Orchestra unites community with music

The Whidbey Island Community Orchestra will perform at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 10 at Trinity Lutheran Church and at 7 p.m. Friday, May 15 at Coupeville High School Performing Arts Center. The orchestra is conducted by Tigran Arakelyan, a doctoral student at the University of Washington and recipient of the Armenian General Benevolent Union Performing Arts Fellowship. Arakelyan is also musical director for the Federal Way Youth Orchestra and the University of Washington Campus Philharmonia and assistant conductor for the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra.

Tigran Arakelyan conducts members of the Whidbey Island Community Orchestra during rehearsal Thursday evening. The group meets each Thursday at South Whidbey High School. They will be performing at Trinity Lutheran Church on Sunday

Tigran Arakelyan conducts members of the Whidbey Island Community Orchestra during rehearsal Thursday evening. The group meets each Thursday at South Whidbey High School. They will be performing at Trinity Lutheran Church on Sunday

For Tigran Arakelyan, music was the best medicine.

As a child growing up in Armenia, Arakelyan suffered a severe bout of bronchitis which rendered him unable to sleep or breathe adequately. After trips to specialists in Ukraine and Russia, Arakelyan’s parents brought him back to Armenia, where a doctor suggested strengthening the lungs through use of a musical instrument such as a trumpet or flute.

It was then that Arakelyan’s healing process, and his future career as a flutist, began.

“It’s weird and not very medical but it somehow worked,” Arakelyan said. “Not to say that the other stuff I did in different countries for my health didn’t, but music was a part of it.”

Prior to its medicinal use, music had already been an integral part of Arakelyan’s life. His father played cello while his mother played a kanon, a traditional Armenian stringed instrument.

Upon immigrating to the United States at age 11, Arakelyan continued with his craft and played as a part of the Pasadena Community Orchestra at age 15.

Today, he is in his second year as musical director of Whidbey Island Community Orchestra.

The orchestra was established in 2007 and is composed of members ranging in ages as they do in skill level. Some are beginners while others have decades of experience. The youngest members are still in high school while several of their elders are retirees. But regardless of age or background, all of the musicians share a common love of music.

Arakelyan said that he appreciates the fact that, though most orchestra members have occupations unrelated to music, they consistently dedicate time to their passion.

Music is “all I do,” Arakelyan said, adding that he wishes, at times, that he had an additional, unrelated craft as the orchestra members do.

Conducting a community orchestra with such an array of skill sets, he said, is both challenging and enjoyable.

Though some members have come and gone, Arakelyan has observed several of his musicians progress and bond over the past two years.

He has also ensured that the orchestra plays modern selections in addition to classic pieces.

Last year, the orchestra held the Young Composer Competition. The winner, Jon Brenner, had his piece performed by the musicians.

Though Arakelyan noted the importance of continuing to play the works of revered composers such as Strauss, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Johannes Brahms and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the incorporation of new pieces is as beneficial for musicians as it is for budding composers.

Musicians will get the opportunity to play something fresh, divergent from the standard classical canon.

He also ensures community orchestra members have the chance to play alongside professionals on occasion. Recently, the orchestra featured Langley resident Gloria Ferry-Brennan as a solo violinist.

In addition to the Whidbey Island Community Orchestra, Arakelyan is musical director for the Federal Way Youth Orchestra and the University of Washington Campus Philharmonia. He is also the assistant conductor of the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra. He received the Armenian General Benevolent Union Performing Arts Fellowship for two consecutive years and is a doctoral student at the University of Washington.

“Musicians willing to play in public are a sector of the population, and conductors are a very thin slice of those,” wrote Jim Lux, president of the board of directors of Whidbey Island Community Orchestra, in an email to The Record. “And of all the people at University of Washington, Tigran is one of very few functioning at the conductorial level he is.”

The Whidbey Island Community Orchestra will perform at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 10 at Trinity Lutheran Church and at 7 p.m. Friday, May 15 at Coupeville High School Performing Arts Center.

The performances will include works by Strauss, Sibelius, Queen and The Beatles as well as music from the television series “Downton Abbey.” Guest cellist James Hinkley will perform a solo piece.

Admission is free.

 

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