Six-year-old Jane Kushnir is sitting at a piano. She’s in a newly painted room in a building on Joseph Howe Drive that will soon be a studio for music lessons. There’s a second piano to her left and a guitar to her right. Her mother and new music teacher wait eagerly to hear her play.
Having already taken piano lessons, Jane is trying to show off her skills.
“It’s hard to remember (how to play) with people around,” said the young student.
Her teacher, Anna Shabalina, chimes in to offer support.
“My teacher used to say ‘Before you play in front of an audience at 100 per cent, you need to play alone at 200 per cent,’” said Shabalina.
Jane is one of a few students who came to Shabalina’s open house on Feb. 8 for free lessons. Hailing from Russia, Shabalina is a professional cellist who has recently opened her own music school.
The school, announced in a Jan. 21 Facebook post, is called The Soul Strings Music Services, and offers private and group classes in cello, piano and guitar.
Shabalina is proficient in a number of instruments. At the age of nine, she began taking cello and piano lessons after she saw how much her cousins enjoyed playing music. She tried her hand at guitar a few years later.
A journey from Russia to India to Canada
In 2014, Shabalina moved from Russia to India and began teaching music there. Her journey was a “subconscious search of my personal heaven,” she said. “My life in India was a great adventure.”
While in India, Shabalina learned how to play a hand saw with a violin bow, a combination known as musical saw.
“I used this instrument for the ‘wow’ factor, you know?” Shabalina said with a chuckle. “It sounds very beautiful, but has very limited range. So, it’s more for sound effect.”
Shabalina made the move to Canada in 2019, first living in Toronto.
“I feel better in Canada than anywhere else,” said Shabalina. “I definitely found not a heaven, but a perfect place for my further growth.”
After moving to Halifax in 2021, Shabalina started getting involved in the Halifax music scene by meeting fellow musicians and hosting concerts.
While she has been teaching private lessons since her move to the city, this is the first time she’s opened a music school of her own. With her experience teaching music in both Russia and India, Shabalina saw the school as an opportunity to spread her diverse range of music knowledge.
“I thought ‘why not?’” wondered Shabalina. “Here I have an idea to make a special program, to connect all my music experience from different countries. I want to create a five-year program that will prepare people to be, more or less, professional musicians.”
With only a few enrolments under the school’s belt, Shabalina has yet to hire any other instructors, opting to teach all the classes herself.
In terms of teaching style, Shabalina likes to keep things brief. According to her website, her program will be based on “European fundamental education and Canadian flexibility.”
“The style of teaching we have in Russia takes quite long,” said Shabalina. “My teaching can be intense, but I only want to teach them the basics and let them take it from there. It’s a free flow without strict structure.”
The Soul Strings Music Services officially opens for adult classes on Monday, Feb. 12, with youth classes starting in September.
Cello courses range from $325 to $500 a month depending on the frequency of lessons, with lesser amounts for other instruments.
About the author
Kaitlyn MacNeill is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of King's College living in Halifax, Nova Scotia.