Yuliya Shkvarko

Yuliya is a postgraduate soprano studying for an International Artist Diploma. She was born in Belarus, Eastern Europe, and lived in Australia before moving to the UK to study at the RNCM.

She shared with us how migration has affected her life and work…

What does the word ‘migrant’ mean to you?

For me, another word for a migrant is ‘warrior’. Brave and strong. A warrior that went out of their comfort zone, overcame their fears and struggles and pursued the path of seeking their peace and happiness. No migration is ever easy. Have you ever noticed, that even something as simple as moving a house within one city, can be a real physical and emotional challenge? Often, it is easier to simply stay in the same location, it is less scary, less emotionally pressing.

Migrants, however, are the people that have decided to overcome themselves (which, I believe, is the hardest task in life) and have chosen to work towards the improvement of their lives.

This is the meaning of the word to me; however, of course, there is also forced migration where, sadly, a person is left without a choice. Those are the people that I find even greater warriors, as they are the ones that are forced to take everything into their hands and begin building their lives from the very start.

Where were you born, and what caused you to move away from your birth country?

I was born in Belarus, a city called Vitebsk, where I lived until I was 14. Being born into a family where both of my parents are migrants as well (my father is originally from Ukraine and my mother is from Uzbekistan), it was usual for us to decide to move to another country. My mother is a Doctor – a cytogeneticist – a job which is highly demanded all over the world. Thanks to her, we moved to one of the most opportunistic countries – Australia. I have to say that my mother became a role model in my life with her ‘working for happiness’ attitude. She is the main migrant of my life, who has taught me that great things do not come without the hard work and migration is massively hard work.

When we moved to Australia, my English was close to zero, which was probably the biggest emotional challenge for me, being an extrovert. However, this was something that pushed me towards music even more than ever before (I started singing and piano lessons at the age of eight).

But as the time went by and my English was getting better, my gratitude and passion for music was also growing at the speed of light. Music became my absolute air and salvation, where I felt completely free and unbound by the self-consciousness of speaking with mistakes. I’ve realised that through music not only can I express my heart and soul, I can also reach out to the audience with a universal language and give them the feeling of being understood – or take them into another world, where their problems do not exist anymore. The magic world of the arts.

Where did the RNCM come into your story?

My love for singing (or better to say, my need for singing) pushed me towards another migration. This time, when I was 20 and I had to leave my parents and go on my own. England has always held a special place in my heart, as so many wonderful musicians I admire have developed and refined their skills to world-recognised standard in this country.

Plus, of course, the Royal Opera House has always been an opera shrine for me, a truly artistically holy place. I was obsessed with the UK, even before visiting it and I knew that the RNCM would be the place where I would find what I am searching for. In Australia, I was studying with Joseph Ward OBE, who has been one of the most important singers of RNCM, when he was living and teaching in Manchester. He was the one who I will thank for as long as I live, as this wonderful caring teacher advised me to audition for my Master of Music at the RNCM.

Looking back now, moving to Manchester was probably the best decision of my life. This, also, however, was not an easy path at the start, especially as I moved on my own to a country so far away from my family (a 25-hour flight from Australia) and where I had no one I knew. I’d only visited the UK for seven days (for the actual auditions) before I moved here.

How have your personal experiences of migration impacted you as a musician and artist?

Migration was probably what pushed me to be interested in dramatically rich music, which has opened many doors within my artistic path. I feel like, by performing emotionally challenging music that talks of deep human feelings, I have found calmness for my heart. This could be to do with my Russian roots, as the older I get the greater joy I feel from performing Slavic Operas/Chamber works filled with deep drama and passion. Interesting enough, when I was living in Belarus, Russian music was not causing as much excitement in me as it does now. Perhaps, when one is far away from their roots – no matter what you do – they will still find a way of reminding you who you really are.

The desire for dramatically challenging works also led me to 20th century and modern music admiration. I get full of emotional satisfaction when I perform Second Viennese School pieces, particularly Berg, as well as works by modern composers. There is a great number of many outstanding composers I have met within my time both, in Australia and in UK, and have been honoured to perform their music.

Where is home to you?

It is a difficult question for me, if I am honest. I believe that home has no location on the map. Home is your heart, who and what is in it.

Home is my family, my teachers, my piles of scores, the stages I am performing on, the Russian language I speak and my white suitcase with a concert dress and music folder in it.

Aren’t we all just people and our home is the planet Earth? Take any family in the world and looking at their history, you will see that at least one family member was/is a migrant (although it could be many generations ago). So aren’t we all simply citizens of the world?