This page contains testimonials from group leaders. Select a name to read more.
Parker J. (Leadership Group - Capitol Hill Chorale, Washington DC)
- Private group choral tour
Dear John, I’ve been remiss not emailing you sooner to congratulate you on the utterly wonderful tour that you arranged for the Chorale. Everything went so smoothly but I can only imagine the daily challenges we didn’t hear about getting 90 people around the country. It was a magical and unforgettable experience for everyone in every way, one that I find impossible to describe to people who weren’t there. How do you describe to a layman that very special afternoon in Samtavisi Cathedral hearing the Karbelashvili chants and the Paliashvili arrangements followed by the reception at the Karbelashvili home? And yet everyone in the Chorale understood completely. And that was just one afternoon. As Thea said, it took special “John Graham magic” to make that and everything else happen. It truly was a wonderful week, not just every day, but hour after hour.
John, Thea and I were very touched by the thoughtfulness of your toast at the final lunch. It meant so much because, of everyone in the room, we knew you understood better than anyone the work that had led up to that moment, why it was important, and what the possibilities may be. How special to go from spending several years working with you on scholarly thinking about Paliashvili, to sharing watching it come alive during the tour. But of course, the “work that had led up to that moment” also refers to the generations of chanters, transcribers, musicians, teachers, scholars, church leaders, and singers, known and unknown, who have produced this tradition, which you know and appreciate so thoroughly and to which I hope our project can make a small contribution in the ways you so eloquently described.
Our love and deepest appreciation, Parker and Thea
Caroline W.H. (Warminster, UK)
I met John when I toured Georgia with him in June 2017 and on my return home immediately started planning this tour. Together with 12 friends we toured the entire country from Sighnaghi in the east to Mestia in the high Caucasus, the Black Sea and Akhaltsikhe in South Georgia. John's exceptional ability to patiently explain the history and ways of this wonderfully diverse country and its charming people has been well documented in other reviews. For us he painstakingly researched the flora, enabling us to see some of the rare endemic flora and fauna in the different regions. His intimate knowledge of so many areas has led to a broad basis of friends and during an impromptu singing session by a river he was recognised and I was told how exceptional he is, not only the chanting which is the basis of his phD, but also singing in general including the local folk songs. The tour was created round my various, sometimes challenging wishes, including the desire to put a toe in the Black Sea where John researched and found a stunning hotel which mirrored the best of what the area offered. Our visit to Mestia, deep in the Caucasus, with remarkable weather, was perfected thanks to the contacts John has, including Svaneti singers and dancers, alpinist and fresco conservator opening doors to frescoed churches and medieval towers, as well as visiting glaciers and alpine meadows ablaze with flowers with a back drop of some of the highest snow covered peaks in the Caucasus. There are not enough superlatives to describe our two weeks in the company of such a conscientious and gifted guide.
Tom B. (Group Leader - World Bank retirees travel society)
- Private group tour
The 1818 Society tour to the Republic of Georgia in October was, by all accounts, a great success. Or, as the Georgians would proclaim in their inimitable way when toasting with wine: “Gaumarjos” (roughly “Cheers”.). Georgia is a small country (population almost 4 million) with a unique language and ancient cultural heritage, famed for its traditions of hospitality, music and cuisine. The country has an astonishing collection of churches, monasteries and fortresses dating back centuries. There are about 300 in total, scattered across the country in towns, remote valleys and in the mountains. These remnants of ancient Georgian culture were the main draw for the 13-member Society tour, along with visits to vineyards, artisans, music, theatre. And a wonderful briefing by World Bank-IFC staff at the Bank’s office in the capital Tbilisi. A surprise visitor to the briefing was now-retired former Georgia country director Roy Southworth. Tour organizer and leader was an American musicologist, John Graham: He speaks fluent Georgian and lives in Tbilisi with his Georgian wife and two children. John is an expert in Georgian polyphonic chat with a doctorate from Princeton.
My role was simply to help coordinate the tour, answering questions from interested participants via email, telephone or in person on occasional visits to the Society offices in DC. I live in Hanover, New Hampshire. I fell in love with Georgia in the mid-1990s during my first visit leading a Bank reconstruction and rehabilitation mission. It had been requested by then President Eduard Shevardnadze in a letter to Bank President Jim Wolfensohn. At the time, Georgia was trying to recover from a civil war and a shattering earthquake. The situation was dire with no electricity, reliable water, a devastated economy. But the amazing thing to me was the astonishing kindness, resiliency and hope of the Georgian people. That has stayed with me. So it was a special treat to return after many years. And, best of all, to reconnect with old Bank friends that I had not seen in so long.
The experience was so well received that I have proposed a tour to Armenia and Eastern Georgia in October, 2019. John Graham will again be our tour organizer, as our first experience was exceptional and stellar. Details are on the 1818 Society website. Gaumarjos! (Tom Blinkhorn worked at the Bank for 30 years, mainly in operations (Africa, India, countries of the former Soviet Union including Georgia. After retiring he moved to Hanover, New Hampshire where he currently lives.)
Fr. Ilya Gotlinsky (Group Leader - Orthodox Tours)
- Private group tour
Hi John, thank you for a fantastic trip. I am already imagining a return to Georgia in 2018, I plan to post an announcement to that regard on my website right now. I also plan to propose your excellent services to a much larger group of Coptic Christians, who would like to Georgia and Armenia. I think that for the next trip, we should include Georgia and Armenia, and even extend the length of the trip to 15 if not 16 days.
