Paul Tkachenko – Wellington College Shanghai's Musical Wizard

By Ned Kelly, June 24, 2021

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Born in the UK, Paul Tkachenko grew up around the world with his international school teacher parents, from Australia to Hong Kong to Germany. He then worked as a professional musician in Germany and London for around 20 years before moving into teaching himself.

Tkachenko took up his role as Head of Performance Music at Wellington College International Shanghai last year and saved the day when our Sound of Spring event was nearly a wash out in May. We wanted to find out more about this master musician.

We hear you performed on a number one record – can you tell us about that?
Check out the 2012 Sam and the Womp hit Bom Bom. I played tuba on that. You may not be familiar with the name, but it was used in all kinds of TV shows and films, so you may well recognize it. 

What are your musical influences?
That has mainly been dictated by what I ended up playing over the years, and it has given me some very diverse influences. Ottoman classical music, 19th Century Eastern European Jewish wedding music and early music hall are a few things that I’ve been into over the years, as well as the more usual rock, pop, jazz and classical stuff.

Why is music important in schools?
There are too many reasons to list here. I rather like the quote by Plato: “I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.” I think he might have been on to something.

How do you inspire a love of music in children?
That's easy – I just play for and with the children, and they love it. As any of my students will testify, I’m rarely without an instrument in my hands.

Any standout performances in your time at Wellington so far?
Just like anybody else, I like to be entertained, and that can be hearing something very advanced but also something quite simple just played really nicely. I’m pretty lucky as I get to hear things like that nearly every day.

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Tell us about the big theatrical performances at Wellington?
Wellington is well known for musicals. This year we put on Chicago, and we aim to put on as professional a production as possible. The creative team putting these shows together all have a background in the industry. The standard is very high and we don’t really treat the students any differently than professionals. Quite a few people remarked that you quickly forget that you are watching a school production.

What other events do you guys take part in over the year?
We have regular concerts and recitals in our 500-seater theater and other performance spaces. Our three orchestras, five choirs and rock bands also perform around Shanghai. We hope to travel further afield next year.

Do you keep up with all the latest artists?
Not so much, in all honesty. I let the children lead the way with that, otherwise it ends up like your dad trying to be cool.

Have any of your students ever gone on to be professional musicians?
Loads of them. One of my former students had an EDM top 10 hit in 2015, another came third in the UK's The X Factor in 2009, and one of my former trombone students is now a trombone teacher himself. One of my albums was actually produced by a former student. One of our Wellington graduates this year got into the prestigious Berklee College of Music. I actually have another two students there already from recent years – I suggested they start a band.


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