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Tanya IrwinTanya's Story


Ut (Do) que-ant la-xis, (Re)-so-na-re fi-bris, (Mi)-ra ges-to-rum,
(Fa)-mu-li tu-o-rum, (Sol)-ve pol-lu ti, (La)-bi-I re-a-tum,
Sanc (Si)-te Jo-han-nes. So that your servants may,
with loosened voices, resound the wonders of your deeds,
clean the guilt from our stained lips, O Saint John.

I was born and raised in Russia, in the city of Ekaterinburg, a capital of the Urals. The city was named after St. Ekaterina. It’s a famous historical city, home to the tsar family.

I grew up surrounded by the rich cultural and musical inheritance of Russia. I remember how much people loved music and how much they loved to sing. Children’s conservatories were a common part of the landscape. Parents wanted their children to study music even if the children didn’t choose a musical profession.

Hunger for knowledge was in the air. Reading was children’s favorite activity - and it was always classical literature. Many people, including myself, considered reading as natural as breathing: to read meant to breathe. By the age of 7, I had already read our entire home library of children’s literature and I had to start using our local library: it became my favorite place to spend time after school. By the age of 9, I had discovered a wonderful world of foreign literature: Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, and many others.

When I was 9 my parents enrolled me in a music conservatory for children. I attended 4 days a week for a total of 6 or 7 hours altogether. This was my favorite time of all. I couldn’t wait until the regular school day was over so I could go to music school. My most precious childhood memories are those of studying at the music conservatory. I still consider this to be the greatest gift of my life. Learning music remains the most fascinating educational experience I’ve had.

Santa Barbara NatureWhat differentiates the Russian style of teaching music from others is that it is always enjoyable and extremely inspiring, whether it is taught to children or young adults. It is never boring, but always creative and imaginative.

The musical material, such as music theory, is delivered to students with precise and clear expression of thoughts. The professional approach implies the concept of “wholeness”. This means that if a student studies violin, he or she is required to take music theory, solfege, music appreciation, choir, as well as piano, because music theory concepts are taught on the piano. It’s not possible to learn physics and chemistry without knowing math: in the same way, it’s not possible to play the violin without knowing music theory because it is the foundation of music education.

When I was 13 I followed my heart and the advice of my teachers and chose a musical profession. After graduating from high school, I was accepted into the Tchaikovsky Academy of Music, in my home town of Ekaterinburg. I majored in piano performance, music science, composition, and pedagogy. After graduation, I taught music at the Children’s School of Music.

In 1996, I moved to the United States. I became a member of the Music Teachers’ Association in Santa Barbara, a professional association for music teachers. I teach piano, music theory, solfege, as well as art and music appreciation. I have developed an early childhood musical methodology that creates a nurturing musical atmosphere for young children.

Santa Barbara NatureIdeally, children should be exposed to a musical environment from birth, or even better during the prenatal period. Listening to classical music helps to build neuropaths and stimulate brain activities. I recommend that children listen to certain types of classical music throughout the day as background music. They get the maximum benefit from the music when they listen during the alpha state.

Some types of music – hard rock, rap and others - can have an adverse effect on brain development. They can penetrate the human soul, heart, and mind and leave behind negative influences. Children are more susceptible to this than adults. These kinds of music have low vibrational frequencies that can have a hypnotic, numbing effect like some forms of media.

What is classical music? “The word “classics” is derived from the Latin adjective “classicus” meaning “belonging to the highest class of citizens”, characterized by lasting interest or significance, and serving as a model or exemplar.” Whether it is classical literature or music, it is related to “classicus” scriptor or composer, non proletarius (“a distinguished, not a commonplace writer or composer”). Musical masterpieces often became “classical” several years after the death of the composer. Only true art was accepted by the following generations, the art of music that reflects beauty.

Classical music started as a form of folk music. It has always existed. It is eternal, because true art never dies. Classical music represents true beauty, intelligence and is a model for every other form of music.

Santa Barbara NatureThe earliest form of a written manuscript of classical music was the Gregorian Chant. Before that time people memorized music and passed it down to the next generation by word of mouth.

In the first half of the eleventh century, an Italian musician and musical theorist, Guido d’Arezzo, invented a universally recognized system of musical notation. To teach the new system, Guido employed a hymn composed in the latter part of the eighth century, in honor of Saint John the Baptist. The musical syllables are derived from Latin. Their melodic quality is pleasant to the ear; and therefore, particularly well-suited for the melody. d’Arezzo’s system of notation has always been the universal language of music.

When children learn to enjoy and appreciate art and music, they bring beauty into their lives. I teach art and music appreciation lessons by telling fascinating stories about composers and painters while the children listen to classical music. Listening to music is a vital part of music education. This class fosters a lifelong love of music.

Music affects a child’s intellectual development. However, there are “windows of opportunities” where music is most influential. The younger children are, the easier it is for them to accept, comprehend and love classical masterpieces. I see a parallel between reading comprehension and listening to classical music. Just as it takes many years to develop a high level of reading comprehension, it takes years to comprehend the complexity of classical music and appreciate its beauty.

Santa Barbara NatureGreat composers and their masterpieces have always been a mystery to me and a source of my inspiration. It seems to me that these beautiful compositions, these gems, could not have been created by humans, but by super-humans or gods. We owe reverence to these people. I believe their lives and musical compositions should be a part of every educational curriculum. Plato said: “Music is a more potent instrument than any other form of education. Children should be taught music before anything.”

I teach music at a professional level. This means that if students decide later to choose music as a profession, they have the correct foundation. I use a detailed approach to piano technique. It includes beauty of tone, articulation, pronunciation, breathing, and phrasing. The main quality of Russian classical musical education is that learning is always enjoyable; music is always taught from a concept of “wholeness”. I teach my students the same way.

I feel privileged to be able to comprehend and appreciate the beauty of classical music. I admire famous concert pianists such as Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Ashkenazy and many others. When I listen to classical music, whether it is Gregorian chant, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Grieg, Ravel, or Debussy, I lose track of time. Each piece of music comes to me as a mental image, a picture with lots of details and colors. A musical composition tells me a story: listening to music is like reading a book.

I am inspired when I listen to classical music, and when I perform it. I love children; I love music; and I’m passionate about teaching music to children.

I know how fortunate I am that my work matches my interests and my heart’s desire and that it brings me great fulfillment. Music is my love, my heart, my soul. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t chosen music as my profession.

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