Strings Touch, and Music Makes Community

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Fadi Iskandar and his wife, Tamara Khachatryan

TMY master violinist Fadi Iskandar and his wife,
Tamara Khachatryan


Touch conveys the dialogue of culture — particularly in creating music, as TMY master violinist Fadi Iskandar will suggest. He and his wife, Tamara Khachatryan, both were teachers at the Arabic Music Institute in Aleppo, Syria, before a civil war in 2012 forced them and so many millions to flee their homeland. Fadi and Tamara resettled in Tucson — uprooted by armed conflict but determined to continue their musical traditions, which are true expression of beauty and hope.

Underlying Harmony

“The most beautiful and creative form of art is the music,” says Fadi, who, in addition to performing at TMY, teaches with Tamara at the Academy of Music and Dance in Tucson and Oro Valley. “Music has healing powers, too,” he continues, with Tamara, who adds: “TMY has been an important celebration of tradition for us because we are able to share with the people who we are, expressing what our words cannot.”

The violin’s music is magic to Fadi, Tamara and their two girls, Angelina and Susanna. The family is eager to show others how the violin is an instrument of great delicacy and precision, and how it can inflect joy as well as sadness depending on the musician. Music unifies, as Fadi knows from his recent TMY performance. He explains one song, from his TMY repertoire, Bint El Shalabiya (The Pretty Girl): “Each country of the Middle East has a version of this song, with a similar melody. Each country adapts it to its own, with unique words. And always when the music is played, in whichever country, it shares universal feelings of happiness and love for everyone.”

Fingertips and Bows

The violin will give us classical, folk, concert, gypsy and every kind of music, Fadi continues: “The feeling and mood come from the various ways you will draw the bow and press the strings. Through your bow movements and through touch the violinist has the power to change what music means. For example, there is the term, glissando*. The violin can explain dance and joy… or it can be sad. Not every instrument can do all these roles together. The quality of sound comes from the bow, but the style comes from touch with fingers.”

* Note: Glissando is when the violinist slides a finger on a string from one note to another. The word comes originally from the French word glisser, which means to glide


Using the touch of your hand and fingers to voice emotion is a powerful gift, Fadi knows. My emotions help me create music, he says. With his fingers curved and only tips touching the strings, Fadi lets his left hand slide up and down the fingerboard in expressive, delicate touch, to illustrate the confidence and evenness of motion in his art.

Tamara Khachatryan with her aunt's cookbook

Tamara Khachatryan with her aunt’s cookbook


Hands Nourish Community, too

Recipes are another example of how Tamara uses touch and creativity -– this time with a cook’s hands. Tamara turns the pages of a treasured cookbook, saved from her aunt, to illustrate her respect for another tradition. In previous years, Tamara prepared her family’s squash dolma at TMY Culture Kitchen demonstrations.  “This recipe book from my aunt is a connection to the home cooking traditions of my family,” Tamara notes.  For someone who left so much behind, cooking authentically is form of pride and memory. For example, chopping and stuffing the squash for the Armenian dolma helps her feel at home and share her tradition, Tamara says.

When music and food are created with emotion, it transcends the creator and helps create community, both Tamara and Fadi agree. The war changed everything for them both, and there is sadness when they think of their homeland. “I have imagination for the country that was before, but now things have changed,” says Fadi, whose mother, 75 years old, is still in Aleppo, taking care of Fadi’s brother, who has multiple sclerosis. He remembers the early days of the war… how it caused problems for his music, because “I had no heart, no mind, no time, to play my music. All I could think about was the safety of my family,” Fadi recalls.

Here — every year it gets better, both Fadi and Tamara exclaim. Tamara continues: “When I first came here, I cried and cried. But I tried to get back to life. It is like when somebody falls down, and can’t stand up. You don’t know the way. But you need to get back up for the children. For our family, and for the music we share in the community.”

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