This Is New York: Dace Dubrova, Finding Redemption Through Teaching Jazz

March 8, 2014 Updated: June 16, 2014

NEW YORK—The last light of day departed as Dace Dubrova reclined on the velvet couch of the Sky Room lounge. Her gray eyes looked into the distance at the rims of the skyscrapers as she recalled the first time she had seen a clip of that skyline on television in post-Soviet Latvia. 

Her youth was marked by melancholy, hunger, and hopeless nights, but such memories rouse little emotion in her today. “It is what it is,” she said in a thick Eastern European accent. “I don’t think about it, I have forgiven and forgotten a long time ago.”

Embellished with a ruffled collar and newspaper motifs, Dubrova’s dress wraps tightly around her thin frame. She is a small woman, but by all means, she does not have a small mind. 

Dubrova, 30, founded a music teaching business last year. With her keen music and business skills, she manages a team of skilled music teachers and matches them with the individual needs of students from all walks of life.

Her business, C Major Music, offers private and group lessons in voice and piano in a studio in Midtown. Their times are flexible. Adults with busy careers take evening lessons with her as late as 10:30.

For musicians who want to prepare for competition or improve their improvisation, Dubrova’s company offers private lessons; for those who want to learn from scratch, she believes group lessons are the way to go. 

“I wished I had taken small group classes instead of private lessons growing up,” she said. “You can learn a lot from other players. And it helps with stage fright.”

She built her career from a love of music but molded her life out of the clay of Latvia’s sad Soviet history. 

Dubrova grew up among the lidos or local restaurants of Riga, a central market that’s thrived since the 1200s, and the Riga circus. Had she been an artist, she might have made jewelry with the amber that brought prosperity to the Baltic country tucked between Lithuania and Estonia. Whatever its charms, Latvia still carries the scars and some skeletons of the Soviet occupation. 

Scars of Soviet Occupation

Dubrova said she does not identify with Latvia’s Soviet past, but it has affected the psyche of her family for generations. Latvian landowners lost their land in 1941. In the early morning hours of June 14,
Dubrova’s great-grandparents packed their bags at gun point at their farm. 

When the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany aligned during World War II, Latvia was one of the countries that was invaded and occupied by Soviet forces. The landowners were the first to go. 

The June deportations were the first in a string of mass Soviet deportations from the Baltic states. Most of them were sent to Siberian prison camps. 

Dubrova’s great-grandparents saw each other for the last time as they boarded separate cattle trains. The great-grandmother and her daughter were pushed into the train headed for Siberia. Her great-grandfather took another train to a soviet forced labor camp. There, he was shot and killed. 

Dubrova said her uncle tried to look for her great-grandfather’s remains in the late ’70s. The family wanted to give him a proper burial. “But it was impossible to find him in the mass graves,” she said. 

Dubrova’s grandmother had hidden at a friend’s house during that fateful June day. She remained in Latvia and continued the family line.

She had a beautiful daughter, Dubrova’s mother, who grew up to be a classical pianist with a nervous air about her, the kind that stems from a childhood that saw unutterable suffering.

She met Dubrova’s father and with scarred souls, they tried their best to raise a family together. Classical concerts and culture enriched Dubrova’s childhood. But in other regards, neglect and abuse marked her early years. Dubrova said her parents are not bad people, just people who are products of their history. 

Dubrova was 9 when her parents lost the means to support her. She continued her education at the state-funded, prestigious J. Medins children’s music school. She went on to win numerous local performing competitions, but not without working for her own lunch money.

To support herself when she turned 15, Dubrova played keyboard for the revered Latvian singer “Little Gunnar,” Latvian blues bands, and folk bands. She turned away from classical music and fell in love with jazz.

Her mother was not happy, neither was her father. He wanted her to be a lawyer. But that was not to be. At 18, Dubrova packed her bags for Germany, for there were no opportunities for her to pursue a jazz education in Latvia. 

Dubrova won a scholarship to the International Music College in Freiburg, Germany, a partner school of Boston’s Berklee College of Music. She continued her studies at the Mannheim Music Academy and in New School for Jazz summer camps in Italy. 

Important contacts would propel her career forward. In 2006 she met saxophonist Billy Harper at a jazz festival in Italy. In 2012, she moved to New York City permanently. 

Career Inspirations from a Jazz Trumpeter

The philosophy and passion of Chris Botti moved Dubrova to go in a new direction in her career. Botti, who won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album, is known for his incredible energy level. 

She distinctly recalls how he played 42 gigs in 21 days last December. She went to one of his evening concerts. She noticed how he played with incredible verve even though he had a show earlier that day. “I was struck by how he gives 110 percent each moment,” she said. “He is constantly ready to go the extra mile.”

After the concert, she found herself at 3:45 in the morning alone inside the R train station on 57th Street. Train service ended at midnight, but she remained there for more than an hour repenting. 

“That was one of the turning points of my life,” she said. She repented for all the times when she did not go the extra mile. 

“He inspired me to have a new vision, to focus on what I really know and what I have the most passion for,” she said. “And jazz is what I know best.”

She felt that video games, computers, and mainstream music disconnect children from the real world. “It’s important that there are places where people can learn different stuff than what comes on the radio,” she said. “And that they play with real instruments.”

She will teach children to learn different instruments together in group lessons. “That is what jazz is all about,” she said. Her young personality inspires children, but she said a great musician can inspire anyone at any age.

Dubrova has launched the jazz-focused branch of her company, Jazz Classes NYC. She collaborates with other jazz musicians to offer private and small group lessons for adults and children, including a summer jazz boot camp for children six and above. 

“Life is meant to be lived in a way where you are constantly growing, constantly improving yourself,” she said. “Negative feelings and thoughts block you from being who you are supposed to be.”

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