, because it was with John. It was the most
magical show of my 35 year career - pure bliss on stage. I
have worked with hundreds of musicians, many of whom I am happy
to call my friends. But there are times when we never even
see the musicians nor have we heard their music until our feet
touch the stage for the show. Inevitably, there are also times
when we know musicians who may play like gods but our interpersonal
relationships may not be happy. It is still possible to have
a wonderful artistic connection because we connect with the
musicians through art – artistry connects with artistry. The
Muses take over and we can become one with the music through
their help and through applying our combined skills. BUT, we
hope for and wish for those magnificent moments when the dancer
becomes one with the music AND she becomes one with the musicians
too. This is not possible unless there is mutual love and respect
music is a joy, but when the connection becomes more personal
– the artistic union is complete – music to dance, musician
to dancer, friend to dear friend. This is the highest state
of the art. Art joins art AND artist joins artist AND friend
joins friend in the moment, on the stage. This is what
happened for us that night. This is what John eloquently
calls; “Artistic love expressed between two people.”
I asked to
dance early so that I could sit with my friends and watch the
show that night. We had commandeered the entire front row,
and we were singing the words to the songs, holding hands and
swaying side to side in unison. When John sang his famous composition
“Jemilleh” and he got to the part where he hesitates, we all
froze and held our breaths and then exhaled in unison and pretended
to swoon. He was watching us and we made him laugh. We giggled
like school girls. As always, John entertained the audience
with playful verbal banter interspersed with educational comments
to help us to more fully understand the music he was playing.
He played Italian, Russian, Armenian, Greek, Turkish and Arabic
music. He even slipped into a few bars of Iron Butterfly’s
song; “Ina-Gada-Da-Vida” for comic relief.
have known a few geniuses in my day, and they are fascinating
people but their social development often seems as if it
is lagging behind. I am sure that it is nearly impossible
to be great at everything. John is an exception to this.
He is an elegant and gentle genius.
Now, he is
faced with some health challenges. He approaches these with
the same calm and gracious countenance that I have grown to
love. My students and I recently sent him a get well card covered
with lipsticked kisses. He found that amusing. So typical of
John, he wrote us a thank you card immediately and told us
that he was working hard to get better so as not to let us
down. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.
I gaze at the people I love and I know that every day with
them is precious. There are no guarantees in life and we must
not only cherish our loved ones who are ill but those who enjoy
good health as well. Every day is precious. So, it is my supreme
pleasure, to present to you an interview with John Bilezikjian…
performs with John. photo by Dale Langdon
The Prince of Egypt,
The Mummy Returns,
Affair to Remember,
Must Love Dogs,
Postman Always Rings Twice,
Queen of the Damned,
Charlie Wilson's War,
Voices from the Lake,
The Way of the Wind,
21 Hours at Munich,
The Nativity Story,
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
and Untitled History Project/Disney.
The Odd Couple,
Murder She Wrote,
Mork and Mindy,
Laverne and Shirley,
Wings of Eagles,
Hart to Hart,
Samson and Delilah,
Austin City Limits
Ancient Mysteries of Egypt and Ancient Mysteries
Rock n' Roll,
Country and Western music
know about your belly dance music. You also made 25 albums
of many types of music. But your career is far more extensive
than that. You wrote music for everything from the “Ten Commandments”
to “Scorpion King.” Will you talk about your career in making
music for movies and television?”
In the last 40 years, I have been blessed with recording
and composing themes for motion pictures and television. I have
either written or performed background music for over 42 movies
for major film companies. I have been fortunate to be a part
of over 29 television shows
and in some of these productions, I appeared on screen as well.
I have never made a complete film and television list, but the
following is an accurate attempt.
you talk about your early life and your musical family heritage?”
first instrument was the ukelele when I was 4 years old. It was
1952 and I played First Ukelele in a small chamber group that
toured local area hospitals where we would perform for patients.
had wonderful parents, their names were Andrew
and Alice Bilezikjian and we are Armenian. My
father was a great classical violinist and my mother Alice
was a fantastic singer. I remember saying to my mother and
father when I was 5 years old, "I want to play like Daddy.
