What inspired you to play piano? When I was 5 years old, I got an unusual gift from my parents: a wooden piano toy (the exact 3D replica of a grand piano, the size of a modern iPad). It didn’t make any sounds, but I was fascinated by the strange pattern formed by the black-and-white keys, and the beautiful shape of the lid.
At what age did you start playing? I started my professional piano journey at the age of 6 – by becoming a student of the lyceum I mentioned earlier.
What memories/stories do you have of piano lessons? “How does this sound?” – my piano teacher asked while playing a major seventh interval. It was my very first piano lesson, and he was probably testing the ‘aesthetic’ limits of my hearing. I was mesmerized: “It’s beautiful!“ I said, my eyes round with wonder. Interestingly, now I don’t think that major sevenths are ‘beautiful’ anymore. I prefer the ‘gentle’ sonority of a third or sixth - or the richness of a ‘cleverly’ built ninth chord. But the memory of that ‘beautiful seventh’ is still fresh in my mind!
As I’m writing this article, other memories pop up:
· Grade 2: I’m playing Tchaikovsky’s amazing Morning Prayer and In Church in a recital of the entire Children’s Album organized by my second piano teacher (where each pupil from her class played one or two pieces from the album); the harmonic beauty of those two pieces made me fall in love with music all over again!
· Grade 3: I’m playing my first Piano Concerto (with a real orchestra, on the stage of the Philharmonic Hall); I remember telling my mother: “Can you believe it, it’s a REAL orchestra!”; since then, I have been really passionate about orchestral music.
· Grade 4: I’m working on Mozart’s ‘magical’ Fantasy in D Minor, and my teacher is patiently guiding me through those difficult ornamental passages; I’m only 10, and I have absolutely no clue how to tackle this masterpiece – but my teacher believes I am ready for it; she did know how to inspire her students to always conquer new mountaintops!
· Grade 10: I’m learning Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 - a ‘super-human’ challenge for a frail 16-year old; after many months of very hard work, I play it in yet another one of my teacher’s ‘thematic recitals’ that included Chopin’s 4 Ballads.
· First year of Conservatory: I’m struggling to re-learn ‘how to play one note correctly’, as my new professor is adjusting my posture and whole-arm key attack (a very humbling and eye-opening experience after 12 years of intense piano studies);
· Year 5 of Conservatory: I’m having constant ‘fights’ with Beethoven! My professor thinks that ‘we could be friends after all’, and she keeps insisting that I ‘conquer my fear’ of his late Sonatas, and ‘get out of my Bach/Chopin comfort zone’...
Magical and exhausting, inspiring and overwhelming - my 19 studying years bring back so many interesting memories! Most of them would make good stories, but I will finish this answer with the most important lesson I learned during those times: we are lifelong students, and musical mastery is a never-ending journey!
Do you have a favorite piece/style of music to play? As a piano teacher, I have a deep respect for ALL good music. That’s the official answer :). Unofficially, if I “search my feelings” and look deep down, I discover a strange arch that connects the pre-classical style with the romantic one (skipping the Classical Era): Bach and Chopin are the closest to my heart, followed by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. To be fair, the amazing ‘simplicity’ of Mozart’s works renders me completely speechless as well… But I still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding the magnitude of his genius.
I love modern music as well - but I must confess that my current teaching schedule doesn’t allow much time for playing pop/jazz pieces. I certainly wish I could - in the past I had great fun playing modern ensemble music, and I do hope to return to it one day!
As an adult, why do you still enjoy playing piano? That’s a good question! I’ve been playing piano since I can remember myself: for more than 30 years, this challenging instrument has been the center of my existence. It is what I do for a living, and what I (hopefully) inspire others to pursue (through my tutorials at PianoCareerAcademy.com). My piano-related ‘sources of joy’ shifted throughout the years: in early childhood, piano was simply fun (I did love to play on stage, even though the actual practice was a bit tedious LOL). Later on, the joy came from conquering various beautiful pieces. Today, I absolutely love teaching: I think that I have finally found my true calling, and there’s no greater joy than the happiness in my students’ eyes as they learn how to play with freedom, artistry and inspiration.
