‘I CAN’T IMAGINE MY LIFE WITHOUT MUSIC’:
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.”
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.