Tatiana Dardykina completed her Doctor of Music degree in 2017 with a thesis focusing on the piano writing of the French composer, Henri Duparc. Tatiana now teaches piano at the Fortissimo Academy of Music and Arts and performs as a soloist in Peletsis-Dardykina Piano Duo and other ensembles.
Q: Why did you choose to pursue a doctorate?
I was hoping that I would have more job opportunities and performance opportunities by building a network and building connections during my studies. I heard many good things about McGill from people I know in Europe, specifically about the research. When I came here, it also turned out to be one of the strongest performance schools in Canada.
Q: How important were the practical things like financial aid in the decision of where you would study?
For me, it was out of question to come without financial aid because, for a Russian person, the international fees are a very large sum of money. I was really lucky to be financed by the Schulich School of Music and to have been offered a very generous scholarship over three years of my studies. I also got additional support for the final year when I did not manage to keep it to three years. That was a big relief. I’m very grateful to the Schulich School for that. Otherwise, I just wouldn’t have been able to come.
Q: What was the single most frustrating or challenging part of getting a doctorate?
Well, I would say that the comprehensive exam was pretty challenging. At the time, I had to prepare bibliographies for three different topics and study the sources. Then I was given ten questions from these topics and I had to choose five of them and write five essays within four and a half days. Each essay was about ten pages, so that was pretty tough, especially considering that English is not my native language. But I also heard from native speakers that it was never easy.
Psychologically, I didn’t feel very well-prepared for the pressure of the large number of things to be done in such a short time. I would say that this period of preparing for the comprehensive exam was at times frustrating because I felt like I wasn’t living up to expectations and couldn’t manage my time correctly. However, I was nicely surprised that I got high evaluations for my research during my program, especially for the comprehensive exam, also bearing in mind that I’ve done all this in a foreign language. That was a complete surprise for me. I was very encouraged by the research people.
Q: What about the community environment among the doctoral students? Was that helpful?
Yes, the environment was mutually supportive. I had wonderful opportunities to talk to some people who were further along in the program who were particularly helpful. They were very generous in offering their time and help and sharing their experience.
The doctoral colloquium actually started with everyone gathered at someone’s place just to discuss what everyone was working on, what everyone’s topics were. From that friendly discussion, some people from that gathering came up with the idea that we needed to do it more regularly. And then someone just approached graduate studies asking if that could be organized and supervised, because the problem was that, at the time, people had questions but no one answered them systematically. The students were saying that we needed more advising on a regular basis, not just during the committee meeting once a year.
Q: Did the faculty respond by providing that kind of mentorship?
Yes, exactly. Even though it was initiated by doctoral students, it was really supported by the graduate studies office. They organized the time, they found the location, and they were available to provide their feedback.
The colloquiums were less regular at the start and they were not compulsory. However, there were a bunch of people interested in attending and they became a little bit more regular and a little bit more focused. If the majority of people were preparing for comprehensive exams, then the colloquium would be spent addressing that particular requirement and talking about strategies to prepare, how to write in the most efficient way, what a good essay would look like, etc.
They also included practical workshops about masterclasses, related to the ability to give a short masterclass as part of future job interviews (these were not research-related). Sometimes external speakers were invited to talk about their experience in the field or their job search, but other times, some of the doctoral students had the opportunity to give a public masterclass.
The head of graduate studies and some other professors would be there to watch and give feedback, and we would discuss the masterclass and what points were very strong or what could be improved. It was very useful in a practical sense, but it also helped create a sense of community among the doctoral students because we were working towards the same goals, no matter the instrument or voice. That was one of the most memorable and helpful things.
Q: Who are some of the most important people you met during your doctorate?
The absolute highlight of the program for me was the piano lessons with Professor Marina Mdivani. The opportunity to work with a pianist of the highest international caliber and such an experienced performer was truly invaluable in terms of learning how to prepare for a big recital, how to manage the time preparing a big repertoire, what to look for when you perform in a bigger space. Also, Professor Mdivani would organize several class concerts every semester. They were great opportunities to go on stage in Pollack Hall and just run through the pieces for the recital program. I have also learned so much from observing her teaching, and I use so many of these things in my own teaching nowadays. I felt Professor Mdivani’s constant care and support throughout all the steps of the program and am forever grateful for having such a great mentor.
Also the Song Interpretation class with Professor Michael McMahon was one of the biggest highlights of the program for me. I learned a lot from that course. Michael is an amazing musician and he really gave a lot of insights into the repertoire. We had a really exceptional vibe in that ensemble group. Everyone was supportive of each other so it was a nice opportunity to present works in such a friendly environment. I came up with my thesis topic being inspired by the Song Interpretational class and by the repertoire I had been doing there.
I would also add the voice professor, Joanne Kolomyjec, who organized several student events specifically dedicated to the Russian repertoire. She involved two of us Russian speakers, Anna Peletsis and myself, to coach her students and to play for the concerts and I also worked for some of her students as a regular coach and the regular pianist for their final recitals. That was pretty influential because I really admired Professor Kolomyjec’s style of teaching. I was listening carefully to what she was doing with her students, and I found so many things applicable to my piano teaching. The way she prepared her students towards the auditions and the exams and the way she managed their psychological state and general well-being was always something that I kept learning from as a teacher.
Q: What would be the advice you’d give someone else if they’re just starting a doctorate now?
Plan things more in advance and do not leave things until the last moment. Don’t neglect the importance of a gradual preparation towards such things as comprehensive exams. For me, the biggest mistake was separating research and performance. I only really started working towards research when I had finished my performance requirements. However, I think it’s important to keep the balance from day one and to devote some of the time very consistently and regularly to the research part to feel more comfortable and more at ease with all the requirements.
Many thanks to Tatiana for sharing her DMus narrative! You can find out more about her on www.peletsis-dardykina.com and discover her performances on her YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/pianomuzyka
This interview took place in June 2020. Interviews are edited by the TRaCE McGill Editorial team for length and clarity before publication.