I would like to learn the Violin.” The next day I had a violin
in my hands and began classical violin studies with my father
Andrew. In a relatively short time I was playing difficult
violin concerti. What attracted me to wanting to play this
instrument was listening to my father practice and perform
and I wanted to be just like Dad. My mother was a powerful
influence for me too. She would sing the songs of our people
to me and instead of just listening to them, I wrote them down,
all of them. This was the beginning of my vast library of music.
During these formative years, I listened to old 78 record albums
that my grandparents Haig and Nectar brought
from the old country. This was music that my grandparents and
parents loved, enjoyed and danced to. Those recordings deeply
influenced me and I fell in love with the music, song and dance.
I asked my mother Alice what that instrument was on those old
records and she said it was an oud and that my grandfather
had an oud upstairs in his room. We all lived together in a
large house in Los Angeles. My mother brought the oud to me
and the rest, as they say, is history. I could practice and
practice and never bother anyone in that large house.
my early years of oud playing, I started imitating what I was
hearing on those old 78 recordings. My interests expanded to
the music, songs and dances. I learned a great deal about the
folklore of our people through the music and lyrics of the
songs. This was my heritage, my family’s heritage, music and
culture. I fell in love with it. I started my own Armenian
band, called “The Halehs” at the age of 11 and performed for
weddings, anniversaries, Armenian picnics and special occasions.
I was around music all the time and couldn't wait until I could
get the instrument in my hands and practice. I loved practicing.
One has to love to practice if you want to better yourself.
A good student of music realizes that it is practice that makes
the artist. Jascha Heifetz, my greatest mentor
said, "It is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration." I
still performed on the violin throughout my school years, elementary,
secondary, high school and college years, where I was First
Violinist and Concertmaster of the school orchestras. My father
always taught me to study and practice and would always say
to me; "Work at your craft John and practice and one day
you will receive everything that you have worked so hard for." I
would always say that one day I will be a concert artist. I
am lucky since my temperament suited my desire. Many aspiring
young talents do not have this trait in them and they fall
short of their goal. To have fire in your playing and passion
are rare attributes to possess all in one person. I was blessed.
I always felt I was blessed and could do anything I wanted
if I listened and practiced and worked hard for it.
am an Armenian-American born in America and we are Christian
people who have a strong bond with Christ and family. Armenians
were the first people as a group to convert to Christianity
in 301 AD. My father and mother were born in Europe, Turkey
to be exact or what we Armenians refer to as “Historical Armenia”
which is now Turkey proper. My father was born in a village
in Turkey called Marash and my mother was born in the village
of Mush in Bitlis. They both migrated to America and eventually
settled in Los Angeles where I was born. I am the eldest of
three children. I have a younger brother Edward who
is a very famous and distinguished architect who also plays
the clarinet and has appeared on my albums over the years.
I have a younger sister, Alice Ann, who lives
in San Juan Capistrano with her husband Ted and
they have three children and one granddaughter, Emma.
parents encouraged me to learn and practice and work hard at
my musical craft. They were devoted people who loved and nurtured
their children and would give all they had to their children's
development. My mother used to say that there was a star born
over my head so I was destined to do great things. I believe
that I was born with the focus and the temperament to do what
I have accomplished. This ability was nurtured by their love
and support. My mother would say to her friends, at concerts
and at venues that she was "My biggest fan." How
lucky I was to have such a mother and I was definitely her biggest
could read and speak both the Armenian and Turkish languages
fluently. I was listening to music from all over the Middle
East. I spent a great deal of time writing down this music
- both the music notation and lyrics in many different languages.
