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COLD HEAT NEWS » Entertainment, Featured Article, People, Philantrophy » Love Is My Intention: An Interview with Composer Denise Gentilini

Love Is My Intention: An Interview with Composer Denise Gentilini

We Are Voices-For A Future Without Genocide is a passionately creative response to the destructiveness of global genocide. Putting a modern twist on traditional gospel chorales, two time Emmy Award-winning composer Denise Gentilini showcases the solo talents of Beth Avedis, Hazel Miller, and Sheryl Renee against the backdrop of a six piece band and eleven voice choir.. Instrumental support is provided by the Colorado Chamber Orchestra conducted by Dr. Vicki Burrichter.

The We Are Voices concert took place on Sunday, October 18, 2009 in Gates Hall at The Newman Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Denver. This marked the debut of music from Gentilini’s documentary The Handjian Story: A Road Less Traveled. Denise also performed nine of her original songs from her new CD “We Are Voices.” The event was emceed by Denver’s own Emmy Award winning journalist Tamara Banks.

We Are Voices was co-written, co-directed, and co-produced by Denise Gentilini and Lynette Prisner. The multicultural musical numbers are interwoven by numerous presentations from noted women genocide activists and scholars. The film’s running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes. Visit http://www.denisegentilini.com/ and http://www.wearevoicesproject.com/ for more details about both film and composer.

While We Are Voices is sober in its subject matter, its ebullient and engaging performances never fail to leave audiences with a renewed sense of hope for a more peaceful future based upon common destiny and collective action. LauraWil Intercultural was privileged to interview Denise Gentilini on line prior to the We Are Voices premiere on September 29th at 3 p.m. held during the four-day Arpa Film Festival at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.

LWI: My own interest in anti-genocide activities deepened when I spent the summers of 1989 and 1990 on graduate work/study assignments in the former Yugoslavia while the ethnic cleansing campaigns were still raging. I later started to do translations and sponsorships for the relief organization Women for Women in Bosnia, now Women for Women International. What first engaged you with the subject of genocide?

DG: I grew up listening to my grandparents’ stories of surviving the Armenian genocide of 1915. Although it took me until I was 35 years old to really grasp the horrors they had witnessed as children, it was clear to me that it had always been a part of my soul and had been guiding my music creation from the start.

LWI: Why in your opinion are women’s perspectives on genocide especially compelling or significant? What do the women of the world have to say on the subject to governments and institutions most often dominated by men?

DG: I think women approach topics less from a combative place and more from a gentle, loving perspective. At least I would like to believe that. My grandfather was full of fire whenever he spoke about his memories sometimes pushing people away with his anger and defeating his purpose of making his story heard.. My grandmother was more emotional about her experience and while she did speak with passion and anger at times, her approach was softer and more engaging. I think that women can speak to this issue with a compassion that is less often apparent in men.

LWI: The topic of genocide has been thoroughly documented by seasoned reporters such as ABC World News” David Muir and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. What added dimensions can music and the arts bring to consciousness raising about genocide?

DG: “Music is the universal language” as they say.. I believe that music tugs on the heart strings and attaches an emotion to something that should have emotion but sometimes cannot conjure it up without the addition of music. A perfect example is to remove the music from a scene in a film. Without the subtle push from music to encourage and oftentimes create the compassion or mood, something that should create passion can fall flat. There is power in music – and a responsibility.

LWI: I strongly believe that polyphonic dialogues like We Are Voices on universally relevant matters such as genocide are usually the most effective. Please comment.

DG: I agree. The reason I put together a diverse group of people and songs, such as We Are Voices, was to demonstrate that “polyphonic” dialogue. We are women, we are men, we are white, we are black, etc. We have activist organizations and educators who speak about all genocides past and present – no one genocide is worse or more important than another – which as a former board member of the Colorado Coalition for Genocide Awareness and Action and also The Armenians of Colorado – the issue of whose genocide was worse was often a surprising discussion.

LWI: I have been inspired to work with several beauty pageant winners who traveled to distant regions such as China, India, and Vietnam and then started to campaign more actively for global human rights from home. These remarkable women include the reigning Mrs. World April Lufriu, who disseminates news about her charity activities constantly. Do you agree that citizen diplomacy of this sort has a major role to play in the suppression of world atrocities such as genocide?

