by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
YEREVAN, APRIL 15, 2021 — April had started with rain in Yerevan, one wet day after another, and the organizers of the My Way Center prayed for sunshine. On April 6, the day they had chosen for the event, board member Sona Petrosyan, looked up at the cloudy sky that morning and said to herself, “Dear God, please send us some sunshine around noon.” Right then a dove spread its wings and flew towards her, then soared gracefully up to the sky, and she said to herself, that must be a good omen.
Indeed it was. The weather turned out to be perfect for an outdoor celebration of World Autism Awareness Day. In late 2007, the United Nations General Assembly passed and adopted a resolution establishing the annual observance. Its aims are to raise awareness about autism, and contribute to research, diagnosis, treatment and acceptance of autism, which often develops very early in children and as yet has no cure.
This year, the theme treated in the events held worldwide was “Inclusion in the Workplace.” At the My Way Socio-Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Day Care Center, the “workplace” was the creative arena and the “work” was music and art.
Thanks to the friendly weather, organizers were able to set up their performance area outdoors in a spacious garden between the two large buildings that house the classrooms where the youngsters receive therapy and training. Tents were pitched, for musicians and audience, chairs placed all around, together with colorful “bean bags” also for sitting. Opposite these were paintings exhibited on easels, about 60 in all.
The paintings are the work of Edwin Hovsepyan, a 17-year-old young man who has been attending My Way for four years and studying at the Terlemezyan State College of Fine Arts for three years. His mother, Armine Hovsepyan, discovered his talent when he was only 2 ½ years old, and has dedicated her life to nurturing the further development of his skills. He has already held several exhibitions and it was time to schedule this one to coincide with World Autism Awareness Day. Complementing the visual art was music, in the form of an inclusive concert, featuring professional musicians together with My Way amateur singers and instrumentalists.
“Our guests,” Petrosyan said, “admired the saturated yet tender colors of Edwin’s works; there were sunny landscapes and still lifes, and many of them will brighten the homes of new owners.” The proceeds from sales of the works, organized online and at the event, will go to the artist’s mother, and will cover his travel expenses to the center and to college, as well as acquisition of materials.
Following messages of greetings by Dr. Ara Babloyan, the pioneer in addressing autism in Armenia, the concert began, with performances alternating between the professionals and the My Way students. The youngsters, together with parents, staff and guests, enjoyed performances by the Ruben Hakhverdyan Trio, the Armen Hyusnunts Artasax quartet, the Lav Eli rock band and the Hope for Coffee band.
The concert program spanned a vast range of musical genres, from folk to rock to classical. My Way student and pianist Raphael joined a trumpeter and flutist to play a piece by Greek composer Vangelis, then performed a piano-violin duet from Charles Aznavour, and a piece by Johannes Brahms together with student Hamlet on the xylophone. A versatile musician, Hamlet also offered a work by Aram Khachaturian on the piano. Another student Eric sang Yesterday accompanied by pianist Raphael and a professional guitarist. My Way student Arthur performed the Soldier’s Song. The audience heard two Arno Babajanian pieces played by My Way student Vardan, who also studies at the Yerevan State Music College after Romanos Melikyan.
The inclusive concert featured ensemble performances with the professionals and the students playing together. Special guest Mary Ghazaryan, sister of flutist Artak Gazanyan, played the piano. My Way students Gagik and Erik sang along with the Lav Eli rock band, and the Hope for Coffee band accompanied My Way vocalist Vanik (who also studies music at college) in a song by Komitas. Student Gagik joined the same band on the tambourine, in an exciting performance of Blue Suede Shoes. The music was so lively that members of the audience joined in singing and dancing.
To conclude the warm and joyful day, students and musicians received certificates of appreciation for taking part in the awareness event and for their brilliant performances.
The management of My Way expressed deep gratitude to UNICEF Armenia for its cooperation and for supporting the awareness event, as well as the publication of an awareness brochure, “Understanding Autism,” in particular. The brochure, which was made available at the gathering, explains the nature and characteristics of autism spectrum disorder, presents the most important related issues and concerns, provides guidance for early diagnostics and intervention, and highlights those forms of therapy, classroom instruction and other activities that have proven effective in dealing with autism, both in children and adults.
The guests, in turn, expressed their gratitude for the positive emotions and warm atmosphere. “Everyone,” Sona Petrosyan said, “children and adults, young and old, neurotypical and special, speaks the same language when it comes to music, to art and to love.”
(Material for this article was provided by My Way co-founder and board member Sona Petrosyan.)