Throughout each year, I wrote down everything that I listened
to. Then at the age of 18, I started singing and playing the
oud at the Seventh Veil restaurant in
Hollywood, California. I started writing songs for dancers
and I furthered my career by performing at other Middle Eastern
venues as well. At the same time, I finished my education at
the San Fernando Valley State College which is now known as
California State University at Northridge.
had an anthropological approach to creating and maintaining
your music library. Even as a child you were categorizing
and preserving music. I would like for more people to know
about your famous music library. This is another part of
your legacy that is a gift to the world.”
earliest inspirations were through my family and from listening
intently to those very old records. This is when I began connecting
intimately with the roots of Middle Eastern music. I wrote down
everything. I was also fortunate to know many musicians who were
first generation immigrants to the United States. Most of them
were working as carpenters and cooks by day but at night, they
played music that fascinated me.
was a sponge and I collected and chronicled this authentic
music. I learned everything I could about each song; the
history and culture behind it, the names of the original
composers (and their stories), the maqams, the musical
notation, the lyrics, the meanings behind the lyrics and
the various versions of the songs. I do not know of any
other musician in my genre who has done this. The collection
is enormous and I have spent my life compiling this music
so that the world can have it some day.
music library is filled with thousands of black notebooks labeled
with my compositions. I have a large library of CD's, some
historical and others of many different styles of music that
I listen to quite regularly which offers creative inspiration
to me for my own compositions and on commissions.
have a library of some 2,000 oud etudes I have composed for
the oud which are exercises and caprices. I have written these
compositions for my oud students and other oud performers to
help them achieve better technique on their instrument.
have written The Oud Method Book for the Hal
Leonard Music Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
I was chosen from a large list of players and personalities
on the oud. I was the first person selected to write such a
book for their catalogue. I also made an accompanying CD which
the student can follow for each lesson. I played dumbeg as
well on the CD so the student can hear the various rhythms
of the Middle-East, their rhythm name, the meter and how it
is great that you have continued to create music with your
family. Your happy marriage is a fine example for us all.
Will you tell us how you met?”
met Helen, my wife, while performing and we
immediately became friends. I was performing in Anaheim at an
American restaurant called the Cascades.
Helen was working on a production of "King and I" in
Orange County and was in need of Siamese dancers for the opera.
That type of dancer was unavailable at the time and a friend
of Helen's in the production asked her: “What about belly dancing?
Could this be a good substitute?” She told Helen she knew of
a place in Orange County where she could take Helen to see belly
dancers. Helen came to the restaurant with an entourage of friends
and production staff from the play and sat right near the stage
where I was performing. As I came down from the stage at the
end of our first show that particular evening, I was introduced
to Helen as a wonderful classical singer who is putting on a
production of "King and I" locally and is in need of
some belly dancers for her performances.
am told that I took Helen's hand and kissed it and said, "Why
are opera singers always so beautiful?" Well that's
all it took and we started seeing each other. We talked
about music and life and who we performed for and with.
It ultimately turned into a kind of love whereby we each
feel that we could not and cannot live without the other.
started working on a repertoire together as singer and oudist
and then began to promote ourselves. We eventually started
working and were known in music circles kiddingly as the "Opera
Singer and the Oud Player." Helen had two sons from a
prior marriage and I had two sons from a prior marriage. Together
we raised four sons and the boys became fine men. My two sons, John
David Bilezikjian and George Hrant Bilezikjian are
musicians and entertainers. They are both married with children.
John the oldest has a son named Anthony John whom
we call “AJ.” John's wife's name is Arsene.
George has a daughter Alycea and two sons
who are fraternal twins, Alexander Antranik Bilezikjian and Julian
Hampartzoom Bilezikjian. George's wife's name is Leanore.
John and George live in California and perform with their father
and “Auntie Helen” as they would call my wife in their growing
up years. Helen's two sons are Morgan Walton who
is in college and is acquiring his degree. Mason Walton,
Helen's youngest son is married and has 6 children which keeps
Helen quite busy. His wife's name is Kari.
