Musikal Journeys: The Story of Marina Obukovsky
It's sort of strange to say, but I've been admiring Marina Obukovksy as a teacher since I was six years old. She was my brother's teacher, and I will never forget watching them at a lesson once, sensing her attention to detail and unmistakable conviction: Everything she said mattered. She meant every word and every word was meant to be taken seriously by the student and the parent who sat beside, vigorously scribbling notes. They knew that every detail would matter later on and nothing would go unnoticed by their devoted, meticulous teacher. But there was also a thread of lightness carried by the occasional smile or laugh, an encouraging feeling that seemed to say: if you work hard, I know you can achieve anything.
Marina's gift for teaching was reflected in her studio recitals. Each and every student played perfectly, flawlessly, confidently. Her studio retention rate was 100%, nobody left, everybody thrived. And my brother, a business owner now, remains to this day a gorgeous piano player. His sense of tone, nuance, and depth exists long after he's stopped attending lessons with "Ms. Marina," as she was affectionately known in our house. When my family is united over the holidays and my brother sits down to play, I always pause to marvel at his sound -- that elusive, magical quality every musician and teacher seek. Ms. Marina makes it possible for students to manifest their highest musical selves - the greatest gift a child could ever be given (in my opinion!).
Eighteen years later when I became a teacher myself I called her right away for advice and listened to everything she said. "Go to Mary Craig Powell and watch everything she does. She's the best." So I went to Ohio, and observed, learned and executed in my own studio upon returning home. After that, as my appetite for phenomenal music pedagogy grew, I was lucky enough to enjoy a few Skype sessions in which I could "pick her brain" about how she achieved her results (technique, philosophy, methods, tricks). I regarded her comments as secrets to be guarded with my life, and took this notebook with me by suitcase when I relocated to Europe, (not in the shipping container with almost everything else I owned).
So, naturally, when we started Musikal Husky, Marina Obukovsky was involved. She looked at our drafts of the Rhythm Keeper when they were in pitiful shape and helped guide us toward the book it is today, offering her signature mix of constructive commentary and warmth. It is a true pleasure for us to share HER Musikal Journey with our community. We hope you enjoy it.
-Samantha Steitz, MH co-founder
Just as teachers shape technique, so does life shape teachers. Ms. Obukovksy's musical heritage not only includes wisdom gained from years of tutelage under Ukraine's finest, but also from her Musikal Journey from Kharkov to New York City, a journey filled with dedication, determination, and inspiration which she faithfully passes on to future generations of pianists.
Just as teachers shape technique, so does life shape teachers, and it's our pleasure to share Marina's journey with you as an expression of thanks to the outstanding mentor who has helped shape the pedagogical backbone here at Musikal Husky.
Where were you born?
I was born in Ukraine, in a city called Kharkov. It’s formerly the country’s second largest city, known as a cultural and industrial center with many colleges, universities and industrial institutions.
Where do you live?
I have lived and worked in New York City since 1993. Coming to America as refugees, it was not easy for my family to change continents, languages, mentality, and sacrifice prestigious jobs. But living in the oppressive climate of former Soviet Union was no longer an option and we’ve never regretted our decision to come to America, the land of freedom. On the contrary, despite all negative warnings from my relatives about lack of jobs for musicians in America, I never gave up on my dreams and made my successful musical career, even having started from scratch.
I am a pianist and teacher, currently working at two wonderful schools in NYC. In addition to my roles as Suzuki Piano Teacher Trainer and Head of the Piano Department at the School for Strings, I’m a member of the Prep Faculty of Mannes College of Music, which is part of New School University.
Every journey has a beginning. When did your musical journey with piano begin?
My musical journey started at the age of five when the music teacher at kindergarten suggested to my parents to start my music education. When I was six years old, my grandma gave me a piano, which was a big deal in Ukraine. Our neighbor was a well- known vocal professor who recommended starting lessons at the pedagogy school within Kharkov Conservatory, where conservatory students polish their skills as teachers. (Interesting Life Circle: now I am a director of a similar program called Start-Up Program at the School for Strings, where my teacher trainees are teaching students during the second year of the seminar.) I was at that school for 2 years, succeeding with accelerated speed, until my parents decided to apply for a good music school in our neighborhood. As expected, after two years spent with young teachers, my technique needed lots of “reconstructing.” It later helped me realize the utmost importance of the initial learning period and starting under the tutelage of an excellent, experienced teacher.
