Maria Georgopoulu, co-chair of the Hellenic Studies program at Yale, faced a daunting task Tuesday night — introducing her idol Maria Farandouri, a world-renowned Greek singer and political activist.
Farandouri performed in Battell Chapel in front of a mostly Greek crowd. The concert, promoted by the Hellenic Studies Program at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, received partial funding from the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation and was free to the public.
The free admission combined with Farandouri’s status as a heroine of the Greek people drew many from the local Greek community in Connecticut and at Yale. However, very few Yale students attended the event.
George Syrimis, who organized the event along with Georgopoulu, said the concert was a way to expose and promote the Greek presence in the area and on campus.
“Music is one of the ways to bring Yale closer to Greece and Greece closer to Yale,” Syrimis said.
On Tuesday, those of Greek descent had an opportunity to reconnect with their home by listening to Farandouri’s singing. For many in attendance, including Georgopoulu, Farandouri is not only an inspirational singer but also a true champion for the Greek people. In the late 1960s, Farandouri gave hundreds of concerts to raise consciousness of the Greek freedom movement, Georgopoulu said.
“She has made her voice in music in Greece, but also in politics,” ” Georgopoulu said.
Though Georgopoulu said that Farandouri may not be a household name, she is most famous as an interpreter of composer Mikis Theodorakis’ music. Maria Georgis, who was born in Evia, Greece, but now lives in Hamden, said she grew up on Farandouri’s music. Other Greeks at the concert agreed that Farandouri’s presence and her voice reminded them of their home.
“It’s nice when being away from home to see artists you know,” Rosalia Danilata of Greece said.
Farandouri, accompanied by such instruments as piano, cello, saxophone and guitar, performed a program of traditional Greek songs. The concert, entitled “A Century of Greek Songs,” is appropriate for Farandouri, a singer who is acknowledged as one of the greatest Greek singers of the 20th century, Georgopoulu said.
In addition to providing a connection to the homeland of many audience members, another of the concert’s aims was to promote the two-year-old Hellenic Studies Program at Yale, Georgopoulu said. With such a famous singer attracting many from the community, Georgopoulu said she hopes the concert gave the program more visibility.
“If we have concerts like this it will make our program more known in the University,” Georgopoulu said.
Syrimis echoed the importance of expanding the Hellenic Studies Program at Yale. The program is looking forward to bringing even more Greek music to campus in the future, he said. However, Syrimis said these cultural events benefit the students while also providing awareness of the program.
“We would like to bring the classroom to life,” Syrimis said. “We believe that people will be interested in something once they know it the way the local community does,” Syrimis said, referring to local Greek community members’ connection with their Greek heritage.
The deep connection many of the audience members and organizers said they feel for Greece was heightened when they listened to Farandouri. For Georgopoulu, Farandouri reminded her of her childhood in Greece.
“As I think back to when I was in junior high, the first song I remember is her song,” Georgopoulu said. “It is a mystical experience. You either weep or feel exhilarated. You are reminded of your youth.”
Even those who could not connect to Farandouri on a personal level could still appreciate her music, Georgopoulu said.
“It is a very connecting force,” Georgopoulu said. “Her music transcends boundaries.”