Like Father, Like Son…With a Twist

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by Ron Oshima

Armarion rehearsing in January 2020, Uihlein Hall, Marcus Performing Arts Center. Photo: Ron Oshima.

Armarion Julien, assistant principal violist of the Senior Symphony this past year (and co-principal of the split orchestra) was influenced in his musical path by his dad, but in typical Armarion fashion, subject to his own interpretation.

His father plays the electric bass in a soul, R&B, and jazz band, but is also self-taught in keyboard, drums, and electric guitar. So Armarion grew up around music. In the fourth grade at Golda Meir School, he was introduced to an orchestral program. He wanted to play a string instrument like his dad and selected the viola for these reasons. One was that he did not know what a viola or cello was (he knew the violin and bass) and that piqued his curiosity. The second was that he just liked the sound of the viola.

He was not familiar with classical music and had the typical young boy’s dream of playing rock guitar. But as he continued with the viola, he started having fun playing varied repertoire and looking forward to what was coming next. His curiosity led him to listen to more viola repertoire, violin and cello music, string quartets, and eventually orchestral music.

Armarion has been the recipient of numerous national art awards; his scuptural piece, “Crow Hat,” is shown here. Photo courtesy of Armarion Julien.

As Armarion tells it, “When I first started music, it was definitely more of an emotional attraction. And I liked having fun in class learning how to play. I really did not develop an intellectual attachment to music until sixth or seventh grade when I joined MYSO. As I got older, I started to notice and distinguish between the different sounds and playing styles of the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods.”

One of the pieces he’s playing currently that he enjoys is the Forsyth Viola Concerto, a late Romantic piece (premiered in 1903). “It’s very dramatic and passionate, and I like it because of that. I find it easier to play with emotion and easier to phrase because the way he wrote it is so interesting.”

He also enjoys playing Bach. He says, “his pieces are known for having a lot of freedom in interpretation, meter, and dynamics. It is rare that you will hear two people play Bach the same way. And that’s why I enjoy playing Bach.”

In the fall of 2019, Armarion gained a spot in the John Downey Creation Project, an annual MYSO program which pairs a MYSO student with a professional composer in the Milwaukee area. The resulting original composition is then given a premiere in the spring by a MYSO orchestra. Due to the pandemic, the premiere of The Monarch was delayed until May 2021.

Growing up around a father who composed music for his band while sitting at his piano with his computer fed Armarion’s interest in composing. In a telling statement he relates, “Part of the reason I enjoyed the composition project was because I was able to decide how the music goes and had rein over everything.”

Armarion’s Downey project mentor was local composer, conductor, and woodwind player Ron Foster, who has participated in the Downey project for years. Armarion was initially wary of a professional mentor who “might tell me everything I am doing is wrong. But he was very supportive. If I did something that didn’t make sense, and he could tell it was a mistake, he would always ask, ‘so did you do this on purpose, or did you just not think about it?’  And most of the time I just didn’t think about it, and we fixed it. But I appreciate that he let me have broad control.”

Armarion’s artistic talent is not limited to music. In the photo above is his fashion accessory “Crow Hat” which won two awards in fashion for the national Scholastic Art and Writing Competition in 2021.

He will be returning to Senior Symphony in the 2021-22 season while finishing his senior year at Pius XI High School. He enters the new season as the winner of the 2021 Richard Tula Memorial Scholarship. Read more about this scholarship in MYSO Tidbits.

How will his artistic curiosity unfold in the coming year? Follow us to find out.

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