Did your journey have any unexpected turns or interruptions?
Yes, my journey had unexpected interruptions. The Russian system of music education is a bit different from European and American systems. We have to decide on our choice of profession very early. After 8th grade, I was accepted to Kharkov Music College (Uchilizhe), where I studied for four years (earning a BM equivalent.) Then my next step was going to be conservatory, where students study for five years (a MM equivalent.)
Graduating from Kharkov Music College with highest honors and cum laude, I was not prepared for a turn at the entrance exams: I was not admitted to Kharkov Conservatory! It was hard for me both to comprehend and to accept, but it made me stronger and more resilient. The following year I decided to apply to Moscow Gnesin's Institute of Music (currently The Gnesin's Academy of Music.) Even though I didn't get in, the year of preparation and lessons and masterclasses with fantastic teachers from the institute, like Professor Vera Nosina and Igor Nikonovich, shaped me as a musician. After being admitted to Kharkov Conservatory at the beginning of the third year, I won a lottery ticket: I was going to study with the amazing teacher Professor Tatyana Verkina, now National Artist of Ukraine.
Who or what has been your greatest source of inspiration and motivation?
My greatest sources of inspiration were teachers, my parents, traveling and books. And of course, music itself. A few teachers in America who made a huge influence on me as a musician and a teacher are Sheila Keats, former Head of Piano Department at the SFS, and creator of piano Suzuki Method at the SFS, and Mary Craig Powell, an amazing Suzuki teacher from Columbus, Ohio and the head of the Suzuki movement in US. Both were big personalities and amazing musicians/pedagogues.
Life as both a teacher and sought after clinician can at times be quite demanding. How do you foster balance in your life?
That’s a hard question... With age comes more wisdom. Before I could work endlessly, without days off. Now I’m concentrated on preserving myself. Travel is the best therapy for me. Time with family and friends, going to the theater, to the movies, or reading a good book. Sometimes just doing nothing and sleeping. One needs to recharge their batteries!!
You’re not only a teacher but also a performer. How do you prioritize under these dual roles?
I performed more in Ukraine and in the beginning of my American saga. Now I am 90% teacher, and 10% performer, performing mostly with colleagues and friends at faculty recitals at various institutes and festivals. Both roles are very important as they help inform each other and create balance in a musician's life. I truly miss playing and performing and am looking forward to doing more of it in the near future!
What are your top three must-haves while on the road? Include Amazon links if possible!
A good book, good music and water. Oh, and of course, my cell phone. :-)
What would you be if you weren’t a pianist?
Hmm... I’ve always liked to teach. As a child I created an imaginary school, kept a journal of students and played homework with them. Had I not gone into music, I would have been a language teacher. Also, looking at my love for traveling, I could have been a good travel agent!
How do you best prepare before going on stage? Can you share any tips on how to clear your head? Do you have any greenroom mantras?
Meditation, breathing, and visualization.
What do you know now that you wish you had known during your first years of musical education?
One’s first teacher is crucial. Only the best teachers should teach beginners.
How do you reward yourself after a tough practice session/rehearsal/performance/busy week full of lessons?
Good food, travel, going to some cultural events, or just catching up on some sleep. :-)
Since Musikal Husky's first product is the Rhythm Keeper, what's one piece of "rhythmic" advice you've gained along your musical journey and believe in passing along to your students?
Rhythm is a backbone of the music and must be felt physically. It should also be practiced separately at the beginning stages. I am very happy the Rhythm Keeper is on the market. My heartfelt congratulations to Samantha and Steve!
Composer: Bach, Mozart, Schumann
Opera: I love all operas, but especially those by Verdi and Tchaikovsky
Restaurant: Any place with good food
Scent: Pleasant ones that aren’t too sweet.
Vacation spot: Europe and the Caribbean :-)