Do you have a favorite experience that involves the piano?
There are so many of them! Most of my life experiences involve the piano – so I think I will actually share a funny story that involves the piano AND another instrument: the cymbal! Yep - that round brass percussion instrument!
After graduation, I worked in a symphony orchestra for 7 years (as the piano soloist of our country’s National Radio Orchestra). We used to tour a lot. So it’s 2008, we are in South Korea, and we are missing one percussionist for the next concert: there are a couple of pieces that require two players, and we only have one!
The conductor is frantic: somebody needs to play the cymbal, but everyone’s busy with their own parts. He has an idea: he calls me aside, and asks me if my piano part would allow me to ‘hit the cymbal’ in certain spots.
One year later, mom and dad decided to ‘enroll’ me in a professional musical lyceum (a Russian-style specialized school where children study lots of musical subjects on top of the usual ones, with the purpose of becoming professional musicians). During the auditions, the examiners tested my hearing and sense of rhythm, and then they looked at the shape of my hands: “We recommend that you choose violin as your ‘specialty’!” – they suggested. I had other plans, however: “Piano or nothing!” I said, and so it began.
It’s funny, but that toy is the earliest ‘piano inspiration’ that I can remember… later on, as I began to explore the magical world of sounds, I found new sources of inspiration every day: a beautiful piece assigned by my piano teacher; listening to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition during my grade 3 Music Literature class; the majestic sounds of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 coming from the stage of our Philharmonic Hall… and this list could go on and on!
I am excited to give it a go - tours can get quite monotonous after a while, and new experiences are always welcome! We test it during rehearsal: I place the two scores on my piano stand (the piano part and the cymbal one); the cymbal and mallet are next to me; I follow both parts with my eyes, and ‘hit the cymbal’ whenever necessary (while trying not to sacrifice the piano part too much). I am having an absolute blast! :)
I don’t think I ever had so much fun in my entire life - and the concert went really well too! At the end, many people came behind the stage for an autograph from the pianist/percussionist... ‘Hitting the cymbal’ proved to be more engaging for the audience than a virtuosic piano piece! haha
Picture taken after that concert by one of my friends (I wanted to have a memory of that unusual experience!)
If you teach piano, what has been your most memorable teaching experience? Since 2012, I teach online. I record tutorials and courses for our members at PianoCareerAcademy.com – and I do my absolute best to share everything I learned from my own teachers (in a super-detailed manner, with cameras covering every angle of my arms and the keyboard). However, my students are many thousands of miles away, and I cannot physically ‘mold’ their hand shape, or help them to relax their shoulders or wrists (as teachers do in our part of the world).
Therefore, I have a ‘memorable experience’ each time I see my students implement all the things I teach – even without the ‘hands-on’ approach! They might be in Arizona, or Beijing, or Paris, or Rio de Janeiro… and yet they play freely and expressively, with a beautiful singing tone, by implementing ‘black-belt’ secrets of the Russian piano school that are usually only ‘disclosed’ in Conservatories: this gives me joy and purpose, and it is memorable each and every time!
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not playing piano? Reading, hiking, working out, traveling, photography - these are my biggest hobbies! :)
What do you/or have you done for a living? It’s simple - piano! Since 2012, I dedicate my entire time to Piano Career Academy - an online Piano Coaching Program where I share the professional principles of the Russian piano school via detailed video courses and tutorials. In the past I have taught piano at our Conservatory (the Academy of Music, Theater and Fine Arts from Chisinau), I worked in the orchestra, and I also had a couple of part-time jobs when I was very young (to supplement my income): I was a DJ and technician at a radio station, and I also worked as an English/Romanian/Russian interpreter for a couple of years (I’m passionate about languages as well).
Where do you live? For the most part, I live in Chisinau - the capital of the Republic of Moldova. Moldova is a small European country that was a part of the Soviet Union until 1991 (that’s why our musical education is based on the Russian tradition).
However, my husband and I travel a lot - and we consider ourselves ‘citizens of the Earth’ :). Because I work online, I have students from all over the world as well!
Learn more by visiting PianoCareerAcademy.com
Pianist and piano teacher
Founder of PianoCareerAcademy.com