As they say; "There's no dull moment in this family."
Armenian band consists of Helen, John and George, Greg
Hosharian on Keyboards, Simeon Pillich on
Bass and Greg Miller on Guitar. We perform
everything from Rock n' Roll to Latin music, Country Songs,
Ballads and Middle-Eastern music including Armenian, Greek,
Arabic, Persian, Israeli, Spanish, Turkish and many other styles.
It is said within the casual entertainment circles that we
are unique and versatile and the best band of our type due
to the variety of music we offer. We are a self contained music
and dance company which works under my record company label, "Dantz
Records and Entertainment." The name “dantz”means “pear”
in the Armenian language. We are located in Laguna Hills ,
CA. I have owned this company since 1969.
is it that you started making music for Middle Eastern dancers?”
I started performing for Belly dancers in the early 1960s
in Hollywood and Los Angeles. I received so many kind remarks
about my selections, style, voice and oud playing that it seemed
logical for me to make LP's which were very popular back then.
Many friends, dancers and customers of mine would ask and encourage
me to put something out on LP so it can be purchased. I did so
and I made nine of those record albums. They are now out on CD
and you can hear clips by going to my web site and look under
of your compositions have become belly dance classics. Which
songs on your CDs are your own compositions?”
of my CD's, I was the orchestrator of the music and the arranger and
in some cases where transcriptions were needed, they were all done by
myself. On my Atlantis CD, the song “Black Eyes” is an original
song I wrote for Tonya in 1969. On my A Thousand and One Nights CD,
“Serenade” is an original piece. On my Magic CD, “Jemilleh” is
an original song adapted from a Middle-Eastern melody. On my La Danse
Orientale CD, “Sueños de Cadiz” is an
original piece. On my Dream of Scheherazade CD, “Armenian Dance”
in the “Antonia's Delight” belly dancing routine is an original piece.
On my Dantz Fever CD, “Oud Halay” is an original piece.
“Will you talk about how music and dance brings people
believe music, song and entertainment is the perfect medium
to bring people and all nationalities and cultures together.
I see my audiences joining together as they enjoy themselves.
Music and dance also helps people directly. One couple recently
said after coming to one of my performances, that I took
them to another place. They were wrapped up with the singing,
the excitement and the dancing. It certainly makes me feel
good doing this and I see a positive response from those
attending. They say things like; "John, you made me
forget my problems. It was great to be here tonight." This
is enormously gratifying to me.
are you performing now?”
travel when it is required for my performances but luckily I
now perform for the most part within driving distance from my
home a good part of the year. Presently I am performing in San
Diego a great deal of the time for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at
the San Diego Natural History Museum. I am performing in Carlsbad
near San Diego, California in a restaurant called “The
Armenian Cafe.” I perform with Tonya
and Atlantis at an American dinner house in Huntington
Beach called “The Pelican Isle Restaurant.” I perform at another
American restaurant with Tonya and Atlantis called “Khoury's”
in Long Beach. I play casuals (single night engagements) regularly,
give recitals and concerts when available and give lectures and
demonstrations on various instruments frequently.
you give us some thoughts on how you feel about performing?”
performances, we must entertain the audience and I have always
tried to give 150%. I want my audience to enjoy themselves and
when the evening is over, I hope that they have participated
in and were a part of a memorable night with me. In order to
do this, I have to be totally in the moment during the entire
show. I feel like the Pied Piper and I lead the crowd through
an experience that feels magical to us all. Everybody knows the
songs but a good concert needs to have more than that.
makes the difference is how you present the material. I
offer traditional Middle Eastern music but I play it my
way, in my style which is all my own. Through music, I
am one with my soul. The sincerity and respect that I feel
is expressed through my musicality. I feel that I represent
the authenticity of an era that is no longer here and this
is a profound but joyous responsibility.
