By REBECA KUROPATWA Tatyana Smolyaninov, a Hebrew teacher at the Gray Academy of Jewish Education, is originally from Ukraine. This past summer she gained worldwide fame when a video of her playing a piano on a New York City street went viral.
Back in her country of origin, Smolyaninov studied music and education.
In 1997, she moved with her husband and daughter to Israel, where the couple had their second daughter before moving to Winnipeg in 2007.
Having worked as an educator in three different cultures – in Canada, Israel, and the Ukraine – Smolyaninov has found that, while Israeli kids might be less reserved and more energetic than Ukrainian kids, successful teaching is all about finding what particular approaches keeps them engaged.
“You have to find the way, right?” said Smolyaninov. “I knew how to do it. And, here [in Winnipeg] kids are more relaxed maybe...Kids are the same everywhere. It depends on how you present yourself to them, the environment you provide.”
When Smolyaninov and her family first arrived in Winnipeg in 2007, she found a job teaching in a synagogue while her teaching papers were being processed. And, in 2012, Smolyaninov was hired on at the Gray Academy teaching Grades 1 and 2.
“I love working at the Gray Academy,” said Smolyaninov. “This is my life. I’m teaching Hebrew to the children, which they love...So, it’s, for me, it’s everything. I use piano often during class for singing and to just having fun during the lessons.”
Moving away from Israel was not an easy choice for Smolyaninov and her family. “My husband’s family – his mother and sister – live in Haifa still. We visit once every couple of years. We still love Israel. Maybe, my husband said, when we are retired, we’ll go back to Israel.”
Smolyaninov’s husband, Uri, works at Maple Leaf Consumer Foods as an industrial mechanic. Their eldest daughter, Alexandria (23), graduated from the Gray Academy in 2011, and is now in her last year of Education at the University of Manitoba (U of M).
“She’s been singing at the Chai Folk Ensemble for six years already,” said Smolyaninov of Alexandria. “Our youngest daughter, Elizabeth (13), is studying at the Gray Academy in Grade 8.”
While Smolyaninov said that moving to Winnipeg was very difficult and that it took a couple of years to acclimate, she said that she and her family are now very happy here.
Looking back, Smolyaninov said that their move from Ukraine to Israel, on the other hand, was not hard at all. “I accepted Israel as my home,” she said. “It became my home from the very first or second day. Here [in Canada], no. It took a pretty long time. For two years, I thought it wasn’t for me. But, then, time did its thing.”
Smolyaninov is hoping that, when her daughter Elizabeth is in Grade 11-12, she will get to take part in the student exchange program that the Gray Academy has with Danziger school in Kiryat Shmona.
Recently, during a visit to New York City (NYC), Smolyaninov came across a piano on the street while walking with a colleague. She just had to play it.
Afterwards, Smolyaninov learned that the piano had been placed on the street by Dotan Negrin of “Piano Around the World” (www.pianoaround.com). Negrin is a young Jewish man from NYC who has traveled around the world sharing his piano and connecting with people.
When Smolyaninov decided to play the piano, she opted for the lively piece, “Jazz Elude”. Quickly, a crowd began gathering to listen to her play, while Negrin took a video of the event which speedily went viral.
“I just did it for fun,” said Smolyaninov of the experience. “I always do. It doesn’t matter where I see a piano. I always ask to play.”
(You can watch the video of Smolyaninov elsewhere on this website. Click on http://jewishpostandnews.ca/videos/207-mom-crushes-it-on-a-street-piano-in-nyc-manfred-schmitz-jazz-etude
While the media attention Smolyaninov ended up garnering from her NYC piano playing was something she found very interesting, it has served as a teaching tool for her students. “I’m very happy for myself, of course, about this video,” said Smolyaninov. “But, more importantly, all my students were so proud and excited about it. The meaning of all of it [is that it’s about] my community, my students...They feel that their teacher is so enthusiastic.
“I told them, ‘You see? You can do it too! Just try! You can read a poem...It doesn’t matter what you do. Just try. If you try, every time, you are doing better, and better, and better.’ I connected all this to the kids, to inspire them. I’m happy for them, that they have an example.”