Harmonizing Narratives: Raffi Garabedian's Musical Tribute to His Family Legacy
Meet Raffi Garabedian, a composer, saxophonist, and our 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow
Oct 27, 2023 | by Creative Armenia
Raffi Garabedian, 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow
Raffi has made an indelible mark in the Bay Area's music scene. His musical education at The New School for Jazz & Contemporary Music in New York City exposed him to diverse influences, shaping his distinctive musical style. With collaborations alongside notable figures such as Jorge Rossy, Ben Street, and Johnny Talbot, Raffi's journey is a rich tapestry of experiences. Beyond performing, Raffi is committed to music education, holding positions at Sonoma State University and Berkeley High School. Join us as we explore Raffi Garabedian's musical journey and its profound connection to his Armenian heritage.
In his exclusive interview, our 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow reflected on his diverse creative career, diving deeper into his creative process and a number of creative projects he looks forward to sharing.
Tell us a little about how you began your journey of becoming a saxophonist and composer.
I’ve always loved and gravitated towards art as a form of self-expression. Saxophone is a tool that enables me to connect my ideas and emotions in a way that feels boundless.
" The better I get to know myself, the more honest my music is."
Improvisation is a spontaneous composition, and composition is another way to express myself and tell a story by creating a sonic atmosphere. All of my composition sketches originally start with free improvisation and develop through a melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic progression from those original ideas.
Tell us about your creative inspirations and what you have learned from them.
My creative inspirations come from all walks of life—family, friends, cities, nature, art, food. The better I get to know myself, the more honest my music is.
My musical mentors have had a significant impact on helping me find my voice on the saxophone and also as a composer. They exposed me to new ways of approaching music and sound and encouraged me to think about what I want to get out of my art practice.
All of this—along with my study of self—continues to give me clarity for my music and how it fits into my life.
Recently you created The Raffi Garabedian Octet to perform an eight-song suite of music that pays homage to your father's memoir and grandmother's writings about escaping the Armenian Genocide and immigrating to the United States. While their writings certainly contain many powerful moments, which story made you want to pursue this project? What has the creative process of translating their narratives into musical compositions been like?
I wanted to write for this instrumentation, specifically for voice and was figuring out what role I wanted the voice to take in the octet. During this time my father was revising his memoir which featured some of his mother’s writings. While I was reading through his stories, I came across “A Mother’s Letter”—a somber long-form poem written by my grandmother to my father. Adapting both of their writings to music immediately made sense.
"The pieces for Melodies In Silence are all on the shorter side, which I did intentionally to give it a more vignette-like qualitys..."
Writing for voice was a big learning experience; figuring out the range of the vocalist I was working with, inflections, and exploring rhythm with syllables. I wanted the voice to be a part of the horn section, rather than a soloist in front of the rest of the band.
Also, a big part of the process was deciding on which keywords from their writings to emphasize and rearrange as lyrics, and finding ways to keep the lyrics somewhat abstract while still telling a story.
Melodies In Silence (2021) is your sophomore album, composed during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. What new concepts did you want to explore with it, both musically and thematically?
The writing and production process for Melodies In Silence gave me a new perspective on composition. Being a remote recording project, we had the option to manipulate melodic and harmonic themes by recording the written content, and then producing and processing it to create the final composition. This allows the composer and producer to form soundscapes and textures, which make the end product a more sonic experience for the listener.
The pieces for Melodies In Silence are all on the shorter side, which I did intentionally to give it a more vignette-like quality and have the album play from start to finish with an intentional shape.
What do you plan on doing as a Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow and, later, as a creative ambassador for Armenia?
As a Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow, I plan on using the organization’s network and support to progress my career by making new connections with other artists and reaching a wider audience. Eventually, I would love to have the opportunity to perform in Armenia and collaborate on projects with local artists.