By Diana Hovhannisyan
Armenian born Larisa Ryan became a familiar face to our readers after the release of the music video “Ari Im Sokhag”, on April 2, 2016. Larisa grew up in Moscow, studied in the United States, but as a devoted patriot of her motherland she returned to Armenia, a country she considers her home, to be helpful for her country. She founded the program Teach For Armenia with a very essential mission: to improve educational outcomes of all children in Armenia and unlock their full potential. Linking the great efforts of her team members, Larisa has dedicated her life to helping shape an intelligent and skilful new generation of Armenian leaders which she is confident will ensure a strong, united society and a prosperous country.
But talented people are talented even outside their jobs. The same we can say about Ms. Ryan, who had a chance to sing with renowned artists Arto Tuncboyaciyan, Serj Tankian and realize her dreams.
1. Larisa, please introduce yourself and tell our readers about your activities in Armenia and abroad.
I was born in Yerevan to an Armenian mother and an Irish-American father. When I was three months old, my family moved to California. But only a few years later my father’s work took our family to Russia—first to the Far East and then to Moscow. That is where I spent the next ten years of my life. We lived in Moscow, but every summer we returned to Yerevan. My grandfather, the Karabakhtsi writer Leonid Hurunts, had passed away by then. But my grandmother Larisa Isahakyan was still teaching at the Yerevan State Linguistic University after Brusov. When I graduated from high school I applied to universities in the United States. I decided to attend St. Norbert College, a liberal arts college in De Pere, Wisconsin. I majored in International Business, French, and Graphic Design. I was set on a career in advertising. And yet my life was guiding me toward a different path. I became really interested in a program called “Teach For America”. Its goal was to recruit young and passionate college graduates and to place them for two years into the most disadvantaged schools in the country. That is how I ended up in Phoenix, Arizona. I became a special education teacher for children with moderate to severe disabilities. It was my goal, as it was Teach For America’s mission, to give hope to these children. Obsessed with this idea of bringing to life a model that would prioritize the education of all children and inspire a new generation of Armenians to commit their lives to ensuring a strong, unified Armenia, in January of 2013, I moved to Armenia to found Teach For Armenia. And the rest is history.
2. Can “Teach For Armenia” help in solving some problems and flaws in educational system in Armenia?
“Teach For Armenia” is a natural progression in the process and improvement of public education in Armenia. To me, to my team, and to our supporters, change in education can only happen if Armenia's most committed, intelligent young leaders will dedicate their lives to ensuring all children in Armenia have access to equitable educational opportunity. This means, that now more than ever before, we need to invest in the development and leadership of our uprising generation. A generation that will take responsibility for Armenia's future and will not rely for someone to do this for them. A generation that believes in the power of service, unity, dedication. Real, actionable dedication and not the one you discuss around a conference table for hours.
3. Are you going to expand the program and send Teach For Armenia’s ambassadors to Artsakh?
Yes, it has always been in our plans to expand “Teach For Armenia” to Artsakh. There is so much potential in Artsakh, the children are truly amazing, ready to learn and grow. My next big goal is for us to realize our program there in the very near future. Many of our Fellows dream of living and teaching there. For us all and to me very personally, our heart and soul are in Artsakh.
4. What is your opinion on the Azerbaijani military aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh and situation there recently?
It's devastating and dirty. Like all wars are. But in this very case, I am completely appalled by the actions of the Azerbaijani government. They've hired terrorists to support their military actions, have beheaded our soldiers, vandalized homes and murdered innocent elderly civilians, not to mention their ongoing violation of ceasefire that has been happening for so long now. I have no hate in me whatsoever towards the people of Azerbaijan. Just a complete disgust with their Government and the awful actions they have taken internationally and domestically to silence the voices of those who speak of truth, democracy, progress.
5. How socially active Larisa Ryan started to sing?
I've always had a special love for singing. But I was never professionally trained. It was just something my father and I would do together. He has, to this day, an incredible voice. I like to think that I got some of his talent. Growing up, he'd teach me old Irish folk songs, have me practice and perfect notes over and over again. I guess you could say he was my vocal coach in a way. When I was 16, I had the opportunity of recording a few songs with musicians of Arto Tuncboyaciyan's band, and even signing with him once live on stage: just one song. But I remember he said to me afterwards that my voice was raw, authentic, genuine... He advised against professional vocal coaching. In retrospect, I now realize I listened to him. I sing the way I sing. Of course I was nervous releasing "Ari Im Sokhag but after a few days of incredible feedback from listeners all over the world, I realized that people appreciated my efforts.
6. Please, tell our readers about your collaboration with world-famous musician Serj Tankian. Why did you choose “Ari Im Sokhag”?
Garin Hovannisian [co-director of “1915” film] used to play the lullaby as a child on the piano. His mother sang it to him. It was always a very important song for him. Garin suggested the song to Serj, which he then used as one of the secrets of his beautiful score.
7. Did you have your own message while singing it?
Maybe not message, but feeling. Although I don't have children, I imagine my mother and so many Armenian mothers singing this to their children throughout our history, during the dark days of the Genocide. For some, this song is the only memory they still have of their mothers. It brought out a lot of emotions in me - a deep sadness, a feeling of pride for our strength, awe at our people's resilience. I hope our listeners were able to draw out their own memories and emotions when listening to this rendition of the lullaby.
8. The song was recorded in 2015 for the “1915” film about Armenian Genocide. Why was the music video was released a year later – in 2016 [on April 22]?
Soundtracks are usually released after the film is. The directors- Garin Hovannisian Alec Mouhibian--and Serj Tankian all thought that the following April 24, the 101st anniversary of the Genocide, would be a good time to release the soundtrack.
9. How was the process of working with a renowned musician? What experience or advices did you get from Tankian?
As a young girl I admired Serj and System of a Down greatly, and still do very much to this day. I was honored that Serj invited me to join his soundtrack. Dreams come true!
10.“Ari Im Sokhag” is a famous Armenian lullaby. Will you sing it for your babies?
If I'm blessed to be a mother then yes, of course. It is one of our favorite lullabies...
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