Armenia School Update!

» Posted on Jun 5, 2012 | 0 comments


FAR, Mediamax and Do Something to start rebuilding music school in Gyumri

The story started 23 years ago. A few months after the devastating Spitak earthquake that killed 25 thousand Armenians and left hundreds of thousands homeless, 24 year old Jon Dee organized the Rock Aid Armenia project in London. British rock stars recorded a top 40 cover version of Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water and helped to release the special “Earthquake Album”. Revenue from the single and album sales was contributed as aid to Armenia.

In 2009, the Armenian Mediamax media company decided to honor the participants of Rock Aid Armenia and contacted Jon Dee who lives in Australia and heads the Do Something organization that he set up with tennis star and former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash. As Jon was planning to re-release Rock Aid Armenia’s Smoke on the Water to raise additional funds for Armenia, Mediamax and Do Something joined forces to implement the Armenia Grateful 2 Rock / Rock Aid Armenia project.

In October 2009, Mediamax invited Ian Gillan from Deep Purple, Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath, Geoff Downes from Yes/Asia and Jon Dee to Armenia. Under the Armenian President’s decree, they were awarded an Order of Honor. It was later that Brian May from Queen and David Gilmour from Pink Floyd were given their Orders of Honors by the Armenian Embassy in London.

Ian Gillan, Tony Iommi, Geoff Downes and Jon Dee visited the Octet Music School in Gyumri during their trip to Armenia. If there has ever existed a painful blend of poverty and talent, then it was vividly exposed at the Gyumri Octet School of Music. Many of the students come from underprivileged families in Gyumri. Their music school has been made up of “domiks” (metal sheet dwellings) that were left over from the 1988 earthquake. The promise to rebuild these temporary premises with a proper building has not happened. Despite their dilapidated premises, the Octet Music School has kept producing talent year after year.

The Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) has been sponsoring the underprivileged students of the School for many years. A hint of hope came to the school about 5 years ago when a very special couple from the United States, Mr. and Mrs. Edward and Janet Mardigian visited the students, accompanied by the FAR Board of Directors. “I would never forget those children, tears were coming to my eyes every time I recalled their beautiful musical performance” – said Mrs. Janet Mardigian. They have never stopped thinking about the ways that they could help the children.

The children’s performance also struck the rock heroes Ian Gillan, Tony Iommi and Geoff Downes. Together with Jon Dee, they announced that they would help to rebuild the school. By the end of 2009, FAR, Mediamax and Do Something signed a trilateral agreement to achieve this outcome.

In March 2010, Mediamax and Do Something organized two charitable concerts by Ian Gillan with the Armenian Symphonic Orchestra in Yerevan and raised 45.000 USD. Over the past 2 years, a total of USD 110.000 has been raised for rebuilding the school – the Armenian Government, Geoff Downes, EMI Records and Orange Armenia also made contributions. Armenian President Serzh Sargsian pledged to support the project with AMD10mln (or 25.000 USD). This money will soon be transferred to the school account.

In 2010, Ian Gillan and Tony Iommi set up the WhoCares ad-hoc super-group to raise funds for the Octet school. In May 2011, Edel Music released the first single by WhoCares with 2 brand new songs – Out of My Mind and Holy Water. In July 2012, Edel Music will release the WhoCares album that comprises the 2 songs from the single and unreleased and rare material from Gillan and Iommi’s back catalogue. Gillan and Iommi will make an advance payment of 15.000 USD for the school and the rest will be transferred after the album sales. A fundraising dinner in Sydney is currently being organized by Jon Dee and the Mayor of Ryde, Councilor Artin Etmekdjian, under the auspices of Archbishop Aghan Baliozian and the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The FAR Board recently briefed the Mardigian Family Foundation about these extensive fundraising efforts. The following day, their Foundation informed FAR that it will almost triple the funds raised so far. This generous donation is extremely important and it allows FAR, Mediamax and Do Something to launch the construction of the school – a tender for selecting the construction company will be announced within a month.

The dream of having a new Octet Music School is now very close to becoming a reality. Ian Gillan once called the Octet school a “great symbol”. Indeed, this cause that started 23 years ago is a great combination of Philanthropy and Art that are coming together to support these talented young children.

“I am very pleased and honoured to be involved in this very special cause; it is dear to my heart. I can’t wait for the music to start”, said Ian Gillan.

“It has been my privilege to help with the re-building of the music school in Gyumri. I wasn’t expecting to receive an Order of Honor or have the opportunity to visit Armenia, the warmth of the reception made me determined to find something that I could contribute to. Being a musician I understand how well the school is doing despite the poor buildings and this seemed a project Ian and I could relate to. With the release of the CD, I hope we’ll not only raise some more funds but also spread the word that here is a worthwhile cause that needs support. My thanks and best wishes to everyone who has given time, money or expertise in getting us to this stage”, Tony Iommi noted.

When the school is built in 2013, it will show Armenia and the people from the earthquake zone that its friends in other countries have not forgotten them. For the children of Gyumri, their new school will encourage their talents in a place that will enable them to achieve their musical dreams.

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