Classically trained guitarists, Iren Arutyunyan and Sofia Gleeson, combine their unique styles to form a dynamic duo of musical talent, LeChic Duo. Iren and Sofia have been trained by some of the most well-known and Grammy-nominated guitarists such as Scott Tennant, William Kanengiser and Martha Masters, among several others. Not only are they excellent classical guitar performers, but they often blend traditional influences to create their sound. LeChic Duo are currently artist representatives of Cordoba Guitars. Guitar Girl Magazine interviewed both Iren and Sofia, gaining extensive knowledge into the background of their roots and love for music. Read on to find out what they had to say about their experiences in and love for music, as well as many other things associated with their act.
GGM: Mindful of the Indigo Girls, yet in much more modern and classical form, how has your experience been in the music industry? It can be tough, although magical at the same time; do you find this to be true too?
Sofia: It’s very easy to be overwhelmed by the competitive nature of the music industry in Los Angeles. Apart from having a number of incredible music schools such as USC Thornton, Colburn, UCLA, Pepperdine, LMU, MIT, and CSUN, Los Angeles is literally a fishbowl of creative talent and innovation. Because of our involvement in various classical guitar societies in Los Angeles and our time at USC, we’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by prominent members of the guitar community who have mentored and inspired us. So far, we’ve been extremely fortunate.
Iren: As a teenager in Los Angeles I held a summer job at the Hollywood Bowl. I listened to concerts that featured classical, jazz, international, and contemporary music. This exposure to live music taught me almost everything I know about performance etiquette. I stepped away from those summers with a great understanding of what it took to captivate an audience. When I began playing with Sofia, I recognized very quickly that we had something very special. There will always be up and downs wending yourself to a career, but I think we try to focus on the music and be as professional as we can. We’re hoping the rest will take care of itself.
GGM: What encouraged you both to become a duo and perform classical? (I do know that you perform a few genres as well).
Sofia: Iren and I have both been playing classical guitar since we were very young. Growing up, we performed and competed as soloists. When I met Iren during my first year at USC, I was just beginning my undergraduate studies, and Iren was a masters student. In what was a wonderful coincidence, we were paired together by our late professor, Jim Smith. Starting out, we had fun playing each of our favorite pieces together. In retrospect, that first year bonded us as musical partners – we worked through some of the more difficult challenges of playing together like matching tone, phrasing preferences, and effective communication techniques.
GGM: It was mentioned to me that you both had to learn to navigate the music industry on your own. How has that feat gone; what are the ups and downs, and what makes it worth it in the end?
Sofia: First, let me say that we feel that we’ve only just begun navigating the music industry, such as it is. We’re hoping to take LeChic much further musically. That said, with respect to building an audience we’ve had the great good fortune to be born during the age of some amazing social media tools. Building an online presence through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube helps give us a bit of exposure and puts any artist in control of their own audience development. It is entirely possible to be your own manager since there are so many resources available to help navigate the music industry. The downside of this is that it requires a big time commitment. Iren and I juggle the responsibilities of self-management between the two of us, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult.
Iren: The ultimate pay-off is performance. All the time and energy we dedicate to publicity and management is to enable us to do what we love: play guitar. Sometimes this is easier said than done especially when Sofia gets distracted with her infamous Tumblr rampages, or when I get stressed writing emails. It’s important to have priorities and to realize the difference between meaningful musical activities and online gab fests.
GGM: You’ve both been blessed to have studied under Scott Tennant, William Kanengiser, among several other well-known names. How did the tutelage come about from such renowned, Grammy-award winning names?
Iren: I spent six years at USC and Sofia’s finishing her fourth year there. Scott Tennant, Bill Kanengiser and Brian Head are all on the faculty there. Maestro Pepe Romero is also an emeritus professor at USC and spends a great deal of time with students each semester. These amazing musicians are the reasons we both came to USC and we feel so fortunate to have had the privilege to study with many of our guitar heroes.
GGM: How has your representation from Cordoba Guitars increased and/or encouraged your exposure?
Sofia: We’ve had some wonderful performance opportunities through our friends at Cordoba Guitars. Iren and I love traveling all over the country with Cordoba to play concerts and give guitar clinics. The way we figure it, the more performance opportunities we have the more people hear LeChic’s music. Some of the most fun we’ve had on stage has been giving clinics – there’s nothing better than engaging directly with an audience! And Iren and I totally love cracking mediocre guitar puns on stage. We have a lot of fun.
GGM: What is your favorite classical genre to perform?
Iren: I love when we play Brazilian music. The melodies and harmonies are so groovy and rhythmically loose that it motivates me to be musically creative and expressive in the moment. The Brazilian pieces we play test our musicality: since certain phrases repeat often, we like to throw around different interpretations to change up the routine. It’s a fun way to challenge ourselves, and trains us to react to each other’s creative output on stage.
Sofia: Gnattali’s music is definitely loads of fun to perform live. Iren has this “look” she gives me on stage when she’s about try something new – a type of eyebrow raise that looks like she’s trying to challenge me to some sort of duel.
GGM: What was your first concert, and which one was your favorite?
Iren: We’ve both been attending concerts and live performances since we were very young. My very first musical memory was listening to my Grandma and Dad play four-hand piano renditions of Armenian folk melodies at family parties. And listening to my Dad serenade my mother with his fake-English covers of The Beatles.
Sofia: My first guitar teacher took me to see Dusan Bogdanovic in Greenwich, CT when I was seven. He played a piece with applied guitar, where he attached staples to the strings. He made the guitar sound like Balinese gamelan music. I was so inspired that I went home and did the same thing. It didn’t quite sound like Dusan when I did it, and I had staples rattling around the inside of my guitar for months afterwards. It’s funny, or maybe even poignant, that Dusan’s music is a significant part of LeChic’s repertoire. Go figure! I honestly can’t decide my favorite concert experience! There have been so many over the years that I’ve loved… it’s probably a tie between performances by Ben Verdery or Nigel North.
GGM: What was your first album on cassette, vinyl and/or CD?
• Iren: Stevie Wonder + Michael Jackson
• Sofia: Tracy Chapman
GGM: What are the top 5 albums you can’t live without?
• Noches de Espana
– Pepe Romero
• Wild Mountain Thyme
• The Diary of Alicia Keys
• 10,000 Days
• The Understanding
• For Thy Pleasure
• New Beginning
• The Woods So Wild
• Thick as a Brick
• The Business of Art
–Tegan and Sara
GGM: Do you have a guilty musical pleasure?
Iren: Singing Sofia’s part when rehearsing while Sofia attempts to be heard over the sound of my voice. It’s a fun challenge.
Sofia: I usually make sure to put my Spotify on “Private,” but one day I was in a rush to get to class and guess I forgot. While I was in lecture I got a text message from Iren making fun of me for listening to “Call Me Maybe.”
Thanks so much for the interview, Iren and Sofia!
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