is necessary to express the music as well as the lyrics of
every song in a meaningful and communicative way. But it is
more than the music and styling, there are always many choices
and decisions that need to be made in the moment in the context
of the show. I feel like the “King of Spontaneity.” We all
start with set lists and a plan for presenting our material
in a certain order.
the set list is quickly ignored when I look into the eyes
of the audience and I feel that they need to hear something
different at that moment. This happens between myself and
the dancers too. I look at an experienced dancer and she
looks at me and she trusts me to take her to the best possible
place with the music.
the evening, I encourage folk dancing and intersperse popular
Armenian, Greek, Turkish, Israeli and Arabic folk dance songs
in my music sets. My wife Helen on occasion teaches the folk
dance steps to customers and dancers and is often asked to
lead the folk dance line when she is present. I speak to my
audiences about the music, the songs and dances. I tell them
what the words mean, what the dance steps are, the various
rhythms of the songs in simple and compound meters. I tell
the audience which songs are from what country and then give
an example of that country’s music and dance. I try to be as
informative as possible and yet as entertaining as I can.
of these techniques described above are the things that
maximize the material for the show. And ultimately, you
must thoroughly entertain the crowd so they will come back
to see you and your show again and again. You must make
it a memorable evening for your audience. That has been
my motto and my show statement for 50 years.
you have any advice for musicians and dancers?”
best advice I have for musicians just starting out is to practice
and to listen to all styles of music. To immerse yourself in
listening to music from all over the world with a serious ear
to detail. Listen to the melody, the harmony, counterpoint, and
of course, the rhythm. Nothing in the world exists without rhythm
in some form or another. A beginning musician needs to pay his
or her dues. There are no such things as overnight successes.
It takes years of hard work, dedication and practice and a lifetime
of sacrifice in your craft in order to achieve superiority on
your instrument. Of course some good old fashion luck isn't bad
either. Of course it doesn't hurt also if God has given that
young musician a great ear to be able to listen with and a mind
which picks up on the finer points of practice, learning and
accuracy. The real issue is practice, remember, "90% perspiration
and 10% inspiration" as Jascha Heifetz said.
the most part I think musicians of today need to listen
more and talk less and not get up on a stage when they
are not yet ready to perform. It is one thing to practice
and to work at your craft at home in the privacy of your
practice room and it is another thing to be in front of
an audience and project yourself to the crowd. Unfortunately,
just as some dancers get up and dance professionally before
they are ready; so do some musicians of today. They do
not have the repertoire or technique to facilitate being
able to perform music in a professional manner and the
same goes for the dancers. It takes years of working hard
and practicing for dancers and musicians before they should
get up on a stage and be in front of an audience.
today’s Middle-East sound, the Arabic and specifically the
Egyptian music and style, seem to be more in the spotlight.
Egyptian style dancing is very popular. An entire generation
of dancers is dancing to CDs (canned music) and not to live
music. What does that tell you? On occasion I have experienced
this very fact from dancers who are scheduled to perform and
have never danced with musicians. In the 1960s this was unheard
of. The Turkish style of belly dancing to me was more prevalent
in the 1960s until the 1980s in America.
music is extremely important but there is also a natural
evolution I feel of music and dance. So it might be beneficial
for a performer to learn the newer styles that are being
performed. There are other dance trends I have noticed
that are becoming popular in our dance community and those
are Tribal and Fusion influences. With these newer dance
styles, there is an inevitable corresponding new style
of music. So we are now hearing and seeing changes in traditional
belly dance and also in the music. These changes started
in the 1960s and continue to go on. I believe that an artist
should always be able to offer new expressions and make
new presentations to go with the times. This is how we
evolve as artists.
I perform for over an hour before I invite a dancer up to do
her show. I have felt that when I introduce that dancer, I
am there for her, to give her the music she wants to dance
to the best way I can. I am there to encourage the audience
to support her on stage and to support the dancer visually
as well as musically. I endeavor to give the dancer the correct
time length of music for her show as well. I do not pull surprises
on the dancer unless it is someone I know and have worked with
for years and years and they know me and my style and they
trust that whatever I do on stage will compliment them. The
surprise might be as simple as a song I sing just for her.
