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- Hotelier Argyri Katopodi on how Greece and the Tourist Industry Are Coping with the Covid-19 Pandemic
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- New Book: The Vanishing Greek Americans – A Crisis of Identity
HOME: Where Everyone is Welcome. A book of poetry and song inspired by the American immigrant experience
Paul Avgerinos is a distinguished composer, musician, and producer who has performed with everyone from Isaac Stern and Charles Aznavour to Liza Minnelli and Run DMC and with ensembles around the world. In addition, he’s produced countless scores for films, television and commercials and dozens of New Age albums on his own lauded with honors including a 2015 Grammy and countless other awards. He’s been called “one of the giants of New Age music.”
He’s also the son of an immigrant father (Constantinos from Kefalonia), which led Avgerinos to collaborate with New Age guru Deepak Chopra (himself an immigrant) and Grammy-award winning producer and author Kabir Sehgal (the son of immigrants) for the music on HOME, a collection of thirty-four poems and twelve songs just released by Grand Central Publishing and inspired by the diverse group of immigrants who have made contributions to the United States, from Yo-Yo Ma to Albert Einstein, from Carlos Santana to Madeleine Albright and more.
“A beautiful compilation of poetry manifested into music which resonates and transcends the human spirit,” Russell Simmons has called it.
Avgerinos calls it a tribute to his father and the resilience of his spirit: “His story is why I’m proud to be a part of Home, which celebrates American immigrants with the spirit of inclusion, welcoming, and oneness.”
Constantinos Avgerinos grew up on the Greek island of Kefalonia, in the Ionian Sea between Greece and Italy. Born in 1914, the oldest son in a large family of eight children, he started working full-time by age 13 helping to care for his sisters and younger brother, a responsibility he carried throughout his long life.
“The rugged landscape and breathtaking beauty informed his character and discipline, while the stories of Homer’s Odyssey and its hero king Odysseus would inspire his dreams and aspirations,” says his son. “And my father’s village of Valeriano is not far from Ithaca, the legendary home of that man skilled in all ways of contending.”
Constantinos, or Costa, had a passion for mechanical engineering and he made his way to Athens at 16 where he worked days as a mechanic and nights attended school. In 1938 he received his diploma in mechanical engineering and was accepted to work and study further in Sunderland, England. At 25, he was hired to work on the freighter Nickolas D.L. that was voyaging to Portland, Oregon.
“As fate would have it, my father developed appendicitis as the vessel was passing through the Panama Canal,” says Avgerinos. “Fearing that he would lose his new engineer, the captain refused to let Costas receive medical attention on land. Fortunately, my father made it to Portland on September 2, 1939 just as World War II was starting. He jumped ship and fled to the protection of his sister who lived in Oakland CA, where my father received the medical attention that he needed. Amazingly, a German submarine sank the freighter Nickolas D.L. on its way back to London!
In his newfound home, Costas began working, learning English, and earning the U.S. versions of his mechanical and civil engineering degrees while continuing to support his family back in Greece. He was most amazed most by the huge buildings and cities of the U.S. and how nicely the people treated him.
“America’s involvement in WW II was fast approaching and so my father joined the burgeoning defense industries in Rhode Island and Connecticut,” says Avgerinos. “He helped to defeat the fascist terrors of Hitler and Tojo.”
Also, outside a movie theater in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, he met his future wife, Juliana Peripoli, whose family had fled Northern Italy before World War I, just one generation earlier.
“My father later went on to run several successful businesses, employing dozens of Americans and securing multiple engineering patents,” says his son. “My existence is a testament of gratitude to the welcoming spirit of this great country, the United States of America.”
What made you get involved in HOME?
Deepak, Kabir and I were concerned about the isolationist, anti-immigrant trend in our country and we all wanted to make a positive statement reminding Americans that a healthy robust flow of immigrants is the very foundation of our true greatness.
Do you know Deepak and Kabir?
Yes, I’ve know and admired Kabir for several years now and the three of us have been working closely on HOME since the beginning of 2017. Of course, being in the New Age world, I’ve admired and loved Deepak Chopra for many decades!
How long did you work on this?
About six months, with four months consumed by heavy studio production with 22 guest artists.
How did you hope to contribute?
We have a large and brilliant team that shared many tasks, but my primary focus was the music production along with Deepak, Kabir, Jeff Oster, Will Ackerman and Oscar Autie.
Why did you think it was important?
So many of us have been deeply saddened by the increase in hate crimes, intolerance, bigotry and racism. WE need to shine our light on the inherent goodness of all Americans.
How did you make your selections in both poetry and music?
All the poetry and music was created specifically for this HOME project. We chose immigrants to celebrate who embody the American ideal and dream like Albert Einstein, Audrey Hepburn and Yo-Yo Ma.
What were you looking for in the musical selections?
We wanted the music to be relaxing and contemplative. A New Age style that helps the listener to find their own home of contentment and peace, whether it is a place or a state of mind.
What do you hope will come from this?
We hope that HOME will help to move the mood and conversation back to a more welcoming loving place of acceptance and compassion for one another.
Are you politically active?
I hardly ever am highly active politically but the dangerous developments of this past year compel me to exercise my civic responsibility as a patriotic American.
How has been the son of immigrants affected both your life and career?
It taught me not to take our American freedom and prosperity for granted. To work hard and take care of those who are less fortunate.
How has it affected your music?
Life was very difficult for my father when he was growing up and he made many sacrifices for me so that I could pursue a career in music. I always knew that I had a sacred responsibility to honor his sacrifices for me by becoming as successful as I could so that his efforts would not be in vain. Thank God, I have achieved this goal and honored my dear father’s legacy.
What elements of world music are in your own music?
Greek elements, the Middle East, and Indian music all figure prominently in many of my compositions.
What elements of world music do you admire?
The modal drone harmonic structure of the East as well as their odd time signatures like 5/4 7/4 11/4 etc. . . They are often more interesting than the 4s & 8s used so extensively in the West.
Greek music? Greek styles? Greek composers?
OF course i am a fan of all things Greek and especially the work of our esteemed Vangelis and Yanni.
How did you get into prayer, meditation and the type of music you create?
I started at the age of about 15 when I realized that music could be a spiritual path of growth and wisdom and an expression of spiritual values and truths.
You’ve performed all over the world–how has that affected you?
It has made me appreciate peaceful quiet Connecticut! But seriously, travel does deepen one’s appreciation of other cultures, traditions, beliefs and ways of life.
You played popular music with international stars like Aznavour, bands like Aerosmith, country singers like Willie Nelson–how has that gone into your own music and own musical evolution and how do you synthesize this experience and various styles?
There are some general principles and practices common to all musical styles, so playing and working with such diverse artists has helped me to see and internalize the common threads between these seemingly different artists.
How did you get into scoring TV, films and commercials?
I’ve always been fascinated by the beauty and power of good film & TV music and I enjoy hearing my music supporting various productions on TV.
What is the next plateau for youl?
Watching our 18-month-old daughter Juliana Joy grow up healthy, wise and happy is the mountain view I appreciate the most these days!