Society Magazine - - Contents - By Katya Hvass

Yana Slavkova, a tal­ented pi­ano player and teacher, tells us about what it takes to be­come an ac­com­plished mu­si­cian and guides us through the op­por­tu­ni­ties for clas­si­cal mu­sic en­joy­ment avail­able in Doha

Atal­ented pi­ano player and teacher, Jana Slavkova’s in­ten­sive mu­sic train­ing in­cluded the Mu­sic School as a child for 12 years, fol­lowed by BA and MA de­grees from State Academy of Mu­sic in Sofia, Bul­garia. In a freewheeling in­ter­view with So­ci­ety, Yana tells us about what it takes to be­come an ac­com­plished mu­si­cian and guides us through the op­por­tu­ni­ties for clas­si­cal mu­sic en­joy­ment avail­able in Doha.

yana slavkova, a tal­ented pi­ano player and teacher, tells us about what it takes to be­come an ac­com­plished mu­si­cian and guides us through the op­por­tu­ni­ties for clas­si­cal mu­sic en­joy­ment avail­able in Doha

As Yana is sit­ting across the ta­ble from me and talk­ing about her favourite sub­ject -clas­si­cal mu­sic - her deep thought­ful eyes are ra­di­ant with a beau­ti­ful light. Her hands of a pro­fes­sional pi­ano player are very ex­pres­sive too, with her ges­tures conveying great en­ergy and pas­sion, while we speak.

yana’s mu­sic jour­ney

As a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian, flute per­former and con­duc­tor, Yana’s mother had high am­bi­tions for her daugh­ter. At the age of 3.5 and af­ter going through a vig­or­ous se­lec­tion pro­ce­dure, Yana com­menced her stud­ies at a Chil­dren’s Mu­sic School in Bul­garia. The cur­ricu­lum in­cluded var­i­ous mu­sic dis­ci­plines such as pi­ano, solfeg­gio, singing and long hours of daily prac­tice that in­creased with each year of study.

“Through movies, etc., peo­ple are of­ten fa­mil­iar with a de­mand­ing rou­tine of bal­let schools, but pro­fes­sional mu­sic schools can be just as all-con­sum­ing - with very strict teach­ing meth­ods aimed at achiev­ing the high­est stan­dard,” says Yana. Ev­ery piece is learned by heart ev­ery time. Ac­cord­ing to Yana, when a char­ac­ter in a movie just sits at a pi­ano and starts play­ing - this is a mis­con­cep­tion that has lit­tle con­nec­tion to real life. “Even Mozart had to prac­tise,” she smiles, “and his ge­nius was truly unique.”

It is not an easy life ei­ther; a lot of hard work, strict fo­cus and ded­i­ca­tion with eval­u­a­tion are sine qua non on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. The high lev­els of stress and break­downs are not un­known among mu­si­cians. Yana ex­pe­ri­enced that too; her mom’s guid­ance helped her to re­main on track, but it was also some­thing deep in­side her­self that kept her going. In

Yana’s own words, “My every­day prac­tice and step-by-step ac­com­plish­ments made me feel spe­cial – as well as learn­ing to un­der­stand how mu­sic re­ally works, not only tech­ni­cally, but aes­thet­i­cally. There was also the know­ing that I have this thing in my life, which is my own, and that I am not sim­ply ex­ist­ing - eat­ing, sleep­ing. It pro­vided me with a strong sense of a path, a di­rec­tion.”

There is a com­mon per­cep­tion that play­ing mu­sic is sup­posed to be “fun”. The truth is that the skill of a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian grows from a long stage of phys­i­cal prepa­ra­tion and train­ing when a level of tech­ni­cal ex­cel­lence must be achieved be­fore the ex­pres­sive emo­tional qual­ity starts to emerge.