A good example is my relationship with Tonya from
Los Angeles. She and I have been performing together for nearly
40 years. We had a routine together. We had rhythm together.
We had melody and harmony together. It all worked all of the
time. I cannot think of another dancer that moved to what I
played on stage as Tonya did. Besides being very beautiful,
she was a seductive lady on stage with exciting moves and facial
expressions. She had something for anything and everything
I gave her musically. It was wonderful and I have many fond
memories of working with her. I hope other musicians will experience
what I was fortunate enough to have had with Tonya in my performance
in the 1960s.This photo taken by his father Andrew Bilezikjian
you tell us about some of the highlights of your career?”
I have had the pleasure of performing in Europe, America,
Mexico and Africa. I have been presented in concert to King
Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain, Mrs.
Anwar Sadat of Egypt and I performed for Saudi Arabian
Royalty, King Abdul Azziz Bin Aziz who is one
of King Khaled's son's. I have performed at
restaurants, night clubs, supper clubs, lounges, hotels and private
parties for over 50 years.
of the biggest highlights of my musical life was on June 11,
2005 when I was the featured soloist with the venerable Boston
Pops Orchestra in Boston's Symphony Hall. I was invited to
give this concert from the Boston Pops organization themselves
which marked the first time an oud was heard with a symphony
orchestra as a solo instrument. I performed the Antonio
Vivaldi "Concerto for Lute in D Major," Aram
Khachadourian's "Sabre Dance" and a solo
piece from the Spanish Guitar repertoire called "Asturias-Leyenda" by Isaac
Albeniz. All of the transcriptions for the above pieces
were written by me for the oud and for the orchestra. Because
of the soft and non-sustain sounding nature of the oud, the
orchestral score had to be modified to fit such an instrument,
otherwise the orchestra would drown out the oud on stage. The
concert went very well. I received many accolades from the
audience in emails and in letters from patrons and friends
who attended the event. Over 2,000 people attended the concert
and I received four standing ovations from the audience and
from the Boston Pops Orchestra members themselves.
have also appeared as a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Orchestra under the batons of Zubin Mehta, Carlo
Maria Giulini, Michael Tilson Thomas, Daniel Barenboim as
well as other famous conductors. I also appeared with The Los
Angeles Mandolin Orchestra and the Pacific Palisades Symphony
under the baton of Maestro Joel Lish. I have
always had the same dream since childhood. I wanted to be a
classical artist on stage with either my violin or oud with
a symphony orchestra behind me. I have realized that dream
with both the violin and the oud. I feel blessed that I was
able to see my dream realized.
have recorded music for Robert Palmer, Placido Domingo,
Ofra Haza and Leonard Cohen. I made
two world tours with Leonard Cohen between 1979 and 1988. And
in 1992 a woman named Gail Schwartz wrote
my life story when she did her master’s thesis on me and my
music at UCLA. The thesis was entitled “Creativity and Synthesis
in the Music of John Bilezikjian."
there other dreams you are working on now?”
of late, my dreams now center around prayer and God and hoping
for a miracle to happen concerning a serious medical challenge
I am undergoing. I was diagnosed with end stage renal failure
in 2006. Simply put, my kidneys no longer function. I was operated
on in May of 2007 and the results of that procedure helps me
to get my dialysis. I take these treatments three days a week,
from 5:30 am to 10:30 am. The treatment is tiring and exhaustive.
