Prize-winning Russian accordionist now plays for U.S., lives in Dallas

Russia native Svetlana Ivanchenko now lives in North Dallas and represents the U.S. in accordion competitions, recently taking sixth place in an international contest in Italy. / – Navigating airport security can be tricky with a clunky mystery machine with buttons, levers and metal accents.

All suspicions are dispelled, however, when Svetlana Ivanchenko opens her white case and squeezes a melody out of the machine.

“Maybe you would like to hear?” the Dallas resident said during a recent trip, playing her accordion in the middle of the security line.
Ivanchenko, a 46-year-old transplant from Russia, has been winning accordion competitions since her teens. Now, just four years after moving to the U.S., she’s won a national contest two of the past three years and this year represented her new country in international competition.

“If you told me 10 years ago that I would be living in the USA and would represent America at this international competition in Rome I would never, never believe you!” Ivanchenko said.
In October 2008, when she boarded her plane from Russia to the U.S., she carried only one item.

“I took just a little bit of stuff from Russia, and I took accordion,” Ivanchenko said, her halting English coming in a thick Russian accent.
She left behind a 25-year-old son to follow her American husband and gain a new approach to the music she has always loved. They settled in Dallas.
Now estranged from her husband, Ivanchenko is navigating a still unfamiliar country with nothing but her beloved accordion. But she wasn’t always so fond of the instrument that has brought her such success.

As a child, she hadn’t even hit double digits when she first heard Beethoven. The sound drifted out of the window of her neighbor’s home, swirling against the air, gently catching her ear.
“I started to cry,” she said. “I wanted to play this.”

Piano purchase

A few weeks later, Ivanchenko came home and her mother had purchased a piano, “a huge purchase for my family,” she said.
The family decided to enroll her in a prestigious school for music as a pianist.

However, the school already had an overwhelming number of piano applications, so a teacher suggested a different instrument.
“I hated accordion,” she said, the confusion and anger still present decades later. “I wanted to be a piano player.”

Even so, her mother went in search of an instrument similar to the piano, and so, Ivanchenko began playing the accordion.
“It changed my whole life, and now I started to be an accordion player,” she said. “Maybe it’s better to be a good accordion player than the usual piano player.”
Ivanchenko began competing during her teens and went on to teach music for 22 years at a Russian university. But just weeks away from receiving tenure, Ivanchenko left for America.
“She decided she’d done what there was to do there musically and saw no future in Russia,” said David Rady, a friend and roommate of Ivanchenko. “English lessons ensued.”

The seasoned teacher has continued giving lessons, now teaching Dallas locals from her living room. She says moving to America will allow her to give her students something fresh, a new perspective.
“I feel comfortable here, and I am here because I have a lot of possibilities to develop myself,” she said.

One of those opportunities came in 2009, when she entered the Roland U.S. V-Accordion festival in Los Angeles that, if she won, would send her to the international competition in Italy.
She placed second — at least that’s what she was told.

A mistake

Four days after the competition, she received a call that there had been a mistake and that she had won the contest. But because of her citizenship status, she was unable to represent the U.S. in the international competition.

Because of her experience, she said, the organization changed its policies, and when she placed first again this year, she was headed to Italy — where she placed sixth last month.
“I love the USA, and am so proud to be here!” Ivanchenko said. “And I am very, very grateful [for] everybody who helped me and believed in me.”

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