At the same time, mu­sic train­ing presents a pre­cious op­por­tu­nity to get to know our own emo­tions. “We start with the ba­sic du­al­ity of emo­tion, es­pe­cially with young chil­dren,” ex­plains Yana. “By ask­ing a child “Does this make you feel happy or sad?” As train­ing pro­gresses the emo­tional nu­ances grad­u­ally be­come more com­plex.”

For Yana, clas­si­cal mu­sic is her life, and she can’t imag­ine her­self with­out it: “There is noth­ing else in the world that can make me feel the same way as I do, when I am in touch with it. Each time, I am re­as­sured that I am not just locked in the body or my own self, that there is more to life than our tem­po­rary ex­is­tence.”

Teach­ing mu­sic

Yana has been teach­ing pi­ano and mu­sic the­ory to chil­dren and adults in Doha since 2004. In her opin­ion, “stu­dents who in­clude mu­sic in their ed­u­ca­tion are spe­cial; it shows a level of self­dis­ci­pline and fo­cus in ded­i­cat­ing time and other re­sources to the process. The road is more im­por­tant than achiev­ing a par­tic­u­lar re­sult. Fun is also good, but it has to be bal­anced. The en­joy­ment of­ten comes through the sense of ac­com­plish­ment and sat­is­fac­tion of a long-term com­mit­ment.”

Mu­sic study has been an im­por­tant part of ed­u­ca­tion in Europe for many cen­turies. Al­though in mod­ern times clas­si­cal mu­sic is of­ten over­shad­owed by other, more pop­u­lar styles, mil­lions of peo­ple from all over the world love and ap­pre­ci­ate it greatly. There are many par­ents that still choose to in­tro­duce their chil­dren to a clas­si­cal in­stru­ment. No stu­dent is the same – they all come to Yana for dif­fer­ent rea­sons and with dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions to­wards the course of study.

Some stu­dents con­cen­trate too much on the tech­ni­cal skill and have to be re­minded of what it is all truly about - the beauty and the en­joy­ment of mu­sic. A pres­sure and un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions from par­ents can some­times be­come a chal­lenge. Al­though many stu­dents take up an in­stru­ment to broaden their ed­u­ca­tional CV and im­prove the chances of en­ter­ing a more pres­ti­gious univer­sity, Yana does her best to en­cour­age them to have a more holis­tic ex­pe­ri­ence – for them­selves.

“What I hope for is that they will al­ways have clas­si­cal mu­sic in their lives. It can be like a safe place they are able to go to any­time, when things go wrong, when they need to be nur­tured and com­forted and to see the sit­u­a­tion form a much big­ger per­spec­tive than them­selves. Mu­sic gives you a way to ex­press your­self, to re­late to oth­ers in a spe­cial and dis­tinc­tive way, not for par­ents’ or a grade’s sake, but for your own sake.”

Yana finds work­ing with adults re­ward­ing too, as many of them have a unique com­mit­ment to the process and en­ter it in a more aware way, which can cre­ate a beau­ti­ful spir­i­tual syn­ergy be­tween the stu­dent and the teacher.

lo­cal mu­sic tra­di­tions

Yana is very in­ter­ested in the Mid­dle Eastern Mu­sic and wrote sev­eral pa­pers on the sub­ject as a part of her stud­ies: “The years I spent in Qatar made me pas­sion­ate about preser­va­tion of tra­di­tional mu­si­cal forms in the Mid­dle East, in par­tic­u­lar the Ara­bian Makam.”