I usually come home and nap for up to three hours at times on
those dialysis afternoons otherwise I cannot function on those
days without it. I am told that having kidney failure is considered
a terminal illness and that I will need to be on the dialysis
machine for the rest of my life. I was given a life expectancy
and I refuse to believe this from my doctors. I cannot live my
life thinking I have a set number of months, weeks and days to
live. Instead, I am facing this illness head on and attacking
it with all I can with medications and correct nutrition. I have
managed to endure so far.
had a similar life and death situation in 1976. At the age
of 28 I was diagnosed with testicular seminoma, a serious cancer.
The cancer spread throughout my body and after undergoing three
serious operations, I was told I had 4 months to live. By a
miracle I feel from God, deep prayer and the love of friends
and family, I beat the odds given to me by my doctors over
30 years ago. I hope to do that again concerning my present
medical situation. I have received thousands of cards, letters,
emails and phone calls from people all over the world giving
me their love and best wishes for recovery and several of my
friends and family members have offered me one of their kidneys.
I have so much to be grateful for and so many people who are
counting on me to win this battle. I will try once more to
beat the odds and surprise everyone and maybe myself too. My
entire life seems to have been as if I was a role model for
others. As if I was the caregiver for others. Sometimes that
is overwhelming for me but with such powerful support from
my family and friends, I feel I will be successful once again
in beating this disease and surviving.
you have any closing thoughts?”
had a storybook childhood filled with love, church and family.
What could be better? I had the respect of fellow artists both
musicians and dancers. I enjoyed the venues I performed in and
the owners for the most part were honorable to me. I feel very
fortunate to still be able to perform and relate to my audience
and to do what it is that I love to do so much. It is interesting
when one is young we say: “Oh, how I may be unhappy…” at a certain
venue or with a certain musician or dancer. But as the years
go by and one reflects on those early years, you realize that
those were the “Golden Years” for you. Oh how I wish I had those
Golden Years again. But I am blessed with so many fond memories.
These include happy times with my accompanists and dancers over
the years. It has been a pleasure to perform for and with these
artists throughout my career.
blessed we are to make our living doing what we love. My
happiest times now are when I am performing on stage and
times when I am with my family. I have had a wonderful
career and consider myself most fortunate and blessed to
have my family and friends who admire me and my work. Indeed,
to be a part of this wonderful thing called “music” - to
create and to be in a field that I love, I am most grateful.
and Helen's website
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
For One, Two very different DVDs on Turkish Dance reviewed,
DVD review by Surreyya
Love Turkish Dance by Sarah Skinner & Turkish Style
Belly Dance by Elizabeth Artemis Mourat
Devil's Details, Show
Ethics for Professionals Part
4 - What
NOT To Do by
Show up drunk or stoned. No more needs to be said.
Lynn Zalot and the Creation of the Habibi Magazine by
everyone knew of Bob Zalot, who came to so many performances sporting
his happy smile and booming laugh, many had no idea that his wife,
Lynn was the true guts, heart, and workings of Habibi.
the Scenes of " Bellydance Workout" by Venus
television crew said that in the control room it was dead silent
during filming as they strained to listen to what I was saying
so they’d know where to aim the shots.
Experience with Mahmoud Reda: A Little Aloha goes a
Long Way by Tammy Yee
the end of the evening Ric, Walid and Mr. Reda were huddled together
like little boys, telling naughty jokes. Ric, of course, telling
jokes beginning with "There are three friends, an Egyptian,
a Lebanese, and a Filipino..." These jokes, surprisingly,
initiated my Mr. Reda himself, who from the workshops I had taken
to be a distinguished and refined gentleman. They laughed like
Profile of a Costume Designer by Michelle Joyce
When I asked her if she would soon retire, she just frowned and said that there
are too many mothers who need her to stay in business for the good of their
Belly by Tatseena
example: a promoter is thinking about planning an event and is
talking to a friend and says, “I can’t help it if
some other teacher has planned a show on the same day or night;
they are different styles anyway.”
Report on the First International Bellydance
Conference of Canada Part 2 - Sunday Club
by Denise Marino and Lynette
orchestra, Randa, Amir, a packed house and very festive mood.
How could it be any better?