From Carnegie Hall to Pierce’s Great Hall

A velvety, deep crimson carpet covers the seating area lined with rows of chairs. The eager audience faces a glamorous spectacle. A cream-colored stage is accentuated with glimmering gold touches lining the nooks and crannies of the walls.

A solo vocal fills the room.

Performing arts professor Garineh Avakian was that solo singer. She said in a Zoom interview that one of her best performances was in Carnegie Hall in 2010 and 2012. 

“Your heart still palpitates,” Avakian said. “I don’t care how many times you’ve performed it or rehearse it. It’s still nerve wracking. And it’s joyous at the same time.”

Avakian—or as her students call her, Dr. Gaga—received her bachelor’s and master’s at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music then went to the University of Southern California to receive her doctorate in musical arts.

Her many musical accomplishments include the soundtrack of movies such as “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” She also performed at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

Avakian also performed while nine months pregnant. She described her performance while being pregnant and struggling to breathe.

“And then 20 days later after birth, I actually did come back to work,” Avakian said. “What I’ve gone through, it’s not all hunky dory, being a performer, a performer’s life is, or a singer or an artist for that matter.”

Avakian said that going into teaching allowed her to have a family life.

“Currently I’m actually a single mom to a three-year-old toddler,” Avakian said. “I’m a strong-willed Armenian woman and I’m very independent and I don’t get intimidated and I’m not an insecure person.”

Although they didn’t have much knowledge in the arts, Avakian’s family and friends were able to direct her on the correct path to reach her dreams.

“I don’t come to work,” Avakian said. “I never have a day worked in my life.”

Avakian has not only given her life to music but encourages her students to do the same.

Isabel Navas, a student of Avakian and a future singer and songwriter, said in a Zoom interview that Avakian is critical but not in a negative way.

“She’s very informative in terms of technique, which I didn’t really realize singing was,” Navas said. “And I didn’t realize singing was so physical until I started taking lessons with her and taking her voice classes and whatnot.”

Navas said she gets nervous when recording or performing but with Avakian’s advice, she’s able to get through it.

“I would say the other thing would be that one time she would tell me, ‘Remember you’re supposed to be having fun,’” Navas said. “‘So, don’t be scared that you’re stopping yourself in your own tracks.’”

With the school’s transition to online, Avakian said she has tried to make her classes more interactive not only to spice things up but to help her students stay proactive while being at home.

“They want to stay alive and singing for that matter,” Avakian said. “It’s a de-stressor, it’s a detoxifying thing. So, we want to have the students be as creative as possible.”

She said that the performing arts classes she’s teaching are doable, but she doesn’t look forward to doing virtual classes in the future.

“It’s not feasible,” Avakian said. “It’s not what the performing arts is.”

Sarah Roupp is a part of the Applied Music Program where she receives private lessons from Avakian. Roupp is a music education major and hopes to minor in math to become a teacher.

Roupp said Avakian works hard and creates opportunities for students, along with presenting a positive light to her class.

“If they don’t already exist, she will go out there and find ways to better the program to better herself, to better everyone around her,” Roupp said.

The main advice that Roupp will take away from Avakian’s class is the criticism that motivates her and makes her want to do better.

“So I think that’s something I would definitely take moving forward,” Roupp said. “Just try and implement her positivity that she has because I think that’s what makes our class so special.”

Avakian believes that it takes special people to be able to give their all and set aside their own personal struggles to achieve their goals.

“When your love for the arts is there, you do anything and you will conquer,” Avakian said. “You will achieve. You will find that happiness. Eventually you gotta do what you love.”