“A successful conductor knows how to be commanding yet respectful towards the musicians of the orchestra” - Talynn Kuyumjian
Talynn Kuyumjian is a Los Angeles based conductor, music director, and orchestrator. She is currently the music director of LA Chamber Music Company. Talynn’s music projects are wide ranging. She was the assistant conductor for “The Future is Female”, produced by composer Tori Letzler. She orchestrated and conducted a portion of the book soundtrack, “Green Rider”, composed by Kristina A. Bishoff at HUGESound Recording Studios. Talynn conducted on a project for composer Chance Thomas.
In 2017, her string ensemble group, Harmony Chamber Orchestra raised over $14,000 for Syrian and Iraqi Armenian refugees in a benefit concert. Talynn was one of the conductors for the CSUN (Cal State Northridge) Gamer Symphony Orchestra from 2016-2019, has worked as an assistant to Maestro Emmanuel Fratianni, and is regularly invited to UCLA Extension as a guest lecturer to teach conducting to film composition students. Talynn holds a MM in orchestral conducting from California State University Northridge, and a BA in piano performance from Loyola Marymount University.
What are your first experiences with music?
My mother really loves classical music. As I was growing up, she always had classical music on in our house, mainly the works of Vivaldi, Beethoven, and Chopin. She also had my aunt start teaching me piano at the age of three; and I loved it. Playing the piano after getting home from school is what I looked forward to all the time. I would always challenge myself by choosing pieces I really wanted to learn to play.
Who were your first musical influences?
My first musical influence is definitely the composer Beethoven. As I mentioned before, my mother was very passionate about his music and she passed that onto me. The first full length piano sonata I learned was his Pathetique Sonata. I thought there was nothing more beautiful that existed (laughs). I would also always sit and listen to the recordings of his symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. My interest in music unfortunately dwindled as I was growing older. Over the years, playing the piano became more of a fun hobby rather than a serious passion for me. I started college with absolutely no intentions of doing anything music related. My major was mechanical engineering. It wasn’t until I took a music appreciation course, just for credit, that my passion was awakened again. I was introduced to many more composers such as: Brahms, Dvorak, Ravel, Stravinsky, Bernstein. I was fascinated by their powerful orchestral music and knew I had to be a part of it somehow. So, I took some conducting lessons during my undergraduate education (as there was no option for conducting as an undergrad), then I applied to get my masters education in orchestral conducting.
Who are your current musical influences?
One of my biggest inspirations comes from my professor of conducting at Cal State Northridge, Dr. John Roscigno. He knows how to really command the students and get them to play the sound that he wants them to have. He was very kind and gave me many opportunities to rehearse in front of his orchestras, the CSUN Symphony Orchestra and the CSUN Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. He did not only teach me conducting technique, but also how to be assertive and influential with the musicians. This was one aspect I had to work very hard on as I am a very shy and reserved person. But he helped burst me out of my protective bubble and bring out my inner leader. When I watch him perform, I am always inspired to be a better conductor. My other major inspiration is Eimear Noone, composer and conductor of Blizzard Entertainment games such as World of Warcraft and Overwatch. I am a huge fan of video game music. So when I first saw her step onto the stage to conduct “The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses” tour in 2013, I was blown away. She was also the first woman I saw conducting in concert; she was powerful, passionate, and it was this moment that made me decide to pursue a career in conducting. I still follow her career and am always inspired by her.
It must be challenging to coordinate the sound of many musicians. What are philosophies or practices you use to help coordinate everyone as a team?
As a conductor, it is important to know the music I’m going to perform very well; to know what and when each of the instruments are going to play, how I want them to play it, and how I am going to communicate that to them. Before starting rehearsals, I practically sit and dissect the score until it is covered in red markings (we always use a red pencil so our markings are clear to see on the page). By the time rehearsal comes around, I pretty much know the music by heart. I practice in front of a mirror so I can see how I’m going to express myself. Whether I’m using my arms, body, or facial expressions to communicate, I always have to make sure the musicians understand the emotion I am trying to convey.
You have used music to stand up for some important social rights campaigns. What has been the most meaningful project you have worked on?
The most meaningful project has to be the concert I directed in 2017 for Armenian refugees from Syria and Iraq. I am very thankful to the AEUNA (Armenian Evangelical Union of North America) for sponsoring the concert and to the New Hope Singers for joining the orchestra. It felt very rewarding to have benefited the refugees who were trying to get out of horrible situations to find a better life.
Have you faced any challenges being a woman in your workfield?
Luckily, I have been fortunate to work with people who have respected and always treated me as an equal. However, the number of women working in this field is still at an abysmal level. I have been to plenty of networking events, and 95% of the attendants and panelists are always men. I can end up feeling awkward and out of place, like I don’t belong there. But- I always tell myself that I have no reason to feel inferior in any way. I am happy to see that recently, more women are getting recognition and the chance to show their creativity to the world. It was very exciting to see many women creatives being honored at this year’s Academy Awards; Eimear Noone was the first woman to conduct excerpts of music from all five nominated films, and Hildur Gudnadottir was the first woman to win an Oscar for best original score.
In your opinion, what is the most important character trait for a successful conductor to have?
In my opinion, a successful conductor knows how to be commanding yet respectful towards the musicians of the orchestra. I always want the musicians to listen to everything I’m saying, but also to see me as an equal. It is never alright for a conductor to feel like they are superior to the players.
How do you communicate to your musicians during a performance?
During a performance, I’m really just using my entire upper body to communicate to the orchestra. It is always a combination of gestures from my hands, arms, torso and my face, each gesture conveying a musical expression.
Which instrument sound is your favorite?
Honestly, I love every single instrument, because each one has their own unique sound that a composer uses for specific reasons. But if I really had to pick, I would go with the French horns. I almost always get chills when I hear them in a piece.
What is the most rewarding piece of your work?
The most rewarding aspect of this field is how when musicians work together, we are always able to create beautiful music that we get to share with many people. The performances are always exciting. I love hearing words of praise from audience members and deeply enjoy the process of working with everyone on projects.
As a conductor and orchestrator, you have to be aware of all the little details in a performance. How did you learn and gain so much knowledge about music to be able to do what you do? What has been the most useful in your education as a conductor?
One of the best ways I was able to gain so much knowledge was listening to orchestral music while following along with the score - “looking” at what each instrument is playing, the way they are used, the ranges they are capable of playing, the way they are articulated on the score, etc. This is also an extremely useful thing to do for an orchestrator, as it is their job to write out the notes of the composer’s mock-up score and make it playable for the musicians during a recording session. Another great way I gained knowledge was watching the rehearsals of my professor and other conductors. Rehearsals are where a lot of the work of the conductor is and it is a difficult thing to learn - knowing when to stop the music, when to rehearse a specific section, listen and isolate where there are issues, etc.
Any future plans or goals you can share with us? Any final words or advice for up and coming orchestrators, music directors, and conductors?
We have plans to put on a lot more concerts with the LA Chamber Music Company, mostly cultural music and showcasing the music of newer, younger composers. While the usual classics are always entertaining to play for an audience, it is important to highlight other cultures and hear all the great music that surviving composers are creating. My advice to up and coming conductors and orchestrators is to listen to as many scores they can, while following along the sheet music, paying attention to what each of the instruments are doing. Attend as many rehearsals and concerts as possible. Thank you so much for this interview!
Interview by Hannah Kazanjian Brewster