Defending accused criminals and playing piano concertos may not seem like compatible pursuits. But to defense attorney-slash-concert pianist Miriam Arichea, they have quite a lot in common.
“They’re both very detail oriented,” says Arichea, who is also a wife, parent, Ventura High School academic decathlon coach, youth choir director and teaching-credential seeker. “That means they both require a lot of discipline. As an attorney, you have to make yourself sit down and read through 20 cases to prepare yourself for court. And as a pianist, you have to learn — well, in this case, a 64-page concerto.”
The 64-page work in this case is the Yellow River Concerto by Chinese composer Xian Xinghai. It is one of several musical works from Asia to be performed at the Channel Islands Chamber Orchestra’s “World Music Gala: Music of the Orient” taking place on March 1 in Camarillo and March 3 in Ventura.
Also on the program, led by CHICO artistic director and conductor Dr. KuanFen Liu, will be orchestral suites of Taiwanese folk music and the “Ode to Hero, Ode to Love,” a double erhu concerto by contemporary Chinese composer Bo-Chan Li to be performed by renowned Taiwanese erhu masters Ming-Yen Lee and Hsin-Chih Lin. (The ehru is a Chinese two-stringed instrument with a long, slender neck, held in the lap and played with a bow.)
Arichea, who has performed with CHICO since its inception in 2004, has a solid connection to Asia. Though born in Durham, North Carolina, while her parents were graduate students at Duke University, she was raised in Southeast Asia, attending elementary and high schools in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia before returning to North Carolina to earn her law degree at Duke.
“But I was active in the music department,” says Arichea, who’d begun taking piano lessons at age 5. “I played recitals and accompanied vocal students in their recitals, and have stayed with music ever since. It’s a big part of my life.”
So is Chinese culture, especially music. Having been born in the Chinese Year of the Dragon — a sign of intelligence and artistry in Chinese astrological lore — Arichea has visited China several times and is excited to perform Yellow River Concerto, which evokes the passion of one of her favorite pieces, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
“The Yellow River Concerto offers some beautiful melodic lines, very sweeping and large, with big, luscious chords underneath,” she says. “Its harmonies are very atypical as classical pieces go; they’re not your normal Western harmonies. And its four movements are very distinct and convey a lot of imagery. It reminds me of movie music in that sense, and I think people who are not as familiar with classical music from China as they are with Western or European works will enjoy it.”
Arichea cites the late Sofia Cosma, her longtime piano teacher, as perhaps her biggest influence. “Sofia emphasized not just learning the notes, but understanding the feeling and emotion of a piece, and she would use pretty powerful imagery to draw the right musical line out of me.”
Arichea has served as music director and pianist for a number of community groups and events, including the Rubicon Theatre Company, the Ventura Unified Festival of Talent and Temple Beth Torah, and received the 2014 Ventura Mayor’s Arts Award for Arts Educator, for her work with Rubicon Harmonix.
“Those were really talented kids, who I worked with through middle and high school, doing all kinds of pieces from musical theater to pop songs,” she says enthusiastically. “It brought me a lot of joy.”
So does being musical director of Ventura Unified’s Festival of Talent fundraiser in March.
“Playing classical pieces is very much a solo activity,” she notes, “and when you work with kids, it’s by definition a lot louder, more active and that much more fun.”
She’s also coached Ventura High School’s mock trial and academic decathlon teams, and is in the midst of earning a teaching credential.
And the link between music and law, she adds, is not so unusual. Her work handling criminal appeals as a court-appointed attorney with the California Appellate Project has connected her with “quite a few” lawyers who are also musicians. In fact, all of her pursuits — music, law teaching — meld rather nicely.
“At this stage in life, music gives me an outlet, something to work hard on,” Arichea says. “It requires me to listen and learn new things, which is what practicing law and teaching are all about. And I enjoy sharing what I learn with others.”
The Channel Islands Chamber Orchestra presents the “World Music Gala: Music of the Orient” on Friday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m. at St. Mary Magdalene Church, 25 N. Las Posas Road, Camarllo; and on Sunday, March 3, at 3 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, 1338 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura. Suggested donation is $20; students free. For more information, visit www.chicovc.org.