Faculty Spotlight – Nadia Shpachenko (College of Letters Arts and Social Sciences)

Faculty Spotlight – Nadia Shpachenko (College of Letters Arts and Social Sciences)


My name is Nadia Shpachenko and I have been teaching at the Cal Poly music department for six years. I received my master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Southern California, I studied with the renowned piano pedagogue John Perry, who was very inspirational. And I received my undergraduate degree at the Longy School of Music in Boston. I also studied with a wonderful piano professor in Israel, and I was born in the Ukraine, so I started my studies there. My mother was actually my first piano teacher. For the last six years, I have been a colleague of Dr. Nadia Shpachenko. And I am so pleased to say that she is a part of the Cal Poly music faculty. She is an extraordinary woman, a fantastic pianist. She brings out the most extraordinary sounds, the most wonderful kind of spirit to her music. I am taken to another place, a place that she has wanted to make sure that I go to. In other words, if it’s something filled with joy, the excitement in her play is truly something extraordinary. If it’s something that I should be focused on more a reflective kind of nature, I know that in my head I am taken there by her performance. It is truly a wondrous experience to be a part of Dr. Shpachenko’s performances. Well, I performed in many different halls, in many different countries, and every time I perform, it always feels like my favorite performance, my favorite experience. Of course there are some places that are more memorable than others. Um, I guess my recital at Carnegie Hall was very memorable, that was a very big event, and it was a sold out performance, my whole family was there. And I always say “Do it because you can’t live without it,” and no matter what happens, this is a great life, being able to be in the art, being able to perform, to make people happy, and being able to make music. Well, one of my greatest passions is premiering new works, learning music that is unknown and making it known, making it exciting, and bringing it to the audiences. I definitely love to do it because I think classical music needs to be an art that is constantly evolving and that is exciting to people. She has been sent music and has been asked to give what we call the definitive performance of this music, that means that she is the one who is working with the composer, hand in hand, to know exactly what is supposed to happen, from notes off the page, so that she takes what is on the page and she puts them right into her hands and she delivers the message that the composer wants. It’s not just, though I want to say, the message from the composer, but it’s the message from the composer filtered through her artistry. Well, Dr. Shpachenko plays a lot of new music, which inspires me and encourages me to broaden my repertoire, to look at music that has been more recently written, more contemporary music. When it’s in the one-on-one setting in the studio, it’s very personable, she is a very personable person, she is very nice as well, but she is stern when she needs to be stern. My teaching philosophy is really to encourage each student to achieve their best. I require a lot of my students, and there is always more that one can do with music. You can study music until you are ninety years old, and you can constantly improve, and you can constantly learn new repertoire. And I do that myself and I show that to my students, I try to be an inspiration to them in that way. She teaches them in a way that is as a pianist. What I mean by that is she doesn’t just get them to do what they are supposed to be doing, the sort of, you know, oh, learn your scales, learn your notes, learn things like that, but she teaches them the fine parts about being a pianist. Good hand position, good posture, how you bring out the very best melodies in some of the simplest lines that they do. She will demonstrate to them and they will be able to follow her artistry through that. Every class that she teaches is really a “learn by doing.” My favorite quote is “Start with the upper left hand brick” by Robert Pirsig. It’s from the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” And it’s basically how he inspired students to overcome writer’s block. If you just try and write about a brick, you have to be creative. Because there is not a lot of preconceived information that you already have, so you just have to be creative, And I tell my students, really, just look inside yourself. Try and use your fantasy, try and use your imagination, and come up with something original.