BY TOM VARTABEDIAN
WATERTOWN, Mass.—When she isn’t singing, she’s acting. Or composing a song. Perhaps standing before a church group and delivering one of her motivational talks.
Nancy Tutunjian Berger is everybody’s idea of a Renaissance woman and what she does best depends upon the day or the venue.
You won’t find her name under lights on Broadway but check out the community circles and you’re more than apt to find her as a headline performer.
This spring, she stole the show as Golde in the Wellesley Players’ rendition of “Fiddler on the Roof” staged at Babson College. It was a performance that gained rave reviews from both the audience and cast alike.
Nothing new for Tutunjian considering the fact she’s appeared in numerous shows over her 30-year career, produced five recordings, appeared at Lincoln Center in New York City and just got done headlining a jazz night at First Armenian Church in Belmont where she appears each Sunday as a choir soloist.
Over the past three years, she’s served as a guest speaker at conferences, retreats, workshops and other special events, bringing the Christian message to the forefront. A July engagement will find Tutunjian at the Alton Bay Conference Center in New Hampshire presenting her music and talks during a summer weekend series.
Juggling all these balls is nothing new for the skillful artist and she manages to keep them all in motion. So what’s the motive behind the mission? Her heritage!
“It gets an Armenian name into the public and in some cases that is someone’s first awareness of who we are,” she says. “It gives us a presence and allows us to show our ingenuity and creative reservoirs. The Armenian people have a rich legacy of art and culture. I feel honored at perpetuating that legacy in some small way since my high school days.”
Tutunjian is no neophyte when it comes to the Armenian community. For many years, she sang solo with Maestro Rouben Gregorian in the Komitas Choral Society.
It served as the epitome of many voice lessons under the renowned conductor who noticed something brilliant in his student.
“Rouben’s interest in my career was indispensible,” Tutunjian traced back. “He taught me to read and conduct music. He also arranged many opportunities for me to sing in several classical venues. Baron Rouben wanted me to become an opera singer but I wanted to lean elsewhere and ventured into jazz-cabaret mediums, a life of theater and more explicitly, my composing and recording. I could not have written songs without the knowledge Baron Rouben imparted upon me.”
Of the five discs, three represent her own original contemporary Christian songs. One is a Christmas CD while another is filled with lush Armenian folk and popular songs, done in collaboration with Maestro Gregorian in 1989 shortly before his death. In the works is a recording of “American Songbook” standards.
Her voice is a natural fit for the medium of jazz and cabaret. She grew up listening to the sounds of Nat King Cole, Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn.
Ironically, Tutunjian’s first community theater role was with the Wellesley Players back in 1982 as Marsinah in “Kismet.” This was her second “Fiddler,” having played daughter Hodel several years ago while in college.
Other credits include Dot in “Sunday in the Park With George,” Baker’s Wife in “Into the Woods,” “Lili in “Carnival,” Agnes in “Agnes of God,” Mabel in “Pirates of Penzance,” Sister Sarah in “Guys and Dolls,” and Dolly Levi in “Hello Dolly.” Check out her website: www.ntbmusic.net.
“When I auditioned in college for ‘Fiddler,’ I wanted to play Golde and was disappointed to be cast as Hodel,” said Tutunjian reflectively. “This time, nearly 30 years later, I was wistfully watching the younger girls and thinking I could play that role again. But Golde was an exhilarating experience. Many people commented on how real my interpretation was.”
Born, raised and educated in Watertown, Tutunjian resides in the same home on Common Street she shares with Richard Berber, her husband of 11 years. She holds an associate’s degree in business from Massachusetts Bay Community College.
Over the years, she has worked as a bank secretary, hospital unit coordinator, phlebotomist, medical assistant and now, part-time inside the bursar’s office at Northeastern University which allows time to pursue her musical career.
“According to my mom (Ann), I was singing before I could talk and could hold a melody with her,” she notes. “Whatever voice or music talent I have is God-given and I try to be a responsible steward of it. My husband is my biggest cheerleader and accompanies me to most of my gigs. He’s also a very good sound technician.”
A born-again Christian, Tutunjian gathered some folks from First Armenian Church and began these jazz cabaret nights for charity. The Benevolence Committee sponsors 12 children in Armenia and the Middle East through the Armenian-American Missionary Association. Tuition supplies them with food, clothing, school supplies and other necessities.
It’s a case of home-spun talent on display for a worthy cause and crowds have begun taking notice. Among the performers is jazz guitarist John Baboian. It’s been four years and the group raises between $600-$1,000 annually for the church.
“What makes Nancy special is that while she’s the consummate performer, she is more obvious your sister in Christ,” praised Rev. Gregory Haroutunian, pastor. “She gives the Holy Spirit the freedom to guide and inspire her, beckoning the rest of us to join along.”
Tutunjian also attributes her success to her late dad Ralph and nothing appeared more difficult than to sing at the funerals of her parents whom she holds endeared to her heart. A sister Judy and her family are regular fans.
Off the stage and away from the recording studio, you’ll find Tutunjian involved with gardening, particularly hybrid tea roses, biking, golf, cooking, hiking and cross-country skiing. She also teaches two Bible Study sessions. One group has been with her 14 years.
As to the future, only God knows. Tutunjian will keep going until she drops. There’s no business like show business and she approaches every day with a fresh challenge.
“It’s all in God’s timing,” she confirms.