Makam is a tech­nique of im­pro­vi­sa­tion unique to Ara­bian mu­sic con­cept tarab. The word “tarab” means en­chant­ment in Ara­bic and de­scribes the tra­di­tional mu­sic form, in which the lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence causes a pro­found emo­tional trans­for­ma­tion. It evokes a pow­er­ful re­sponse from the lis­ten­ers lead­ing them to be over­come by joy, sad­ness, or even ec­stasy. Each makam is meant to evoke a par­tic­u­lar emo­tion or a set of emo­tions. They have been passed from mem­ory by lis­ten­ing, gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion for many cen­turies. “In Qatar, the ef­fort is made to pre­serve tra­di­tion and to en­cour­age young peo­ple to be proud of their her­itage,” says Yana. “Sadly, this is not al­ways the case in other coun­tries in the Arab world. The tra­di­tional mu­sic forms are of­ten looked upon as old, “qadim” (ar­chaic, old-fash­ioned) and in­fe­rior to the dom­i­neer­ing West­ern styles. Chil­dren are not keen to learn lo­cal in­stru­ments. What we see in the Mid­dle East now has been de­scribed by many mu­sic spe­cial­ists as “a cul­tural catas­tro­phe”. From more than 80, the num­ber of makams has been re­duced to less than 20 to­day. It is heart­break­ing…”

Dis­cov­er­ing clas­si­cal mu­sic in Qatar

West­ern clas­si­cal mu­sic is a con­densed ex­pres­sion of the shared en­ergy, ex­pe­ri­ences and achieve­ments of mil­lions of peo­ple over many cen­turies. We do not all learn to play an in­stru­ment, but lis­ten­ing to it puts us in touch with deep lay­ers of hu­man evo­lu­tion, his­tory, cul­ture and with our own in­ner ex­pe­ri­ences. It is ca­pa­ble of stir­ring and even trans­form­ing our hearts and minds.

Here are Yana’s sug­ges­tions on where to start your ac­quain­tance with it:

Qatar Phil­har­monic Orches­tra (QPO)

QPO is a world-class orches­tra with an in­ter­na­tional team of gifted mu­si­cians and a var­ied pro­gramme of per­for­mances, in­clud­ing lighter pop­u­lar pieces. It per­forms reg­u­larly at many venues around Doha - Qatar Na­tional Con­ven­tion Cen­tre (QNCC), Katara Opera House, Mu­seum of Is­lamic Art (MIA), Qatar Na­tional Li­brary (QNL). www. qatarphil­har­mon­i­corches­tra.org

Qatar Na­tional li­brary (QNl)

The mem­bers of re­cently opened

QNL have ac­cess to nu­mer­ous paper and dig­i­tal re­sources, in­clud­ing books about mu­sic, sheet mu­sic, along­side with Naxos Mu­sic and Video Li­brary -a com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion of clas­si­cal mu­sic with over 170,000 tracks plus a stream­ing video li­brary of clas­si­cal mu­sic per­for­mances, op­eras, bal­lets, live con­certs and doc­u­men­taries It also in­cludes in­for­ma­tion on the dif­fer­ent works with bi­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion on com­posers and artists. www.qnl.qa/en/ex­plore/on­line-re­sources

Qatar Mu­sic academy (QMA)

Opened in 2011, QMA pro­vides mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion to chil­dren in both in West­ern Clas­si­cal and Arab Mu­sic. Some of the QPO mu­si­cians work as mu­sic teach­ers here. QMA has re­cently started to or­gan­ise per­for­mances by their stu­dents, in­clud­ing the Youth Orches­tra and makam mu­sic by the Arab Mu­sic De­part­ment. www.qatar­mu­si­ca­cademy.com.qa

SPOT­LIGHTYana Slavkova, a tal­ented pi­ano player and teacher, tells us about what it takes to be­come an ac­com­plished mu­si­cian and guides us through the op­por­tu­ni­ties for clas­si­cal mu­sic en­joy­ment avail­able in Doha

Yana Slavkova Photo : Firoz Ahmed

Yana Slavkova Photo : Firoz Ahmed

Yana dur­ing her visit to Varanasi in In­dia

kaTya Hvassis a Doha-based writer who loves liv­ing inQatar and has a pas­sion for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, lan­guage and work­ing with words in all its forms – writ­ing, edit­ing, trans­lat­ing, speak­ing – and the shar­ing and con­nect­ing that emerges through it.

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