Alla Voskoboynikova recognized with Steinway award for outstanding piano instruction

by | Jul 22, 2017

Steinway Piano Gallery of St. Louis applauded the UMSL music faculty member's excellence in helping students achieve their maximum potential.
Alla Voskoboynikova

Steinway Piano Gallery of St. Louis nominated the UMSL music faculty member for the honor, citing her excellence in “guiding each of her students to achieve their maximum potential.” (Photo courtesy of Alla Voskoboynikova)

Ask Alla Voskoboynikova about the striking instruments that dominate her studio at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, and she speaks of them as treasured companions.

In one corner stands a beguiling clavichord. The other side of the room belongs to a handcrafted, seven-foot-long grand piano – and she’s especially fond of it.

“Our instrument is more than just an instrument,” explains the associate teaching professor of music. “With this one, UMSL actually sent me to New York to the Steinway factory to pick it out, and I brought this instrument here. So we feel very human about our instrument. It’s a friend.”

That connection between pianists and their pianos – particularly Steinways – made the news Voskoboynikova received last month even more special.

In June, a letter arrived from that same New York factory where she remembers trying out so many beautiful instruments several years ago. She was thrilled to learn that the company was honoring her with a Steinway & Sons Top Teacher Award.

“That came in the mail, and then Gerry Malzone, the vice president of the Steinway Piano Gallery here in St. Louis, came to campus the other day and brought this,” Voskoboynikova says, showing off a framed certificate.

Steinway bestows the awards annually in recognition of outstanding piano instruction and leadership. Malzone emphasizes Voskoboynikova’s renowned presence as a soloist, accompanist and educator as the impetus for the gallery’s nomination of her for the honor.

“Alla has excelled at guiding each of her students to achieve their maximum potential,” he says. “Her passion extends to all students whether their personal goals are for the concert stage or as a music enthusiast.”

Indeed, as director of keyboard studies at UMSL, Voskoboynikova has developed a strong reputation as both a performer and an instructor since joining the university’s Department of Music in 2004.

Department Chair Gary Brandes terms her studio a “bastion of artistic quality and musical achievement,” and students rave about the lessons they’ve learned from her – as musicians and simply as people.

But she is just as quick to express appreciation for their impact on her.

“Through all these years of teaching, I’ve learned so much,” says Voskoboynikova, who started playing the piano at age 5 in her home country of Russia. “Every day – working with so many different students and personalities, different backgrounds, different majors – it has changed me as a person a lot. It makes me think. It makes me discover so many things.”

She’s managed to travel two demanding paths concurrently during her career, pairing her deep passion for teaching with significant work as a performer. And while it can be a tricky balance, there are also benefits to pursuing both.

“Teaching forms you as a musician, as a person,” she says. “It’s also very rewarding, because when you see the results – how your students change every day and go to a different level and set those professional goals, it’s just so wonderful.”

This summer, Voskoboynikova added one more teaching endeavor to the mix: UMSL’s first-ever Summer Keyboard Camp. She presented the idea to Brandes in February, and it took off from there.

“He was so supportive,” she recalls. “He said, ‘Oh, Alla, that’s exactly what we need – students want that, they ask about that.’ So I came up with a plan.”

Along with Voskoboynikova, participants in the one-week camp benefited from the expertise of several other UMSL musicians – plus another accomplished pianist based in Arizona.

“It was just wonderful,” Voskoboynikova says. “One day we had organ/harpsichord day, and so Barbara Harbach, who is our director of the School of Fine and Performing Arts, gave a beautiful presentation about the nature of those instruments, and she gave a beautiful performance. And then each student got to play a little, and I played organ for the first time in my life.”

Perhaps most meaningful about the Steinway award, she adds, is the knowledge that she’s helping to spread the same passion and discipline that her parents and piano teachers began instilling in her even as a young child.

“I like to influence young people and pass on that love and understanding to another generation,” Voskoboynikova says. “And in this crazy world like it is now, I think music is one of the things that may save the world.”

The UMSL Experience

Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill