To Vah Aslanian of Salinas, the educational D.M.--"doctor of music"--has always been a matter of professional pride. Official communications from the Aslanian-founded Camerata Singers always refer to him as "doctor." This is not mere vanity. Rather it''s Aslanian''s insistence that a doctorate in the arts is--and ought to be recognized as--equal to a doctorate in the sciences.
Of course, he is right.
But then again, that''s Aslanian, short of stature, big of heart, heroic in his achievements. The broad brush shows him retiring in 1980, after 30 years, from Hartnell College, and founding the Camerata Singers of Monterey County to keep him busy in his later years. But a closer look finds the all-important details. At Hartnell, he established the College Choir, Chamber Singers and Community Orchestra. In 1974, he founded the Hartnell Conservatory of Music. And in the last two decades, his unique programming for the Camerata Singers has included his own editions of Renaissance and Baroque music as well as arrangements of California mission music of the 18th century.
Musically, Aslanian''s credentials are impeccable--music degrees from Boston University and Claremont Graduate School. After beginning his career at Hartnell, he completed his doctorate at Stanford, was awarded Fulbright and Rockefeller grants to study early Italian music in Italy, and has received numerous awards and honors, including the Cultural Council of Monterey County''s 1995 Benefactor of the Arts Award naming him "Distinguished Arts Educator."
But Aslanian''s personal history is also notable. His father, born in Istanbul, left Turkey at age 21, stowed away on a Greek ship, to avoid being drafted into the Turkish army. His mother, from a town on the Black Sea, immigrated at age 16, and the two met at a Boston high school where they went to learn English. "I''m very proud of my Armenian heritage," Aslanian says, waving a recent copy of Ararat magazine. "At the time of the 1915 Turkish holocaust against them, the Armenians were deeply involved in Turkish life, politically, religiously and ethnically. Armenians have always been leaders in their communities." Aslanian''s father was a photoengraver, but also took turns as a grocer, laundry man and haberdasher. During the Depression, Aslanian''s mother worked as a seamstress. Aslanian is the elder of two brothers.
With a doctorate in law, Aslanian''s wife, Charlotte Deane Aslanian, also pursued a career as a teacher in Salinas. The couple have two daughters and two sons and seven grandchildren.
But the doctor''s special pride and joy remains the Camerata Singers. He designed his San Benancio home with a special octagonal living room in which to host weekly rehearsals. Many of his singers have remained faithful members of Camerata from its earliest days, some coming from as far away as King City to rehearse. Indeed, the Camerata have visited more venues than any other county performing musicians by far, regularly appearing at the old missions in San Juan Bautista, San Antonio and Carmel, as well as other churches, synagogues and concert rooms throughout the county. A Jewish folk music program is slated for March at Temple Beth El in Salinas and Congregation Beth Israel in Carmel Valley. A program of American composers in May will be performed at Stanton Auditorium in King City, Mayflower Church in Pacific Grove and the new Steinbeck Center Auditorium in Salinas. His legacy to the community may well be bringing previously untapped resources of untapped musical legacies to previously untapped musical audiences from Pacific Grove to Jolon.
Aslanian has decided to step down as Camerata''s music director at the end of the current season, but he still hopes he''ll be invited by his as-yet-unannounced replacement to guest conduct Brahms'' Ein Deutsches Requiem. And he''ll be looking for other musical opportunities in the community. With mixed feelings about leaving, he admits that his favorite project is, "an awful lot of work." The musical community is grateful for his efforts.