DG: The more we can educate ourselves about other countries and their policies towards their own people, the more we can understand how dehumanization leads to genocide and the creation of the “other”. If we can understand how the “other” is created from these stories from distant lands, perhaps we can recognize how it works its way into our own American society. It may appear as something as seemingly small as bullying on the playground but we need to recognize its origin.

In a world where so much information is placed on the internet, we no longer have the excuse of being ill informed. If people feel better about listening to a pretty face from a beauty pageant, or a movie star such as George Clooney – then that’s even better – who cares how the message is heard, just that the information comes home. It starts with education.

LWI: Activist Americans such as myself think that if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem.  Please relate this statement to the We Are Voices effort.

DG: Everyone has a cause that they resonate with. I learned long time ago that my passion does not need to be the same as someone else’s. What I also learned is that when you bring musicians and singers into a group and introduce them to the reason for a particular event such as We Are Voices – For A Future Without Genocide, then you open their hearts and minds as well to something they might not have been aware of or had in their line of vision.

The beauty of this process is seeing how many people you can touch by inviting them into your world. The transformation is life changing and the music only gets better with the intention that surrounds it and is now shared by all who are part of the performance. It always bring me joy when I hear from an individual who may have been a bystander suddenly become the upstander through the creative process.

LWI: Perhaps when all is said and done the best way to empower ourselves is to liberate others. Thank you most kindly for any final thoughts on We Are Voices and global genocide issues.

DG: If I do nothing else with my music and the gifts I feel I have been given than to touch peoples’ hearts and heal souls then I have served my purpose in this life. I don’t know if we will ever be able to rid the world of hate and bigotry and genocide, but if I can help someone to look at another person who is different than them, whether it be gender, religion, color or sexual orientation, and find common humanity, then I have done my job with my music.

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Dr. Laura Wilhelm was born in Philadelphia, PA on May 17, 1965. Her family lived briefly in Palo Alto and Oakland, CA before settling in San Diego when Laura was 10. In 1988 Laura graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Reed College in Portland, OR with a major in Russian and minor in Classics. She received her doctorate in Russian language and literature with honors from the U of Kansas in 1994 before relocating to Los Angeles with her husband, Christopher. Laura belongs to Dobro Slovo, the national Slavic honor society. Laura received much recognition for her work with the City of West Hollywood's Russian-speaking immigrant community before moving on to an eclectic teaching and consulting career in the Greater Los Angeles area. Since May 2009 Laura has run an award-winning business and talent development company called LauraWil Intercultural. Her associates comprise major international names in the arts, entertainment, fashion, literature, and science. Laura is a member of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and sits on several of their committees. In West Hollywood she has helped to develop and promote programming for major world events such as Fashion's Night Out sponsored by VOGUE Magazine. In 2011 Laura's company was nominated for a WHCC Creative City Award (Category: Creative Communications). In January 2012 Laura was appointed CEO for a youth oriented online media company called vrmedia based in Washington, DC that has quickly formed networks up and down the East and West Coasts. At around the same time she started collaborating on charity fund raising for the Foundation Fighting Blindness with celebrated beauty pageant winner April Lufriu (Mrs. Florida, Mrs. America, and Mrs. World). Laura works with many other charities such as Finding Freedom International, Pals Around the World, and We Care For the World. She has been invited to serve on the Board of Directors for Designers 4 Africa, whose clientele includes A-list celebrities such as Cameron Diaz and Gisele Bundchen. Laura's Los Angeles company is running an ongoing bi-cultural RUNGLISH book promotion whose author Nina Naydenova is allied with renowned Russian luminaries such as tenor Nikolai Baskov and Oksana Fedorova, Russia's only Miss Universe to date. vrmedia plans to carry a definitive annotated translation of Leo Tolstoy's classic autobiography CHILDOOD-BOYHOOD-YOUTH as well as many other world masterpieces through Penguin Classics. As Los Angeles Chair Laura reviews fashion events for Emerging Global Designers. She also writes regular features on cultural topics for COLD HEAT NEWS and HOLLYWOOD WEEKLY. She has appeared live on KNBSTV.COM and Global TV. In graduate school Laura worked and studied in the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union. She and her husband have visited Greece and led two successful Explorica tours of Italy for students from Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA. Laura is active with the American-Russian Business Council, the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, and the Los Angeles Sister Cities. Recently she was designated Russian Ambassador for the multicultural 2012 Global Independence Day awards event at the Beverly Hilton. She has listings in numerous WHO'S WHO, American Biographical Institute, and International Biographical Centre publications.

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