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Culture

Youth, and a Mentor, Look to Greek Music’s Future in America

NEW YORK – Grigoris Maninakis is the founder and lead singer of the Mikrokosmos Ensemble that has been entertaining Greek-Americans in New York with the best of the homeland’s music for four decades in a way that promotes and preserves Greek language and culture in America.
He knows leaders have a responsibility to the future, so Maninakis, a professor of electrical engineering at the State University of New York, will devote some of his precious time and boundless energy to the establishment of an ensemble of talented young musicians.
The National Herald was invited to a discussion with the young artists – it is a versatile group with most singers also playing instrumentalists – who will form the core.
They have people on flute, piano, bouzouki, viola and violin, and are recruiting for bouzouki and percussion.
Maninakis is also urging them develop their own compositions and lyrics. “We will encourage creativity along with excellence.”
Maninakis has written a few songs himself, “but I don’t have to sing them. I will be happy if you sing them and I can sing some of yours,” he told the group.
Some of them have already performed with Mikrokosmos.
It was delightful to hear the children and grandchildren of immigrants talk about their favorite songs which will become part of their repertoire.
They aim to present their inaugural concert in June 2015 and follow that with a major concert in the Fall.
Maninakis has witnessed such cultural births before.
The choir recruited in 1974 by Mikis Theodorakis for a movie about the Polytechnic uprising became the Greek Popular Chorus of New York.
Then as now, crises in the Hellenic world are opening diaspora hearts and minds to the messages of people like Maninakis.
Elena Tomaras, like her mother, was born in the United States and her father is from Agrinio. She has been singing at St. Nicholas in Flushing since we was a girl and plays some piano, violin and guitar.” Grigori had seen me perform at the Cultural Center and I was taken under Grigori’s wing and here I am.”
Born and raised in Thessaloniki, Ellie Tsachpani was graduated from the State Conservatory of Greece in 2008 and then won a full tuition scholarship to Bard College, where she was a voice, dance and flute triple major. She is now pursuing a masters degree at Queens College.
She connected with Maninakis through the conductor George Tsontakis, who taught at Bard.
Nikitas Tambakis was born in Rockland County and his parents were born in Brooklyn with roots in Peloponnesos. “I met Grigori at one of his concerts and my dad introduced himself and said “my son plays viola you should put him in the band.” He was 14 and soon played in this first concert.
He was not a music major, but he was in Princeton’s orchestra when he was studying computer science there.
Vasilis Daras was born in Bethlehem , PA to parents from Chios. “I grew up listening to Greek music and playing various instruments like the trumpet and violin and I have been playing in a orchestra from middle school.” He learned to play Greek music on his violin by just listening.”
After meeting Maninakis through a friend he first played with Mikrokosmos last spring. Darasis is balancing music with being on a pre-med studies at NYU.
Stavroula Traisis has been singing with Mikrokosmos since she was 13. She discovered that she could sing at church and began to take voice lessons when she was six. She is majoring in childhood and special education at NYU but music is her passion.
“It’s nice to be able to sing the songs my grandparents from Kastoria love and which my parents don’t even know,” she said.
Anna Eliopoulos met Maninakis when she began to work at Cosmos FM after studying sound engineering and vocal performance at Berklee College of Music.
“I think there is a big gap in the music in the community. It either stops in the 1970s or is very new,” but there are songs from the80s, 90s through today that have stood the test of time…in addition to the classics they can be our niche.
Maninakis added the importance of exposing the younger people to the classics, and the rebetika and smyrneika. “We cannot let our culture be forgotten by the new generation.”
They are also thrilled to have the new wave of arrivals from Greece appreciate what they do and are committed to Maninakis’ vision of bringing Greek-Americans back to quality music.

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