“MAP was an incredibly exciting experience, being not only my first time in Armenia, but my first time leaving the United States. Armenia was a place I had heard so much about from my family, church and Armenian classes, so to see the country with my own eyes was quite rewarding.”
Joseph Bohigian is already an accomplished young musician. Wearing many musical hats, Joseph plays multiple instruments, curates concerts and composes music, a discipline in which he has already found success.
An alumnus of the AGBU Musical Armenia Program (MAP) and the AGBU New York Summer Internship Program (NYSIP), Joseph credits AGBU with his first professional steps in the music industry and with his sense of belonging to the Armenian community.
In our conversation, Joseph tells us about his beginnings in music, describes the feeling of hearing his composition played for the first time by a symphony and reflects on the lessons he learned during his two AGBU summers.
Tell me a bit about yourself. Where were you born? Where did you go to college? How did your AGBU Performing Arts Fellowship help you?
I was born in Southern California and raised in Fresno, where my father’s family has lived since my great-grandparents came to America in the early 20th century. Since Fresno is home to a large and active Armenian community, I was lucky to be surrounded by Armenian people and culture growing up, solidifying my identity as an Armenian American. I attended California State University Fresno for my undergraduate degree in music composition and am currently working on my master’s at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
My AGBU Performing Arts Fellowship allowed me to attend school without the pressures of worrying about how to pay for it, freeing up my time to study, write music, and take classes outside my degree program, especially in Armenian studies. In fact, I took so many Armenian studies classes at Fresno State that I unintentionally earned enough units for an Armenian studies minor.
How did you begin your career as a musician? What led you to start playing music?
When I was five years old, my family moved to a new house and, since we didn’t have any furniture, my parents bought a piano. Since no one in my family was a musician, the piano was initially more for decoration than anything else; however, my parents quickly decided to have me start taking piano lessons. A few years later, I started playing percussion, which became my main instrument. At this point, I was hooked. I began amassing a large collection of instruments, including guitar, bass, violin, vibraphone, and a whole host of drums, with the intention of learning to play as many as possible. In high school, I began composing and now I enjoy both writing and playing music.
What do you like most about being in music? What has been your most memorable accomplishment so far?
My favorite part about being a musician is that I get to be creative every day. Whether I’m writing a new piece of music or performing in front of an audience, there’s something special about creating something new and sharing it with others.
Luckily, life as a musician has provided me with many memorable moments. A high point for me was having my piece Rise performed by the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra in March 2014. Having one’s music performed by a full orchestra is a big–and scary–step in a composer’s career, and I was very proud to have the opportunity to write a new work for the Fresno State Symphony. I remember at the premiere, I was so nervous that I sat completely still for the entirety of the seven-and-a-half-minute piece, unable to take a deep breath or relax. It was quite surreal to hear seventy people performing music that I had spent months on end writing. I was in a bit of shock after the final note finished decaying, but once I overcame the feeling, I was able to take a step back and enjoy the experience.
Tell me about your work with Vox Novus.
I was an intern for Vox Novus in the summer of 2014 when I participated in AGBU NYSIP. Vox Novus presents music by living composers around the world and I worked closely with the director of the organization, Rob Voisey, to curate a concert in New York at the end of my internship. Since my internship ended, I have continued to work with Vox Novus and am curating another concert for their Composer’s Voice Concert Series on April 21.
Vox Novus also helped me organize a concert of music by living Armenian composers in 2015, which was sponsored by the AGBU Performing Arts Department, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The concert was presented in Fresno and Los Angeles and Rob was instrumental in helping me find music and connecting me with the venue in LA. Now AGBU PAD and Vox Novus are planning to organize a similar concert in New York and I’m very excited to help bring the project to the East Coast!
What were some of your most memorable moments in MAP and NYSIP? What has stayed with you since being part of the programs?
MAP was an incredibly exciting experience, being not only my first time in Armenia, but my first time leaving the United States. Armenia was a place I had heard so much about from my family, church and Armenian classes, so to see the country with my own eyes was quite rewarding. Our trips to the many ancient churches spread out across the country were quite memorable. I had never seen structures so old and was amazed that so many of them are still standing today. Another memorable experience was the concert at the Aram Khachaturian House Museum where I premiered the new piece I wrote while I was in Armenia based on the folk song “Dzirani Dzar.”
NYSIP was, simply put, one of the best summers of my life. I had so much fun exploring New York with my fellow interns and learned, from my internship, a great deal about what it takes to be successful as a musician. The summer was filled with memorable moments, but organizing my own concert for my internship stood out among them. I got to pick the music on the program, find performers, and even played some of my own original compositions. That experience has led to many new projects in the past two years that I never would have dreamed of had it not been for my internship.
Participating in these programs has shown me that young Armenians around the world are doing great things and they have given me a sense of belonging to the worldwide Armenian community.