Russian composer Gyuli Kambarova shares her music with the community

EP Presnell

Gyuli Kambarova sits down at the grand piano, flipping through the sheet music until she reaches the song she’s been working on for months. Her hands rest on the keys before her fingers move rapidly between them. The sounds that come out of them tell the story of a mother handling her day to day life while taking care of her child. Standing next to the piano only a foot away is Gyuli’s husband, Samir Kambarov, playing the saxophone, adding melodies that fill the room. The song escalates and gets louder, notes become more dramatic until suddenly it stops, only to come back softer. There’s been a fight between the mother and son.

The song ends with notes portraying a happy ending to the night between these imaginary people. She stands up from the bench, both her and her husband bowing to the class of about 10 people. It’s a small crowd compared to what they’re used to, but the Kambarovs aren’t there to give a concert, they’re there to teach about their unique style of music.

Gyuli and her husband Samir stand with a YPAS Piano class at the end of their class period together. The period showed students a new perspective on music and culture in the world. Photo taken by EP Presnell and provided by Gyuli Kambarova.

Russian roots

Gyuli was born in southern Russia where she lived until she moved to the United States in 2010. In Russia, she grew up with a deep passion for music, playing the piano all throughout her childhood. She attended the famous Rostov State Rakhmaninov Conservatory and earned two master’s degrees in music with honors in Piano Performance and Music Composition. After finishing school, she went on to perform concerts and teach young students about contemporary music.

In addition to teaching and performing music, she would enter competitions that helped make her name well known not just in Russia, but the rest of the world. She was accepted into the Union of Dagestan Composers and not long after, the Union of Russian Composers.

In 2010, her husband Samir was offered a scholarship at the University of Louisville which made them move to Louisville, Kentucky where they live and share their unique work with the community. The couple have performed at places such as the University of Louisville School of Music, the Youth Performing Arts School (YPAS) and the Louisville Academy of Music.

Gyuli has been living in Louisville for eight years now and since living here, she has been able to share her unique work with her community. Photo from Gyuli’s website.

Since living in Louisville, her music has been used for a wide variety of events ranging from ballet performances at YPAS to recitals at elementary schools to documentary films. She had her work performed at Lincoln Elementary this past school year and has also had her work used in the film “YOU ARE NOT ALONE.”

“It was a very interesting experience for me, [to see my music put to] dance. And actually they gave me the idea to write my Chamber Ballet now because I looked at them and I realized I really wanted to write something bigger,” Gyuli said when describing the first time she saw her music performed during a dance recital at YPAS.

Speaking without words

Telling a story, either fictional or real, can happen in a multitude of ways. As a composer, writing music is Gyuli’s chance to tell her stories without words. She can tell fictional stories like in her collection titled “Little Stories,” that are only a couple minutes long each, but tell a story in itself.

“I decided that I need to write something simple, something short that everybody will understand that was my goal but at the same time I can express myself more often because right now we are in a crazy time where nobody will watch a video more than a minute,” Gyuli said. All of the works in this collection are light hearted and create a sense of happiness and joy.

In addition to telling fictional stories, Gyuli tells her own life stories through music. One of the hardest parts about her life as a composer is balancing work and motherhood, a challenge many mothers face. On top of that, Gyuli expressed how challenging it can be to be a female composer when the field is primarily male.

An example of her real life story inspired pieces is the piece titled “One Day of My Life,” speaks about a personal outlook on life and how everyone goes through the ups and downs of it. Below, you can listen to the song and watch the video that shows the stages of a flower before it blooms, fitting well with the themes of the song.

Feeling the music

She tells her stories through the keys of the piano, pulling from both contemporary and romantic music to create her pieces. With these elements, she creates pieces that remind her of her hometown in Russia.

On Nov. 29, Gyuli and Samir visited two YPAS Piano classes to teach them a little bit about different kinds of music and the work that they had been working on, even showing them a piece Gyuli has been working on but is not yet released. The experience offers students a unique perspective on the importance of music and with Gyuli’s experience of moving from Russia to the United States, she offers a new insight on how music can have an impact on your life.

While she has taught many young students who are interested in music and still continues to do so, each experience is different for her.

At YPAS, two students from the junior and senior classes had started working on two of her pieces and performed them at the end of class, which she gave them feedback on. As Gyuli would later explain, it’s about the feeling and the experience you get from performing and listening to the music that makes it so unique.

Gyuli helps an upperclassman as she works on one of Gyuli’s pieces at the end of the class period. Photo by Samir Kambarov.

“I would say you cannot understand the music,” Gyuli said. “You have to feel it. You don’t have to understand it, try to feel it.”

Gyuli has three albums out with her most recent one having come out this year. You can find more information about her and listen to more of her music by clicking here to go to her website.