An Independent Spirit – Cellist Ian Maksin: the Interview

An Independent Spirit: 
Part 2
Cellist Ian Maksin: the Interview
Photo by Alex Kotlyar
“In fact, I was considered an outcast by the majority of my peers and teachers because I didn’t spend my entire time practicing my applied instrument (cello) and listening to strictly classical music all the time.  I liked rock-n-roll, airplanes, parachutes and had long hair-“  Ian Maksin
I believe If there is one commonality that we all human beings share, it would be our love for music. In almost every corner, every city and country, we can hear the sound of music. Whether it be a jazz player on a street corner in New Orleans, or an orchestra dazzling its audience at Carnegie Hall or a mother singing a lullaby, music is a part of our everyday lives.  We crave to hear the melodies, the notes, the rhythms.
When it comes to cellist Ian Maksin, he had the fortune of being raised by a musical family and was exposed to music early on. From those roots, he eventually became a world-class cellist with a tremendous gift: to play the most beautiful songs with brilliant technical precision and lots of heart and soul. And that is what music is all about. It is taking some of the most beautiful sounds and songs in the world and sharing them with us, for our enjoyment. 
We had the pleasure of catching up with Mr. Maksin en route to Italy as he kicked off his world tour. He graciously took the time out of his schedule to talk to us about his musical roots, Gen Z, his love of Rock-N- Roll, and about the importance of guiding our children with a delicate hand in order for them to discover and develop their own musical gifts. 

Internationally Known:  Welcome Ian to Internationally Known. Please tell us about your musical roots and what gravitated you to the cello. 

Ian Maksin:  My musical roots are quite remarkable and diverse, indeed.  On my mother’s side, even though there were no professional musicians, everyone had an undeniable musical gift:  Ukrainian grandmother who had a gorgeous voice and who exposed me to Ukrainian folk music since I was a baby.  Russian grandfather of Cossack descent who I don’t ever remember being silent (and not singing) for over 5 minutes.
From him I learned a great deal of beautiful folk music unique to that particular region of Southwest Russia, as well as many songs from the WW2 era, as he was a veteran and a hero.  My mother had formal music training throughout high school and was responsible for teaching me the basics of solfege, piano and harmony.  And last but not the least, my dad and his incredible musical gift.  Although he had a daytime job as a physician, he was one of the most accomplished underground rock and jazz musicians in town by night in St. Petersburg at the time.
If I can be credited with any kind of musical talent, stage presence, charisma and dedication, I shall owe it all to him, both genetically and from having an opportunity to observe him rehearse and perform since I was a little boy.  He exposed me to a tremendously vast array of music from classic jazz to every pop and folk song in every language that existed: Russian, Ukrainian, Yiddish, Italian, English, French, you name it….  And then all of the above was brought to some sort of a denominator by the formal training I received in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) at the Special School of Music at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory…
IK: You were born in St. Petersburg in Russia, but moved to the states when you were just a teen. What prompted the move and how have these two grand countries influenced your music?  On the one hand, we have Russia with its historical ties to classical music such as Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff while on the other hand, we have America with its great Musical Theater, Jazz and American Rock.  
IM:  I left Russia when I was 16.  It’s a long story, but what it came down was, I had an opportunity to come to the USA as a high school exchange student, so I jumped on it.  It was the very first year Russia and the US had a formal exchange program after the end of Cold War, and I believe there were just six of us that went.  There was a composite number of reasons which prompted me to leave Russia, but the main one was probably due to my very independent spirit from an early age.
I just couldn’t wait to be on my own.  I also wanted to explore other cultures, and I was fascinated English and American rock, blues and folk music.  When I was 15-16, I was spending most of my free time practicing guitar and listening to Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, B. B. King, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and so on, translating their songs with a dictionary and memorizing the lyrics.  I had a cover band and we played all those classics.  Not not the cello back then, though, just guitar.  
To answer the second part of the question, it’s true, I had access to the top notch classical music training in Russia at the time and was exposed to the very best of what Russia had to offer at the time as far as the arts, music and education were concerned.  On the other hand, the structure of that training was quite rigid and had very little room for “free-thinking” or any sort of experimentation.  In fact, I was considered an outcast by the majority of my peers and teachers because I didn’t spend my entire time practicing my applied instrument (cello) and listening to strictly classical music all the time.  I liked rock-n-roll, airplanes, parachutes and had long hair.  Just didn’t fit in.  That was another reason why I wanted to leave.  I instinctively knew that I would be more free in the USA in more than one way.  And when I did arrive to America, that was just the beginning of the journey that has lasted almost quarter of a century since.
It’s an ongoing process.  I am learning something new every day.  I yearn for new musical experiences, travel and collaborations with artists from different parts of the world, learning about their cultures through music.  America has given me this

