Eleanor Jemile Attarian Wahlen
1926 - 2015
Eleanor Attarian Wahlen, a pianist and organist, taught music at the secondary and college levels in Seventh-day Adventist schools for thirteen years before marrying and settling in California in 1962. In subsequent years she taught piano lessons and was active as a musician in varied settings.
Wahlen was born in Fresno, California, the youngest of four children born to G. H. and Flora Buchakjian Attarian, immigrants from Turkey. Although her parents were not musicians, they loved music and provided an opportunity for her to study, starting her on piano lessons at age seven and supporting her in continued study with Mabel Babcock throughout her elementary and high school years.
Eleanor displayed an aptitude for and a talent in music. By the time she graduated from high school, even though her goal was to take law, she found through testing in her first semester at Fresno State College, now California State University at Fresno, that her two strongest areas were music and persuasion:
I was advised by the dean to transfer to Stanford University. When I talked to my parents about this, my father said, "OK, but I will make a deal with you. If you are still interested in music (I was still very involved in music), I will put you through music and then I will put you through law school." I said, "Good, that's a deal." Well, you know that once you get into music, you never get out.
At the end of that year at FSC, where she had studied piano under Miriam Fox Withrow, Attarian transferred to Pacific Union College and completed a BA in music in 1949 with piano as her performance area. While there, she studied piano with Sterling K. Gernet and organ with C. Warren Becker. Because her plan was immediately to continue in graduate school, when a teaching position opened at Glendale Union Academy, now Glendale Adventist Academy, that spring, she accepted it, since the school's location would facilitate graduate study at the University of Southern California.
In 1956 she accepted an invitation to teach organ and piano, music history, form and analysis, keyboard pedagogy and music appreciation classes at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, where she would teach for the next six years. She continued with her graduate work in the summers and completed an M.Mus. in music history and literature at USC in 1959. She immediately started work towards a Ph.D. in musicology. During her studies at USC, she studied piano primarily with Lillian Steuber and also with Nadia Reisenberg and Hans Lampl.
In 1962 Attarian married Chester Wahlen, a physician she had met on a blind date seven years earlier. Eleanor, who had prior to this time completed most of the classwork towards her Ph.D. and was preparing for her prelims, halted work on the degree. She continued, however, to attend music seminars given by noted guest lecturers at the university, attended numerous musical events, and taught piano lessons in her home, activities that continued until the time of her death.
In her final years she lived in Pasadena where she maintained contact with former students and colleagues and other Adventist musicians, including the Lyndon and Elizabeth Johnston Taylor family and Herbert Blomstedt, with whom she played chamber music in earlier years, and his wife. Before the death of her husband in 2006, the Blomstedts would stay in their home when visiting in the area. Subsequent visits continued to be times for enjoyable reunions. She died on Dec 14, 2015, at age 89.
Sources: Interview /conversation with Eleanor Attarian Wahlen, 24 and 30 January 2011, respectively; "Miss Attarian Joins Music Staff," Central Union Reaper 19 June 56; other articles on music department at Union College, CUR, 1956-1962; 1930 U.S. Census Records; email from Catherine Lang Titus, 17 January 2016.