Of the several undergraduate professors who shaped my education and career as a teacher and performer, the most influential was Dr. Artin Arslanian, known to his family, friends, and students as Artie. When I arrived at Boston University in 1958, he was the faculty member who was entrusted with teaching the freshman and sophomore classes in music theory and ear training. He was a gifted, devoted, and demanding classroom teacher who took very seriously his responsibility to train the upcoming generation of musicians.
Artie's extremely high standards were leavened by a mischievous sense of humor. Even those students who struggled in his classroom loved him and his jokes, which became legendary. I recall that one day he announced the birth of his fourth daughter and last child. He said he and his wife were thinking of naming her Coda, because she would be the end. He had apparently given up on the possibiity of having a son.
Artie was an active member of the very large and dynamic Armenian community centered in Watertown, Massachusetts. In addition to his demanding schedule of classes at BU, he also served as organist and choir director at Holy Cross Armenian Catholic Church, at the time located just outside Harvard Square in Cambridge but since relocated to Belmont. From time to time he would recruit some of his BU undergraduate students, including myself, to supplement his church choir for special occasions. Our talents as fledgling musicians were sadly not complemented by an equal ability to read and sing in the Armenian language, but somehow we managed to muddle through the services.
His prodigious abilities as a keyboard player, improviser, and conductor were complemented by his little-known ability as a double bass player. I was able to persuade him to come out of retirement and play with a student-faculty chamber orchestra that I conducted. His classroom students, who knew him only as a pianist, were both amused and amazed to learn that he was an accomplished performer as a bassist as well. Interestingly, his 1952 doctoral dissertation was a concerto for double bass and orchestra.
In 1964, Artie took on the additional responsibilities as director and conductor of the BU-sponsored and hosted Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra after its founding director, Marvin Rabin, had left Boston after six years to return to the Midwest. The crushing load of teaching and administrative responsibilities apparently took a considerable tragic toll on his health. In 1967, he suffered a debilitating stroke which left him partially paralyzed on his left side.
After a long period of recovery and physical therapy, he was unfortunately no longer able to play organ or bass, although he was able to use his right hand to play some piano for teaching purposes. He opted to leave Boston University, his academic home for decades, for Lowell State College (now the University of Massachusetts at Lowell). This school had a much smaller music program which was less strenuous and, I suspect, better suited to his reduced physical capabilities. In 1973, he persuaded me to leave Boston University, where I had been teaching music history after completing my doctoral studies, and join him as a member of the Lowell music faculty. I was thrilled at the opportunity to follow in his footsteps and work with him again, although it was also very clear to me that he was in less than optimal health. Sadly, his illness had also taken a toll on his once-vibrant sense of humor as well.
Artie was never one to feel sorry for himself because of his disability, but it was clear to me that he was in continual discomfort. After some fourteen years struggling with his diminished physical capabilities, he passed away in 1981. His funeral service at the Armenian Catholic Church in Cambridge, where he had once served as organist and choir director, was attended by many of his former colleagues and students from both BU and Lowell. I elected to sit with the BU contingent, because that earlier period of his life was the one that was the most meaningful and memorable to me. I owed much of my ability and style as a classroom teacher to his example and hope that, at least to some degree, I was able to repay my personal debt to this outstanding musician and educator. May he rest in peace.
David H. Green, director
Antique Sound Workshop, Ltd.