Happy 100th birthday to Gloria Mikialian ’45E!
The Eastman alumna born in 1923, who graduated Eastman in 1945 as a pianist, just turned 100 on August 30th.
Gloria remembers receiving a full scholarship, which she was thankful for because her family couldn’t afford to pay Eastman tuition. To pay her room and board, she worked a side job in one of Eastman’s administrative offices.
“I enjoyed every day of my life there,” she remembers. “I attribute much of my life to Eastman.”
Gloria started playing piano at the age of three and went to Eastman to become a piano teacher, says Mara Mikialian, Gloria’s daughter. However, “she didn’t ever teach piano. Her career ended up being as an accompanist.”
It was Gloria’s cultural roots that ended up guiding her towards accompanying. Born to an Armenian family in Connecticut, she embraced her family’s Armenian customs and even learned to speak Armenian. Following her studies at Eastman, she moved to California to marry and carved out a career accompanying for professional singers who were also Armenian.
“I think that became her niche,” says Mara. “Singers would come to California and they would end up being referred to her if they had a concert here. She talked a lot of singers from the Metropolitan Opera coming to California and then she played for them.”
Of working with singers, Gloria remembers, “I used to play for the best Metropolitan singers who came into town. I remember I would have to practice my feet off.”
One opera singer both Mara and Gloria remember was Armand Tokatyan, who performed at major opera houses across the United States and Europe, including the Metropolitan Opera. Gloria remembers, “he was a big part of my life. … He must have seen a little talent in me because he was really good to me, and I played for him whenever I could.”
Tokatyan even sang at Gloria’s wedding.
Mara says that music was always in the house growing up. Mara’s father was an amateur opera singer, and her mother Gloria would often play for him at home. A neighbor, too, was a talented violinist who Gloria would sometimes accompany. Music, says Mara, was Gloria’s life.
“She made a career out of it,” says Mara. “She wasn’t famous, wasn’t wealthy from it, but it was her career, her job, her avocation, and she has loved music her whole life.”
Gloria’s Steinway piano still sits in her Studio City, California home—the same home Mara grew up in—and Gloria still plays occasionally, doodling and recalling Armenian melodies she performed at many Armenian weddings over the years.
Gloria had four children, including a son who died nine years ago. The three living siblings together have celebrated Gloria’s milestones. For Gloria’s 95th birthday, they took her on a trip to Armenia. “It was amazing to travel with a 95-year-old woman,” says Mara. “It was the most magical trip.”
Among other sightseeing, they went to visit the House-Museum of Aram Khachaturian in Yerevan, Armenia where Gloria got to play Khachaturian’s piano.
But something surprising happened when they visited one of Yerevan’s art museums: When the staff found out that Gloria was a pianist, they invited her to perform on a piano in one of the galleries. “She’s sitting in the museum playing piano, and the entire staff is mesmerized watching her,” recalls Mara.
Mara and her family also threw Gloria a major party for her 100th birthday on Sunday, August 27 at a favorite Italian restaurant that features singing waiters and waitresses. Gloria and her family frequented the restaurant over the years—even creating bonds with PTA moms there—and Gloria would often accompany the singers. About 85 people attended the birthday party.
Gloria even played piano at her party—still making music at 100 years old.