opportunity and I am infinitely grateful for it (Thanksgiving is every day for me).

IK:  I love how your repertoire of music is not only classical but a mix of many genres. You truly are a modern artist who works out, and plays not only Bach but Sting. Are you finding that this openness helps you connect with a larger audience that includes the Millennials and hopefully Gen Z? 
IM: Oh this is music to my ears – Generation Z!  For me there is no greater reward as artist than knowing that kids enjoy my music.  In the last couple of years I have developed a partnership with the Ravinia festival and had an opportunity to play the cello to thousands and thousands of kids throughout Chicagoland and beyond.  Also whenever and wherever I go on tour, I try to have a number or school concerts and workshops organized in conjunction with the tour.  It’s extreme fun.  Every time I finish I feel inspired and rejuvenated.  It’s 9am and I usually start by playing a funky solo cello arrangement of the latest Top 40 hit… the kids who are barely awake are hooked after 30 seconds.  I have their excitement and attention for the next 40 minutes, and in the meantime I feed them a good portion of J.S. Bach,  some B.B. King and Duke Ellington.  All on solo cello.  They scream. I feel like a total rockstar.  The best part is getting their thank you notes and drawings.  And of course knowing that I inspired someone.   
For a long time I thought that my music had a “niche”, that it had an appeal to a certain demographic, I even had it all charted out.  But eventually I realized that there is absolutely no limit as to who can enjoy my music and it goes way beyond generation, culture and race.  On my Facebook fan page in particular, I have an opportunity to connect with an incredibly vast array of listeners from all over the world from Latin America to Africa, and from Europe to the Middle East.  They all find something that resonates with them, and I attribute it to the very special wavelength of the cello tone.  It very quickly penetrates deep inside human soul.
IK: When I hear about children and the arts, I see two scenarios: Either families pushing their kids into music and having them take piano, dance while the child is exhausted and has no passion. Or I hear parents who completely discourage music and push for a more “financially stable” career. What is your approach to music when it comes to our young? 
IM: Haha, that’s a great question.  In my case,  my parents were always incredibly and infinitely supportive with my music studies, and moreover with everything I did, but they never put any pressure as far as music was concerned (even though I am aware that there was a little bit of a vicarious element there for my dad, who deep inside wanted for me to succeed in music and accomplish what he himself had had to give up in favor of a steady job).  In fact there were several instances where my parents offered to take me out of the music program in times when I was feeling especially discouraged and overwhelmed. But something deep inside was telling me I had to press on.  I am guessing it was a fear of the void that I was envisioning that I would have to face, had I quit the cello.
I have met scores of grownups who voiced a unanimous regret that their parents “didn’t make them work hard enough” or “didn’t push them hard enough” or “let them quit”, whether it was music or another activity that required dedication.  And I have met probably just as many for whom taking music lessons was a most miserable experience.   I guess it’s a combination of many factors.
Do you really seek for inspiring and dedication educators for your kid or settle for the most convenient or affordable occasion?  Are you truly in touch with your child’s needs and inner world and ready to support them in what they are really passionate about in lieu of fulfilling your own agenda or conforming to social pressure?  It’s complicated.
In case with my son, who is twelve now, I have always avoided putting pressure on him or making him feel like he has to succeed in order to make me proud or earn extra love and respect from me.  I feel all I can do is show him an example of hard work, dedication and sacrifice, give him guidance and encouragement, and create a safe and sane environment for him to grow.  And he is doing very well.  I am a proud daddy.
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