We had the good fortune of connecting with Ivan Shapovalov and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ivan, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I was born in a Russian family in Kazakhstan. At the time, it was a part of the Soviet Union, but when I was 5 years old, it collapsed, and it was quite challenging to live in ruins. It was scary times – rampant criminals, incredible corruption in the government and the police, racism, no jobs, poverty, and insecurity. I remember the time when my mother and I were looking in the window at a robber who was trying to kill our dog and steal things from our yard in the middle of the night. I was about 11 years old. The dog didn’t let anything happen; she protected herself and all of us. No one was hurt, and nothing was stolen, but the experience was frightening. Add to that that we didn’t even have a phone to call the police, and you will get a pretty close picture. We had livestock, so there was a lot of hard work for all of us. Especially “fun” was to balance between school, music school, homework, and working in the garden, or taking care of the livestock and poultry. At the same time, it was one of the happiest periods of my life. After the first part, it sounds absurd, but it is true. Our family was together (now we live in three different countries). I had a lot of friends and enjoyed spending time with them after working in the garden or practicing piano. Now, more than twenty years later, I am still good friends with some of them. We would play all kinds of simple children’s games, which our parents and grandparents had played when they were kids. We used to organize fun street parties with homemade yurts and tents during numerous Russian and Asian holidays. At some point, I joined Sunday school and started singing in the church choir. A long time before that, I was sent to the only music school the village had. The main reason for that was – we happened to have an upright piano at home, and my mom didn’t like that no one was playing on it. I really loved reading a lot. I could read 2-3 books a week, and now I can’t even dream of it! I also liked sports, I played basketball and did karate. So, the time was full of friends, work, and fun liveliness. That type of life – saturated with fun and hard work, bad things and good things, wonderful friends and terrifying criminals, insane social upheaval, a lot of activities and love in the family – all that taught me to work hard, to rest well, and to accept things as they are without trying to change something that can’t be changed. I do not expect things to be perfect and/or go my way all the time. I do try to change them when it is possible, but when it is not, I get the best of it and move forward. I guess I can say that my background and upbringing have given me this credo – “Do the best in any situation without getting upset if it is not perfect.”
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
For a long time, I have been concentrating on growing my business in the traditional field way; teaching in person. March of 2020 changed it drastically. Just like everybody else, music schools and teachers had to choose between losing their business or finding new ways. It wasn’t easy; most of us were not experienced in teaching online. Neither were our students in learning online or their parents in dealing with it. In some cases, it was a real challenge to convince teachers to teach online. It is not usual for most people, but the reality is that some still do not even have cellphones, and things like computers, the internet, video chats, browsers sound very scary for them. I had not realized that until we had to start teaching online. Frankly, I also had my doubts at first. Yet, we had to make it work because everybody lost a vast number of students in basically just a week – from 30% to 90%, according to what I know. A lot of work, learning, and investing was done in a short time – talking to the teachers, convincing parents, buying microphones, devices, software. Following the philosophy “live and learn”, I started looking for courses, webinars, materials, training for teaching online, and on technical and software requirements for that. It is one thing to have all you need, it is another to know how to use it properly and fully. In about 3 months, 50% of students of my class who dropped out earlier came back. In about six months I had more students than before the COVID disaster. After all that, now I feel comfortable training other teachers and doing webinars about online music education. I have trained some teachers internationally, and now we work together. I am not sure what exactly we are doing right, or if we are just lucky or maybe it is just the time features, but we have more new students than ever before. I believe that is because our lessons look and feel different than some others. Unfortunately, there are music teachers and music school owners who still do not realize that online teaching should be equal to “normal’ teaching. They consider it as some kind of “waiting moment” after which everything will go back to normal, and they do not wish to obtain the new but necessary skills. I believe that even when the virus craziness is over, online teaching will still be in demand. There are many benefits to it and more comfort. Some say that it is not the same as traditional education. It may be true if you are not lucky with your teacher or school. But if the teacher/school has a wish and energy not only to teach but also to learn, is ready to invest time and money in order to make the educational process full-fledged, then it can be the same. Even after almost a whole year since the first lockdown, many people are suspicious about online education. That is why we offer a free trial lesson to everyone who is interested but not sure. It is not easy to understand how it works just by reading about it or even watching a video, but it makes much more sense when you are experiencing it on your own. So far we offer piano, cello, and vocal online lessons, but we are growing fast, and soon we hope to offer any other musical instruments.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
It is not easy to go places these days, but if we are talking about a “normal” life, once again, I have many ideas in my mind. I have always wanted to go on a road trip through the states; to see national parks, big cities, small towns. To attend some concerts, eat in new restaurants, visit museums, walk on the beaches. I know for sure my friends would like that. However, I do not have any concrete plan. I would take my friends on an adventure trip where we could find out things together and experience a journey. Speaking more globally, if I had a chance I also would go to many other countries. Touristic routes or not – it doesn’t matter. Our world is a very interesting place. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I am grateful for the people around me. Some will find this answer trivial, but every individual lives in a society, and the people around us impact us more than we realize. For a long time, the most important person and guide was my mom. Under difficult conditions, a single mother, she had to work incredibly hard as a seamstress every day, and after that – farm work. Yet, she’s always positive, cheerful, understanding, and loving. She is a wise woman. She fed and guarded our family, our home. She cared about her children’s education when many other parents didn’t or couldn’t. Neither I nor my brother would have become what we’ve become if not for our mother. There are also my friends. I moved out when I was seventeen years old, so since then, I have spent more time with them. We helped each other, taught each other, fought with each other, and buried the hatchets. My nature needs to have friends. It is just a strong feeling I always had. I am really grateful for my teachers. I was really lucky with some of them. They were not just pedagogies of a specific subject but mentors of life in general. My wife. She is extremely supportive and believes in me like nobody else. Somehow, she always knows what to say when I feel down, and helps me to see things from a different perspective. Many of my achievements are because of her. If I were born in a different family, had contrasting friends, teachers, students (yes, them too! I teach them, but they also teach me), I would have not been the same as I am now. And my life as well. I do not know, better or worse, but not the same. So, yes, trivially or not, I consider myself a lucky man to have exactly those people in my life.