I come from a very small town in a country of 3 million population, Moldova. My parents moved there from Russian Siberia to work as engineers at a cement factory when I was 2. Moldova became my country and I learned Moldovan or, Romanian, along with Russian. From the very early age I knew that people use different systems (languages) to describe the same things; you can use any of them, switch in between or even mix them up. That’s how the language works in Moldova to the present day. As a child I was exposed to music and singing, but mostly popular and folk music: Moldovan people love folk music and play it all the time. Every Saturday night of the wedding season the air of our little town was filled with several competing bands with singers as several wedding celebrations could proceed simultaneously. At the same time, the Soviet education system made sure that all the children in the day care centers and schools receive group music lessons, some combined with the movement, especially in younger ages, but mostly based on singing. We did not have music instruments, orchestras or instrument lessons in the public school but children who showed talent were encouraged to go to the 7-year music school that functioned after school hours. Many of my playground friends a year or two older went to the music school. So I wanted, too. We had a piano at home. However, my mom thought that I didn’t really display a musical talent or a beautiful voice nor other qualities like patience to follow directions or practice piano, so she decided not to encourage me to go to the music school. The decision was strengthened by her prior traumatic experience with my older sister who didn’t like piano lessons and resisted the practice.
One day, my parents were busy, and I decided to go and enroll myself into the music school. I walked about 30 minutes to the other end of the town and presented myself at the director’s office. He tested my skills (I only vaguely remember that), introduced me to my first-to-be piano teacher Sara Akopovna, and they both agreed that I can go to the school but my parents need to show up and give consent. They also had to pay a symbolic fee: the schools in the Soviet Union were subsidized by the government and were very inexpensive at that time.
I think the courageous act of trying to enroll myself into the music school at age 5 left my parents quite impressed, and they agreed to let me do it, with the condition that I am on my own for my practicing, schedule and homework. Of course, once in a while my mom would ask me to play something and then say, “I don’t think you’ve practiced enough this time” or “you didn’t play with the soul.” The last one was driving me crazy. I wanted to scream: “What is this soul that you keep talking about? How do you know I play without the soul? Maybe I don’t? Show it to me!” In any case, I have to be honest, I practiced very little because I was not challenged much and I could learn things fairly quickly. In a way, I’m glad that I had a normal childhood and didn’t spend hours at the piano. I actually played a lot in nature, explored my surroundings, climbed on the roofs of tall buildings, swam across the Dniester river, met friends, read books and did fun things. Only when I decided to go to a special high school program for music, I found out that I needed to practice 3 hours a day as a minimum and learn a whole world of things about music that I had no idea existed. The hard work began but at every step I had kind teachers and mentors directing and supporting me, for what I am grateful. Every stage was a success, with some mishaps, except I was learning clearer and clearer that I was way too behind of many piano students of my age and it was likely I wouldn’t be competitive enough with them. So I kept working, and months and years of hard work fused together and brought me as a Masters degree student to Bowling Green State University, where I met the friendliest musicians who helped me believe in myself and open up my potential. After that, I worked on my Doctorate in Piano Performance and Pedagogy at the University of Michigan and got my first and current job straight from school. That was probably lucky, and the job at NC State University was in many way a good fit for my experience, interests and potential. Today I still work hard but also enjoy a balanced life and a balanced career of teaching, performing, researching, sharing my experience and mentoring my students. It probably took me a long way from the small town in Moldova but my passion for music and my curiosity somehow made the journey seamless.