Skagit Symphony director to make debut

Skagit Valley Herald,
Oct 21 2004

Skagit Symphony director to make debut

Roupen Shakarian, interim conductor of the Skagit Symphony, leads
local concerts Saturday and Sunday.

The first time he heard recordings of Mendelssohn and Bach on the
radio, Roupen Shakarian was a 4-year-old boy living in Egypt. He
later took piano lessons in Cairo, but pursuing Western music would
have been in vain at the time because his family, which had no
running water or phone, didn’t have the money to finance that sort of

But the Western classical music resonated with the son of Armenian
parents, so much so that 15 years later, after his family had
emigrated to the United States because of growing religious tension
in his homeland, he abandoned his engineering courses at the
University of Washington to follow the chord that touched him so long

He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of
Washington. Later, he traveled to London and Yale University to study
conducting. Now he teaches every morning at North Seattle Community
College, composes music, and serves as music director to Philharmonia

Shakarian is the interim music director of the Skagit Symphony. The
public will have the opportunity to see him wield the baton this
weekend at concerts in Mount Vernon and Anacortes.

He replaces Kathleen Ash Barraclough, who was with the symphony for
around a decade.

Shakarian has tread slowly into the job. He refused, for example, to
assume the title of full director until the members of the orchestra
determined whether he was right for the job.

“It’s not just a board decision,” he said. “They need to decide – I
didn’t feel it was a healthy thing, to have a director. They need an
Relaxed, often smiling broadly, Shakarian chose his words carefully
while chatting about the symphony over tea at one of his favorite
haunts, Skagit Valley Food Co-op.

Music and his commitment to the symphony are foremost in his

“This is a family of like-minded souls,” he said. “We’re working on
simple things, like a symphony roster that includes both the board
members and the orchestra members.”

The orchestra is made up of volunteers, some of whom have full-time
jobs in other fields, and others who are musicians with their own

Shakarian’s gentle approach to the Skagit Symphony resembles his
music philosophy, which comes from a twist on a bumper sticker adage:
“Think locally, compose globally.”

Globally, because he has lived that way.

He is Armenian, Egyptian – and a little bit Skagitonian, not solely
because of the symphony, but because of his love for the area’s
scenic qualities and his longtime dream of relocating here with his
wife Shirley.

But he cannot commit to any one place. It would seem that the West
Coast would be the place he calls home, given the time he has spent
in the Pacific Northwest. He arrived in 1962, just as the Space
Needle was being built in Seattle for the World’s Fair. But despite
his polar fleece vest and enterprising sense, Shakarian may not
consider himself entirely American. He returns to what has been a
constant theme with him since he was a small boy – classical music.

“My roots are steeped in Western classical music tradition,” he said.
“There are no other connections quite so strong.”