Chat with the Conductor – Part I

Get to know conductor, coffee drinker and crossword puzzle enthusiast Aram Demirjian in this Q&A post, Part I of II.


1. Describe the orchestra in 3 words.

Dynamic, Devoted, Inspiring

2. What is one example you have witnessed that demonstrates the Knoxville Symphony’s impact on the community?

One of the most powerful statements I have observed about the KSO’s impact happened in a NICU room at UT Medical Center, when our assistant principal violist Eunsoon Corliss played quiet children’s melodies for a 10-day old preemie, as a part of our Music and Wellness Program, and the vibrations of her instrument helped steady the young child’s heart rate. There is truly no audience too small for music, and I am proud of how broadly we serve our community, whether it is performing for 10,000 on July 4th, or one small baby on a Tuesday in February.

3. In addition to being made up of talented musicians, the orchestra is also made up of attorneys, nurses, parents, authors, marathon runners, professors and realtors. What is one thing you wish audiences or community members knew about this specific group of people?

I want the audience to know that each and every one of our musicians works tirelessly at their craft, and all of them — even those who are full-time KSO musicians — are deeply engaged in our community in a broad range of activities beyond the KSO, whether that be through teaching, performing with other ensembles or working outside of the musical field. Among our “per service” players (which basically means they aren’t on stage with us quite as often as our full time “core” players), there are many people who spend their days in an entirely different discipline — but all are professionally-trained and excellent at their instruments, they just decided to go in another direction for their primary employment. It demonstrates their inspiring love for music and their sincere commitment to the KSO that even though they might spend most of their time at a law firm, office or hospital, some weeks they follow up a long day of work with 2-5 hours of orchestra rehearsal, and maintain a professional level of excellence on their instrument.

4. How about one thing you wish people knew about YOU, and about being a full-time musician? 

Being a full-time musician is just that — FULL time! One thing I find that people are always impressed by is how quickly professional orchestras can prepare performances. We all remember high school band or orchestra, where we spent three months preparing for a big concert at the end of the semester. But sometimes KSO audience members will ask me, “How long did you rehearse for this performance?” The answer is, we rarely have more than four rehearsals to prepare a concert, and more often than not, we perform after just ONE rehearsal. That’s because so much of the work musicians do happens outside of our “office,” through personal practice, or in my case, score study. I always tell people that 80% of the work of preparing an orchestra concert happens before anybody walks into the first rehearsal. Professional musicians come into rehearsal having already learned the music — the rehearsal is for putting all the pieces together.

In the case of conducting, I think a lot of people assume you’re up there waving your hands and having a good time (and it IS beyond fun!). But a conductor’s primary responsibility is to understand every layer of the music — we spend most of our time studying orchestra scores the same way an English professor would study a work of literature, spending countless hours analyzing and interpreting the composer’s markings so that we can help coalesce a harmonious, unified vision of the music for the players and the audience.

5. What qualities would the perfect musician possess (stamina, crispness, etc) if that person were to exist?

In no particular order: energy, discipline, professionalism, precision, flexibility, humility, optimism, curiosity, open-heartedness, open-mindedness and generosity.

Stay tuned for Part II!

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