by Freja Rydell, Gy 1
Sergei Reznikov is a piano teacher. Born in Russia and now living in Stockholm, he shares his views on music and music education from different perspectives.
Vilks Rydell: Why did you start playing the piano?
Reznikov: I was inspired by my mum who also is a pianist, and I started playing when I was six years old, which was a very common age to start playing an instrument in Russia. My mum wanted me to go to the best music school in Russia, which was and still is the Music Conservatory in Moscow. You had to be able to play quite well before you could even audition, so my mum spent lots of time teaching me. The years I spent at the Conservatory was definitely the best of my life.
Vilks Rydell: What profession did you want to have when you were young?
Reznikov: I knew I wanted to become a musician, just like 95% of the students at my school. At first I dreamed about being a concert pianist. It was the same education for both solo playing and teaching, which is logical since you have to fully master your instrument in order to be able to teach. Many educated soloists were teaching at the conservatory when they didn’t have concerts. But since there were more teaching jobs available in Moscow, I eventually decided to start teaching.
Vilks Rydell: Why did you move to Sweden and start working at Lilla Akademien? What was it like?
Reznikov: I moved here in 1997 for family reasons, and it was on Valentine’s Day actually. The school needed more piano teachers since the school was expanding. I applied for the job and got approved after playing in front of Nina Balabina and the other teachers. After a probationary period, with only one student, I gained permanent employment. I couldn’t speak a word of Swedish, but since my student was from Australia we spoke English. Learning Swedish by reading the newspaper Metrowith a dictionary in my hand, after three years I started talking Swedish with my students. I’m glad I moved here since I’ve been able to see music from a new perspective.
Vilks Rydell: Is there a big difference between Lilla Akademien and the Moscow Conservatory?
Reznikov: The concept of this school is actually based on the concept of the Moscow Conservatory. The idea is to have primary school and a music school combined under the same roof. There are only 17 young musicians who get elected yearly to the Conservatory, and some also get hand picked outside of Moscow by the professors. When you are in fourth and eighth grade you have an examination on your first instrument before all the masters, and if you fail you will most likely get kicked out of school. I remember this made me feel nervous attending fourth and eighth grade, doubting if I was good enough. The system might sound a bit harsh, but you got used to it. Of course in Swedish schools, that’s not an option… but I think it is a little too soft here in Sweden.
Vilks Rydell: Do you like teaching?
Reznikov: I really enjoy working as a teacher here. Every day is surprisingly unique and I get to be creative all the time. There’s no routine, no repetition – it’s a living process, which I find to be most interesting. It’s never boring and I also learn and discover new things.
Vilks Rydell: Have you participated in any competitions? Are you playing concerts as well?
Reznikov: I won a few prizes in international contests when I was younger. I remember hoping I would win money, since it was so expensive to travel from The Soviet Union to Europe. Once in a while concerts came up and I most often gladly accept the offer to play. Last year some old friends from Moscow called and told me they were having a reunion concert with old students. Being back at the Conservatory after so many years brought back lots of good memories.
Vilks Rydell: How much do you practice? Do you only play classical music?
Reznikov: I usually practice three hours every day. I used to play eight hours per day before, although when I moved here I didn’t have as much time. But of course I practice more if I have a concert coming up. Still the piano never seems to be too far away. Most of the time I play classical music, but I enjoy film music as well.
Vilks Rydell: What does music mean to you?
Reznikov: I really adore music and it plays an important role in my life. I remember my daughter asking me, when she was ten years old, what I would choose if I had to choose between her or music. I just laughed and said that I am no monster, that I would rather live without music. Some dedicate their whole life to music, but to me that seems boring because there is more to life. I mean, our experiences and everything we do influences us and affects our understanding of music. Therefore, to become a great musician I think you need to do lots of non-music related things in life as well.
Vilks Rydell: Do you compose?
Reznikov: Once I tried to compose but it did not go very well, even though I took lessons with a composer for eleven years. You have to have a desire to compose and unfortunately I did not. I know the piano and I’ve got technique, but I can’t create pieces of my own other than short pieces for my kids to play. Arranging however, I’m quite capable of. Arranging is like translating. You change the text creatively in order to make the sound you want, and that I think is unique shaping itself. Friends have asked to borrow my transcriptions for concerts and I have been invited to play my own arrangement of a piece in Karlskrona next year.
Vilks Rydell: Do you have a favourite composer, and if so, what makes their music so great?
Reznikov: Most people like Chopin the most. There are many great composers, but my favourite is Liszt. I see him as the greatest and most virtuoso through all times. His music is just so fascinating and and wondrous. If you ask me, Liszt and Chopin are a bit like cats and dogs… But of course I like Chopin too.
Vilks Rydell: Do you have any tips for students who want to become musicians?
Reznikov: Practice now – chill when you’re 30. That’s what I did and I think it worked out fine. Rubinstein was once asked that same question, and he answered that you should practice as little as possible. However that was in Poland where musicians spent their entire life practicing. But as a child you also mustn’t forget to also go out and play and not only practise. Otherwise you will limit yourself and not develop your playing. Children aren’t supposed to play perfectly. If they feel pressured into playing amazingly, they will most certainly not play with passion and empathy. They will just wait for the concerts to be over. Therefore you have to teach playfully.
Playing an instrument is not about moving your fingers in the right way, it is about having an idea of the piece and conveying feelings. You should play because you want to, with joy and love, not because you have to. If you enjoy playing, it will certainly show. The music has to affect you emotionally. Practising scales doesn’t help unless you play them with movement and thought. Every piece of music has its own story. My way of teaching starts with emotions, while theory and technique develop along the way, beginning with the whole and eventually moving on to the details.
Once I did a test in which I had to perform in front of some teachers, and I made one mistake and was completely devastated. However I received good grades and I thought they had failed to notice my mistake. Later they told me that you didn’t have to play impeccably. If you only focus on playing flawlessly, you might miss what the piece is all about.