Irina Yanovskaya is a classical guitarist and teacher who is involved with the Suzuki and Pre-College Guitar Program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Originally from Ukraine, she moved to Milwaukee in 1996 and has been teaching for 25 years.
ME: My first question that I ask everyone is a simple one: how did you get involved with Wisconsin Music Ventures?
IRINA: I was introduced to Allison by a mutual friend. She thought that it would be a good match because we’re both musicians and community-minded kind of people, so that’s how it happened.
ME: Very nice. I met her through Facebook (laughs).
ME: So I was looking at your Facebook page and the programs you do. Tell me about the Suzuki Guitar Program.
IRINA: Currently I’m working at the Suzuki & Pre-College Guitar Program at UWM, and this program is geared toward students age 5-18 and it’s set up to give students skills to be versatile in any style they choose. Suzuki is a great way to teach very young kids; it requires a lot of parent involvement, and if kids start early on then they won’t remember that the instrument was ever not part of their life. It becomes an every day thing, like dinner or brushing your teeth.
ME: Sounds like a very engaging program!
ME: What’s your favorite thing about winter?
IRINA: I have a New Year’s celebration, first of all; it’s a big thing for us. It usually involves a gathering of family and friends and we have a feast. I really look forward to that every year. I also love to go cross country skiing in the forest, where you can only hear your ski and the snow falling down.
ME: I’ve never skied before.
IRINA: I’m very clumsy at this. I’m really just there to take in nature (laughs).
ME: My partner and I went up north to a cabin this past week and there were skiers and snowmobilers everywhere. We were just trying to figure out the snowshoes (laughs).
ME: What exactly do you mean by “classical guitarist”?
IRINA: Well, classical guitar is an instrument of 500-600 years and has acquired a lot of great music through the ages. Sometimes when people think “classical” they ask if I mean that I play the music of dead composers, and yeah, I do (laughs). But I also play the music of composers that are creating music specifically for classical guitar. It uses fingers rather than the pick and nylon strings.
ME: I got you. Do you write your own music?
IRINA: I do not. At least I’m not doing it formally, like writing anything down. I do a little improvisation here and there.
ME: Sure, well a little improvisation sometimes never hurt.
ME: My last question is, what are you working on now? I’d love to hear your goals for 2022.
IRINA: I consider myself extremely lucky because classical guitar does not require orchestra or any specific situation; I can play anywhere by myself, which is very valuable right now. I’m lucky that I can teach in person. On February 18th I’m going to perform at the Wilson Center with my partner, mandolin virtuoso Misha Litvin, and we’re going to present a very versatile program of 19th Century music, contemporary music, and Russian folk tunes. You name it; everyone will find something to like.