There was only one thing Alexander Rybak was not allowed to do by his mum when he was little.
Natasha Rybak believes many in Norway are afraid they will do something wrong to kids if they push them into practising during childhood.
Header photo: Must practise: When her son was seven, Natasha Rybak decided that he should go for the violin. She says that children must practise, even if they not always want to. Photo: Siv Johanne Seglem /Dagbladet
There was only one thing that Alexander never was allowed to do.
Source: Dagbladet Pluss 14.08.2016. Author: Steinar Solås Suvatne
Translation by TessaLa, revision by Anni Jowett.
Natasha Rybak fans playfully with her fingers from the little finger to the thumb and back again. As if she proudly shows off a new coat of nail polish, but this is far more serious than that.
– Basket, she says and looks strictly at her hands.
Not that Alexander always accepted Mommy’s prohibition, but to become a good at violin you must above all take care of your livelihood.
– Basketball was strictly forbidden. Imagine, he could have ruined his fingers. But I know he played a bit with a buddy anyway.
Mamma Rybak laughs. After all it went well. Her son never broke his fingers, but became a national celebrity instead after a grand slam victory in the Eurovision Song Contest. 18 years after she, her husband Igor and five-year-old Alexander got on the plane from Minsk to Oslo, her only child set a new points record in a Eurovision final.
387 points. Norway was the best in the world – at least something like that. And that is huge for a country that almost only win things with wooden planks on their feet. Rybak and “Fairytale” is written in Norwegian cultural history with gold, glitter and sequins.
But it is the Russians who should be credited?
– It’s hard to say, but what I do know is that children need to practise now and then, although they do not want to practise, says Natasha Rybak.
She thinks thoroughly. She knows very well that her son is a combination of talent plus practise, practise and practise again. That’s how you get really clever, mom Rybak claims stubbornly.
– Many people in Norway are afraid they will do something wrong to kids when it comes to practising during childhood, not push them too much, but think of what nature tells us. When do you learn the most and best? When you are a child. So why are we so afraid to teach kids things? The Russian school is tougher than the Norwegian, and of course had Alexander had to practise a lot, she says.
«The boy with the violin»
Practising. Always. Not 4-5 hours a day as some have said, but a bit every day, and more than 15 minutes as Natasha Rybak says. It usually worked well, even if she admits that her son was known as “the boy with the fiddle” among the neighbours in Nesodden.
– Is there one thing I am proud of, it is the fact that Alexander managed to keep practising even throughout the difficult school age. He said “the music comes first” when his buddies wanted to do something, and went home early to practise. That’s not easy when you are 13 or 14 years old, but he played football when he was done. I’m proud that he managed, even if it was tough sometimes, she says.
Mum Rybak describes her son as a mix of Russian and Norwegian music traditions. Russian because there is a musical heritage in his genes and because there has been set clear demands on him. Norwegian because he dared early to go his own way, dared to challenge the notes, dared to cavil against his teachers.
– Alexander used to discuss with his teacher, said he wanted to play his own way. He never played a musical piece the regular way. Always something new, always his own twist. Already at that point we saw the entertainer in him. I was almost shocked! Where I come from it’s not allowed to discuss such things, she says with a clear stress on “NOT”.
Natasha Rybak laughs again. This is “last year’s snow”. Just as with basket, this went well too. The music teacher fortunately handled a discussion with an 11 year old who wanted to play back his own way.
Saw the talent early
Natasha herself is a pianist, her husband Igor plays the violin and came to Norway because he got a job in the opera. It had to be something with music for their only child too.
– Of course we wanted he should learn to play. We saw very early his talent and we taught him to play piano and violin. Igor and I like to play, and wanted to teach Alexander the same, she says.
Seven years old, while many children are playing with the piano for the first time, Natasha and Igor had to take the most important choice in Alexander’s career so far: Piano or violin, what should he go for?
The choice was not easy, says Natasha Rybak, because her son was clever with both the instruments. But they went for violin.
– What did Alexander say?
– What should he say? He was seven years old. One day he wanted to play the piano, the next day it was only the violin. I think he found it okay.
Now she laughs again. She can’t claim to have chosen the wrong instrument. With the violin in his arms her son became a super star. This summer he who was awarded as “Årets Spellemann 2009 (The musician of the year), celebrated 10 years as an artist with a tailor made show. Aftenposten (newspaper) gave him 5 on the dice.
– We saw very early that Alexander was the born entertainer, and he still is. I am usually his strictest critic, but when I saw the show he has now I was really impressed. Really.
It is easy to smile now, but everyone who has been 23, knows very well that you are not grown up when you are 23.
Natasha Rybak admits that she was worried when her son as 23 year-old became a celebrity. Everyone wanted a piece of the fiddler boy from Norway, and even if he is good in many things, Alexander Rybak is not good in saying no, according to Mom Nastasha.
– There was so much pressure. A lot of requests from everywhere. It was a pressure that lasted for several years, and I was worried. Us mothers want our children to be calm, that they sleep and eat and enjoy what they are doing. One day he was in three different countries. Then it’s not possible to enjoy the moment, I think.
Now she doesn’t laugh anymore, even if it went well that time too. Alexander Rybak has currently released a new single, and last year he wrote a book.
– Alexander has strong opinions about art, but otherwise he is very kind, maybe too kind. He always thinks about other people, and sometimes makes it difficult for himself.
– Do you argue about who is the best musician in the house?
– No, and it’s hard to say who is best. Igor is very clever too. Alexander is more lively, more an entertainer, he is the born entertainer. Igor is more classical in his style, we both are, she says.
Natasha Rybak leaves the fight to the men of the house. For most people this is seen as a polite shyness. She, after all, has music as her living too.
– It must be scary for guests to “sing for the food” in your house?
– We are not musical all the time. That’s our job, for all three of us, and we need a break too. But Alexander often sits down at the big piano and starts playing a melody he comes up with there and then. The music just comes from all of him, and shows with her hands what she means.
– It’s just something that has to get out. He has the music inside of him.