John C. Velon, Ιωάννης
Χρήστου Βελισσάριος, was born
on October 25, 1917 in East Moline, IL of Greek immigrant parents who came to the
U. S. from Messenia, Greece. As a young boy he attended both English classes and
Greek school classes, as was the custom among the Greek immigrant families to preserve
their knowledge of the Greek language. In 1930, the entire family decided to move
back to Greece, this included his father, mother, four children and two grandparents.
They settled in Kalamata, Greece and purchased an orange grove to earn their living.
John attended the local grade school and then went on to the famous ΠΡΑΚΤΙΚΟΝ
As a top student John graduated
with honors, excelling both scholastically and in athletics, While in the U. S.,
he had been a member of the East Moline, IL church choir, and continued with the
choir in Kalamata, becoming a member of the St. Nicholas Men's Choir. In August,
1937 John returned to the United States to East Moline, IL. The remainder of the
family was unable to leave Greece
due to the outbreak of hostilities
and remained in Greece until 1946-47. When John returned he took employment
with International Harvester Company and enrolled in night classes to become an
engineer. After receiving his engineering degree,
John worked in the Engineering Departments of International Harvester and John Deere.
He later retired with the title of Manufacturing Engineer Manager at John Deere
and Co. John also worked at the Rock Island Arsenal during WWII designing
gun barrels and served in the U. S. Army.
Once again John became a member
of the church choir. It was at this point he re-met and married his childhood friend
Mary Kondos, also a member of the choir and a lifelong resident of Illinois. Throughout
this time, John was a member of the Assumption Church in East Moline with his wife
and family. Sometime later the family moved to the St George Greek Orthodox Church
in Rock Island, IL. He became the choir director there and continued in that capacity
for thirty years. He retired as choir director and organized a group of chanters
for the St. George Church. John had assisted the former chanters at the church prior
to forming the chanters' choir. He also served on the parish council for twenty
of those years and as president of the community for 6 terms.
In the early sixties, John was elected president
of the Choir Federation of, at that time, the Diocese of Chicago. He also was one
of the early members of the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians.
Recognizing the growing problem of a shortage
in church chanters, John discussed the matter with other choirs, priests, hierarchs
and anyone else who would listen. A viable solution to this problem at that time
was not evident. To assist Greek Orthodox churches in smaller cities throughout
the U. S. in training chanters to read and sing Byzantine music, John proposed that
qualified chanters tackle the job of transcribing Greek Orthodox church hymns from
the Byzantine to Western notation. In John's eyes the alternative was that there
would be no qualified chanters in the hundreds of small Greek Orthodox churches
in the U. S. His proposal seemed to fall on deaf ears, so John decided to see what
he alone could do and he began the monumenal task of transcribing the many hymns
of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Father Basil Papanikolaou, the priest at St.
George, encouraged John in this effort and worked with him to establish the Saint
George Byzantine Music Publishing House making church facilities available for this
effort. Many printed copies of John's transcriptions were sold and distibuted through
this publishing house with all the proceeds being given back to St George Church.
John with the help Father Basil was able to
recruit a few men and two young boys to learn the music and form a chant choir.
The two young men later attended Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary in Brookline,
MA. The process was slow and demanding. As the chanters learned more and more hymns,
the choir improved. Father Basil of St. George assisted the choir in every way possible,
to encourage the chanters.
For many years the chanters choir under John's
leadership as head chanter sang the Orthros (Matins) every Sunday by strictly adhering
to the books of transcribed hymns that John was assembling. This was possible because
after these many years of laboring with transcribing many of the hymns of the church,
John had assembled over 10,000 transcriptions of hymns. The group's enthusiasm for
what they were doing was passed on to the members of the church who enjoyed an excellent
group of chanters singing every Sunday and feast day. Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago
tonsured the choir as readers at St. George Greek Orthodox Church. It is with great
satisfaction that the group fulfills a most important part of the services. It is
John's hope that this can continue for many years at this church and many others
throughout the world.
With an average of 140 hymns in each volume,
John filled fifty-two large volumes with the hymns he transcribed along with four
large volumes including the anastasimatarion, the triodion, Holy Week, and the pentecostarion.
The entire collection essentially covers the entire ecclesiastical year of the Greek
Orthodox Church. Thousands of John's transcribed collections of hymns were
purchased by chanters throughout the U.S., Europe and Australia. The funds were
used to preserve, print and distribute John's music. This was all done under the
auspices of the St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Rock Island, IL.
While John was still working on his project,
he received the National Forum's prestigious St. Romanos Medalion for Outstanding
Archdiocesan Service in 1996. It was presented to him by then-Archbishop Iakovos
of the Greek Orthodozx Church of North and South America. The National Forum decided
that his collected works should be preserved for posterity and made available to
all who wanted to use the music. Dr. George Stefanidakis of Houston, TX was recruited
to accomplish the task. All the Velon transcription, have been scanned and electronically
preserved in PDF (Portable Document Format) files. Printed copies of the transcriptions
are no longer available.
John C. Velon fell asleep in the Lord
on November 20, 2012. He is survived by his
wife Mary and his daughter Demetra (Dee) Jaquet in Colorado. A second daughter,
Jo Van Dam, lives in California. Dee Jaquet's daughter, Anastacia McCune was instrumental
in setting up the original web site for the sale and distribution of the printed
copies of the Velon collections. Through the current site the Velon family
and the National Forum are pleased to offer the Collected Works of John C. Velon as PDF files on CDs. Follow this link to see a
list of the
© 2011 St. George Publishing