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Young man from Syria brings expertise on the flute to college in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — Ask Boghos Taslakjian how he came to play the flute, and he becomes momentarily flustered. “It’s confusing, even for me,” says the 19-year-old Middlebury College sophomore from Syria.
That’s because Taslakjian has been a musician since before he can remember. According to what his mother says, he began his training on the recorder at age 4, because the flute was too large for him to handle; he graduated to the flute a year later, at the ripe old age of 5.
On Sunday, Feb. 22, at 2 p.m., Taslakjian shared his considerable musical gifts with the community when he performs a benefit concert for Charter House Coalition at the Middlebury Congregational Church.
Boghos Taslakjian grew up in an Armenian family in Damascus, Syria. His entire family is musical: his father plays the accordion and piano, his mother plays the cello, and his younger sister plays the violin. He describes his early flute training as “very, very intense,” involving nine-hour days during which he’d hop on a bus after school twice a week for a 90-minute ride to Damascus’s Solhi Al-Wadi Institute of Music.
Taslakjian’s primary and secondary school education took place at The International School of Choueifat, which predisposed him to continue his education abroad.
“I wanted to go somewhere like the United States,” he recalls. “A friend recommended that I apply to Middlebury, because it’s amazing. So I did.”
Two years into his college career, Taslakjian has only positive things to say about the experience.
“There are a lot of opportunities here that you would never find in Syria; you really get to know your teachers, so the learning experience is much better,” he says. “Plus, I’ve made more friends here than in Syria, oddly enough!”
Taslakjian is majoring in molecular biology and biochemistry. Since arriving in Vermont, he’s continued to study the flute at Middlebury College, as well as at the Middlebury Community Music Center. He estimates that he plays his flute two to three hours daily, but before concerts — “especially this (Feb. 22) concert” — he practices four to five hours a day.
When not in class or a practice room, Taslakjian is part of Middlebury’s Pre-Med Society Club. He’s spent the past two Januarys learning to snowboard at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, and is proud of his ability to navigate intermediate-level slopes. This month, he began volunteering in the surgical services unit at Porter Hospital.
“I’m just learning about volunteering,” he says. Before coming here, “I didn’t really know what volunteering was.”
He may be new to volunteering, but civic-mindedness seems to come naturally to Taslakjian. This will be his second benefit concert for Charter House; he played his first as a first-year student at Middlebury.
“I came up with the idea of performing a concert for charity,” he said.
He asked around, and somebody suggested Charter House Coalition, which describes itself as “a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization dedicated to providing basic food and housing in and around Middlebury.” Among Charter House’s programs are community meals, the North Pleasant Street Community Housing, a winter warming shelter, and a Farm-to-Table program.
In order to arrange the concert, Taslakjian met with the Rev. Mr. Andrew Nagy-Benson, pastor of the Middlebury Congregational Church. (The Congregational Church founded Charter House Coalition, and will host this year’s benefit concert.)
“I’m not sure what surprised me more about that initial conversation — his familiarity, as a first-year student, with the work of Charter House Coalition, or his determination to raise money for the organization,” Nagy-Benson recalls. “Like so many Middlebury College students I’ve had the pleasure to know, Boghos is incredibly talented and thoughtful … Really, this is all Boghos — his idea, his legwork, his virtuoso performance. That the church will host such a flutist for such a cause is a joy that I’m delighted to share with the whole community.”
The April 2014 concert “was great,” according to Taslakjian, so he decided to repeat it this year.
On Sunday, Taslakjian will be accompanied by pianist Cynthia Huard, an affiliate artist at Middlebury College. The concert program consists of four pieces by composers Henri Dutilleux, Cesar Ciardi, Jacques Ibert, and Joachim Andersen. Asked how he chose what to play, Taslakjian said, “I just play the pieces that I like, but I’m leaning towards more modern French composers.”
Boghos Taslakjian has played his flute in Russia, France, Greece and Italy; he has performed for the Syrian first lady and given a solo performance with the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra. Yet, he says his upcoming concert at the Middlebury Congregational Church is a little different.
“I’m kind of nervous, actually,” he says. “But I’m trying just to practice and be prepared … I just want to play really well, at a level that I’m satisfied with.”
Taslakjian’s family no longer resides in Damascus. Syria’s political situation has deteriorated in recent years due to a civil war and the rise of militant Islamist groups with ties to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL.) At around the same time that he left Syria for Middlebury, Taslakjian’s family immigrated to Lebanon. (His father, who is a dentist, still travels regularly to Syria to oversee his clinic there.) Taslakjian has visited his family once in Lebanon, but is unsure of when he’ll return; the 25-hour flight, he says, “is exhausting.”
As for his long-term plans, Taslakjian has a clear goal: “I want to become a neurosurgeon; that’s my dream, I guess. I’ve always wanted to do surgery and medicine, and the nervous system is what I’m interested in.”
He hopes to remain in the United States to attend medical school and to work, although he acknowledges that “it depends on the paperwork.”
Whatever the future holds, Boghos Taslakjian says that, for him, the flute “is always going to be there.”
“I really like the flute,” he explains. “By getting better at it, I had this feeling that I was powerful onstage. That’s why I’m still trying to play it.”
BOGHOS TASLAKJIAN, A molecular biology and biochemistry student at Middlebury College, is an accomplished flutist who grew up in Syria. He takes a break at the Congregational Church of Middlebury recently before a rehearsal for a Charter House Coalition benefit concert.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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