I started my musical education in Ukraine when I was 9. My father was always excited about music. We had classical records at home and he used to play violin as a kid and later switched to accordion. He was a very good accordion player – in fact he used to play pieces like "Flight of the Bumblebee" and Beethoven's Pathetique piano sonata. When he signed me and my brother up for violin lessons, I saw it as just another chore to do and wasn't that much into it until I was about 14. Then I remember very clearly how I was watching a documentary on TV about a great Russian violinist Leonid Kogan and it was the Bach's concerto for 2 violins that somehow turned everything around for me. After that I realized that this is what I want to do and even though everyone around kept telling me that it's too late to decide on being a professional musician I couldn't help going for it anyway. At the end of that year, on the "end of the year exam" (yep, we had those in music school!) I had the pleasure of hearing my teacher's jaw drop all the way to the ground – she couldn't believe how much progress I made in such a short time!
It is quite amazing to think of where this path took me after that: music college in Ukraine, full scholarship to Boston Conservatory to study with BSO's assistant principal violist Patricia McCarty, Tanglewood, Sarasota, performing chamber music alongside musicians such as the Borromeo String Quartet, James Buswell, Barbara Westphal, Lynn Chang, Ronald Leonard, Rhonda Rider and others, an opportunity to study with one of the world's most outstanding viola soloists Kim Kashkashian at New England Conservatory. I'm sure I'm forgetting something already! If I had missed that Sunday afternoon TV documentary, where would I be now?
Well, I'm sure some other similar event would have directed my career to music because the ground work – my music education - was already there and waiting to erupt. As I grew up and my love for music grew I discovered new music styles, composers, pieces, and even new ways to listen to the ones I already knew, all of this enriching me as a person, shaping my character and inner world. There were many difficulties on the way but I never thought of turning back – the reward was always worth it for me.
I think the ultimate gift of music is that it makes us more sensitive and aware. It helps us to better understand the complex world we live in, make sense of it and enjoy living in it. All of this is not easy to comprehend if you are in the beginning of this path struggling to keep your bow moving in a straight line or to put your fingers in just the right place on the fingerboard, just like I was in my time. However I believe the real gifts of musical education, whether you chose to pursue this path or not, come later. As you practice, or are made to practice (like I was) every day, you learn that rewards only come after continuous effort, which might seem futile in the beginning – an important lesson to apply everywhere in life. You don't teach yourself to just play the violin, you teach yourself work ethics – what it takes to create and achieve something in life.