Posted on May. 6. 2021
ATLANTA – “Anything is possible: I might end up in Broadway! I never limit myself,” laughs Arpenik Hakobyan while having her big cup of decaf (it’s late afternoon in Atlanta, GA). That makes me feel relieved to drink my tea without any awkwardness on the other side of the screen (it’s gloomy in Los Angeles and I still feel sore after my Covid-19 vaccine).
Very recently NPR broadcasted Arpenik’s own song, Together with Me, for a whole week in its World Music segment. Right before the pandemic started, Arpenik signed her contract with Cirque Du Soleil for a new show. In 2019 she released her first CD. And as if this wasn’t enough on her list of accomplishments to discuss, just days ago she became a US citizen, gaining freedom of movement as an artist. “I have a nice career that a lot of musicians would look forward to, but if it wasn’t possible for me to be able to live in the US, I couldn’t pursue my career as a musician,” Arpenik exclaimed frankly.
Arpenik started auditioning for Cirque Du Soleil in 2016: it was a dream job, but it wasn’t her time yet. Someone else was accepted at that time. Then in 2018 Cirque Du Soleil approached Arpenik with a proposal for another show. But this time she was busy with her own concerts. Finally, in 2019 she was able to join the world-famous crew and perform in front of audiences of many thousands.
“They reached out to me saying that I was the perfect candidate for the new show. It all happened in five days,” Arpenik remembers. She even created a brand-new song specifically for the audition — Sweet Dreams. In 2020, Arpenik auditioned for a new show called Under the Same Sky, which didn’t premiere because of the pandemic.
Cello, precaution and singing: Arpenik has the entire skillset for the job. She said, “In Cirque Du Soleil you have to be a multi-instrumentalist. Also, there is acting; there could be a dance… You have to be a flexible person to work there. That’s the profile of the job, and I perfectly fit that profile. I love it. I always wanted to be that way.”
Despite her choice to pursue a non-traditional career as a cello musician, Arpenik’s professional background lies in classical music. She started her musical education in Armenia first in the Sargis Aslamazyan Music School No. 1 and then with the famous professor Medea Abrahamyan. She continued her higher education in the Yerevan State University of Theatre and Cinematography and later on studied in Belgium and the US.Get the Mirror in your inbox:
She elaborated: “I adore classical music, but I was always the person who would play [something] a little different. This is why I choose jazz. In Cirque Du Soleil I am a jazz musician,” even though it’s not a “main stream choice for a cello.” Arpenik is convinced that in this way she has her own place in the music industry that truly belongs to her.
The choice to play cello came by accident – or maybe not, as she likes to think, she explained accompanied by a deep smile. She was seven and a half, when her mother (did I mention that she is Lida Hakobyan, an actress and director!) decided that she needed to take violin classes. When Arpenik arrived to the music school for the admission exams, she was very much impressed upon hearing the word cello in Armenian. “When they asked me if I wanted to play a violin or a cello, the word cello [in Armenian] sounded so fascinating and beautiful, that I said ‘I want to play cello’ without even knowing what that instrument was,” remembers Arpenik with an innocent laugh.
Arpenik inherited her artistic background from her mother. She was on the stage with her from a very young age performing in different plays. Her personality started to take shape right there in the theater, where she was always encouraged to enjoy freedom of expression. But this entire precious framework needed to be refined abroad, which Arpenik finds the only way to be successful in art and in any other profession in general.
She said: “I had different teachers and each one of them promoted different schools. During the years that I studied in Belgium, I learned everything about the sound of the cello and techniques. In the US, I was introduced to jazz music: how to express myself, how to let go and all the things that I didn’t learn in Belgium. In Armenia I had a rough Soviet structured education; I studied piano, solfeggio, harmony, theory and cello. It was very good for a beginning, because when I continued to study in the conservatory, I was one of the few who knew a lot about music already. All these were incorporated into me.”
Between constant travel between Armenia and the US, Arpenik is waiting for life to get back to normal after the pandemic, when she expects to continue her career with the Cirque Du Soleil tour of 2022 in North America, through both Canada and the United States. She continues providing music classes (now online) to various students, children and adults, who want to learn how to play cello or to ameliorate their skills.
In Armenia, she is continuing her humanitarian initiative, creating job training programs for women. She started it last year. It will primarily help women who either lost their husbands, fathers or brothers during the war in Artsakh, or are obliged to take care of those who became disabled in their family, and are now the main breadwinner. This program is teaching women to become culinary experts and helping them to find employment after graduating.
“They [these women] now need to find their way, because there is absolutely no other choice. I would like to be able to help these women to not only be empowered by the sense of security coming from an education or a career, but also mentality-wise: to show that they can [do it] and they don’t have to be afraid to step up and make a decision. And if they are lacking any tool, they can reach out for help.” Arpenik considers herself a “bridge” between investors and educational training programs that can provide long-term support.