Ilias Kementzidis


The 11th Annual Ilias Kementzidis Music Scholarship Fund Golf Tournament – Download the 2017 Golf Tournament Invite

The 11th Annual Ilias Kementzidis
Music Scholarship Fund Golf Tournament

Monday, June 5, 2017
Oak Hills Golf Course / Oak Hills Restaurant
165 Fillow Street, Norwalk, CT 0685

Ilias Kementzidis is the first Connecticut resident to have been awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts.  He was recognized in 1989 as a Master Pontic Greek lyra player, a fact already well known throughout the Greek communities in Connecticut and New York.  He is also revered as a lyra maker and singer with a large repertoire of songs in the Pontic dialect, Greek, Turkish and Russian.  Born in the Caucasus and having lived in Greece for more than thirty years, Mr. Kementzidis immigrated to the United States with his family in 1974.  He has participated in many public events including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and has received a letter of commendation from former President George W. Bush, Sr.

An excerpt from an interview given by Ilias Kementzidis. translated by his daughter Maria Kementzidis:

He couldn’t find a lyra that he liked the sound of. Each has its own individual sound. The best quality sound is if you take time in making it. So my dad, he said ‘I’m going to make my own’, says Ilias’ daughter Maria.

It can’t be made out of just any kind of wood. It has to be a certain kind, especially a fruit tree because it’s harder and it’s easier to handle. Plum tree is the best. You seldom find a plum tree, but when you do, you take advantage of it for a lyra because…it makes a pretty sound. You have different wood that plays different in the voices. The blackberry and the fruit trees have the deeper voice”, Maria continues.

My dad’s technique is specific and detailed. He smoothes it out with a sander, places it under a fire and he curves it but not before he wets it. The bow is made from horsehair, which they don’t sell horsehair here. These you have to special order and they come from Russia. He made a lot of lyras, about 25 and there’s just about 10 left. Different kinds of people, they ask to buy them. He makes them just for fun but he sells them too, especially to people who play because they can’t find a lyra here in the States. He’s the only one who makes them, unless you go to Greece.”

 He began teaching his grandson, also named Ilias, when he was younger. The main thing is that the kids don’t forget where they come from, their background and more importantly, their heritage. If we stop this, they won’t know and they’ll lose interest in it. So it’s better that we keep it going. We want all the grandchildren to grow up loving and living it.”