If you ask me how I became a professional musician, I don’t even know how to answer. I remember myself singing as long as I can remember! Period.
The country in which I grew up had developed a unique system of music and art education. It included the chain of subsidized music schools of different levels. The Music Schools were for children ages five to seven and fourteen to sixteen. The next step was the Music Colleges where young people could finish their high school along with serious professional music training. The last and the most honorable and incredibly difficult step is the Music Conservatory or Music Academy for those who successfully graduated from the Music College and survived entry exams. The exams usually last for a month and have anything from five to twenty five young musicians to compete for one spot. All conservatories (which are not located in every major city, but only a few of them) have also a boarding music schools for exceptionally gifted children ages seven to seventeen.
To become a professional in music, you had to survive years of the tough competition. In the mid-1960’s, when my music career had began, there were not enough of Primary Music Schools for children who wanted to study music. So the selection process for advancement on music was not very friendly. Only children with natural music abilities would be accepted.
My grandmother dreamt of becoming a singer, but The World War I happened and put an end to her dreams. She bought a piano for her three daughters and then came World War II. Grandmother was a very focused woman and continued to pursue music for my family. I was four when she bought a piano for me. I don’t think I even had a choice to become anything other than a musician, so when I was accepted to the Children Music School my career began.
It was very natural for me to study music, because I loved to sing, I could pick up melodies by ear and compose my own music. It doesn’t mean though, that it was easy. Children Music Schools have their curriculum; twice a week piano classes with a teacher, once a week theory of music and solfeggio (singing sight reading), once a week choir, once a week history of music and music literature. The recitals happened four to five times during school year and every semester you have to go over twelve to fourteen different pieces. The music selections designated for recitals had to be memorized. Music Colleges and Music Conservatories also have their academic programs and you must graduate with four majors: solo performance, accompaniment, chamber ensemble and piano pedagogy (teaching). You can not choose one or two. You have to do all four.
I received my Baccalaureate Degree from Zaporozhye State Music College in my home town in Ukraine and my Masters Degree from Kiev National Music Academy in Ukraine. Both degrees are in piano performance, accompaniment, chamber ensemble and piano pedagogy. My teaching career began at the age of seventeen. As college students, we were required to complete a professional teacher training. I was a student of the Music Academy and required to do a teaching internship for three years out of five.
However, the real experience of teaching usually starts after graduation, when you get accepted as a teacher into a music school, get a class of twelve to sixteen students and become responsible for the success of their seven to eight years of music training. There were also older and more experienced colleagues and you learn to teach from them by carefully observing their techniques.