About this trip: as I told you, people were very happy and that is all what I care for. I'm very sincere in saying that trip was good and I liked it very much. Were there some things that I think could be done differently? I could offer my observations, which are not criticisms, but perhaps we could try to implement them next time. I think that Western Georgia needs a bit more time. Kutaisi was splendid. I liked it a lot. I certainly would keep all the sites that we have seen there, as all of them were major and important. Perhaps much less time for Bagrati Cathedral. Would it be worth it to drive all the way to the Black Sea coast from Kutaisi (in order not to change the hotels)? I'd love to spend more time in Mtskheta (ancient capital). Perhaps in our planning next time we could make it in one long afternoon. Coming to the Svetitshoveli cathedral later in the evening, without the crowds, worked splendidly, I would like to do that again. We spent a lot of time at Alaverdi for a very good cause, but I'd rather to go there for Liturgy, in order to commune or come right after, as not to be delayed by the service if we are not taking a part of it.
You did very find job explaining many things, but I would emphasize a bit more the history, the gradual progression of it; perhaps make a small one page chart with most important historical events. You were great at discussing much more recent "Russian/Soviet" period, but most of what we saw was Medieval, thus going into even more depth at some of those sites would be rewarding.
The meals were absolutely fabulous. I'd limit most lunches to a set menu on a quicker pace. You can't eat with group in one hour, but taking much longer than that takes too much from the day. With our age group it was terrific, but if people are younger, than it is different and we should eat faster. The Dinners (Supras) were likewise phenomenal. I'd prefer to give people a chance of free time to explore the sites and to eat on their own in some places where there are restaurants near by. In that weather, our arrangement was the best, however as you saw some people did not show up for dinners at all, while others under different circumstances would have gone to explore the city to find something on their own.
Highly recommended!! I'll be back with a group in 2018, and probably the Copts next year as well. Thank you and talk to you soon! Cordially, Fr. Ilya Gotlinsky
David M. (Executive Director - Caucasus Nature Fund 2011-2016)
- Private group tour
I write with a strong endorsement for the services of John Graham, who organized a splendid 6 day tour of Georgia for the Caucasus Nature Fund in May of 2012. Our tour combined nature, cultural and culinary tourism, and benefitted from John's knowledge in these areas at every stop of the way. We are a nature organization supporting Georgia's national parks. Yet John was as familiar with the trails, guides and pleasures of Georgia's world class protected areas as we, and added value even in our own area of expertise. John is a leading expert on Georgian chant and its relation to religious history, so our trips to the monasteries and churches, frequently accompanied by chant demonstrations, were unique. Finally, John knows the traditions and quality of Georgian food and wine and has ccess to the country's leading chefs and winemakers. So the stunning but sometimes severe beauty of the great outdoors and the peace of monasteries were nicely balanced by the exuberance and sensual pleasures of the Georgian table. John has an attention to logistical detail and a sense for how much can sensibly be planned in a single day--important qualities to planning any group trip. While our group was more than 20 people and we had the benefit of a travel agent as well, John's support added a personal touch, unusual local knowledge and an ability to communicate it. These made the difference between a sight-seeig tour and a personalized, insider's perspective on a country with multi-faceted and richly layered attractions. Sincerely, David M.
Stephen H. (Private Tour Leader - Lecturer in Architecture, Yale University)
- Private group tour
I am writing this letter to any organizers of group cultural travel who are contemplating a trip in the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan). I have just returned from a wonderful trip that was organized for me and a group of sixteen of my clients. The trip was put together and managed locally by John A. Graham and was a version of his Monastery Tour specifically crafted for our group and its interests in art, culture, and built environment. John and I worked for three years to make this trip come to fruition, beginning with a brief familiarization trip that I made in 2011. John and colleagues in his organization took care of all the local details from planning itineraries to hotel bookings, ordering meals, local transportation, with great skill and mastery, often anticipating wrinkles before they became apparent. During the running of the trip, he took full charge of all aspects of the trip, including anticipating the individual needs of our guests and interacting them and fostering a most congenial spirit of camaraderie amonst the group. Our trip included a few days in Armenia, and there John was able to locate the most perfect local manager for our tour, and the two of them worked hand in hand to the ultimate benefit and satisfaction of our group. In addition, John's passion for and knowledge about his adopted country, Georgia, enabled him to offer our guests a vivid and personal window into that country's history, culture, religion, cuisine, and viniculture. Along the way, he brought in friends and colleagues, including masters in liturgical chant, who performed for us in the various churches we visited, and a master wine maker and restaurateur, who invited us to a wine tasting and gourmet dinner of Georgian specialities. I am confident that there is no other individual or organization capable of offering the same level of expertise and responsiveness to the needs of any group as is John Graham. I will be happy to speak with anyone planning a trip to the region to go on about my enthusiasm for it as well as admiration for the expertise of John. Sincerely yours, Stephen H.
Gillie Keown-Boyd (Missenden Tours)
“In May, 2014 John Graham organised a memorable trip to Georgia for my company. After showing us the very interesting city of Tbilisi we travelled deep into the countryside. We visited picturesque & unspoilt towns, and explored some of Georgia’s medieval monasteries & isolated churches. We felt that we were among the first ‘Westerners’ to discover the frescoes & acoustics of these ancient houses of worship. John, with a companion, brought to life the feeling of worship in these wonderful buildings with beautiful renditions of liturgical songs. John arranged for us to stay in small comfortable hotels and introduced us to the local cuisine & exceptional wines. He was wonderful leader & nothing was left to chance. We travelled off the beaten track and felt that we had been given a real feel of both historical & modern Georgia.”