“Is it possible that all this magic went unnoticed?” sings Regina Spektor in “Reading Time with Pickle.” This lyric describes Spektor’s music — it’s pure magic because her melodies bring people together.
Spektor was born in 1980 in Moscow to a musical, Jewish family. She quickly learned to play piano at age 6, and it soon became a passion of hers. When she was 9 her family left the former Soviet Union. They landed in Austria, then Italy and finally, the Spektor family entered the United States with the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).
She moved to New York and continued to play piano, practicing on her synagogue’s instrument. She didn’t give up on her music or her culture and made a successful career out of her talents.
Spektor lived in the Bronx and graduated eighth grade from SAR Academy, a Jewish day school in Riverdale, then moved to New Jersey to continue her high school studies. For two years she studied at Frisch School, a yeshiva in New Jersey, before transferring to Fair Lawn High School, a public school where she got her high school diploma.
I admire Spektor because I am also a Russian-American Jew. She speaks Russian and Hebrew, a goal I hope to accomplish. Her pride in her Jewish and Russian cultures is exhilarating, and I wish all Russian Jews would feel as proud as she does. When a reporter for New York magazine asked about her cultures, she simply responded, “I’m very connected to the language and the culture.”
Spektor’s music is a beautiful blend of indie, folk, pop and sometimes jazz. Her lyrics are clearly heard but do not overpower the soft piano playing. Unlike other music that relies on technology for effects and sounds, Spektor’s music is raw, emotional and, most of all, personal.
Her music has been featured in movies such as “(500) Days of Summer,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” “My Sister’s Keeper,” and “Love and Other Drugs.”
Some of her songs can be heard on television shows as well such as “Two and A Half Men,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “CSI:NY” and “Criminal Minds.” If you listen closely to the background music on the television, you would be able to identify Spektor’s crisp and unique accent radiating underneath the actors’ dialogue.
In return for their help with her immigration, Spektor performs benefit concerts for HIAS. This shows me you should always feel grateful and never forget the people who helped you in your time of need. It’s an indication of how grateful she feels toward the group and how she hasn’t forgotten those who have helped her.
For years I have played saxophone and I always come up with excuses not to practice, but Spektor didn’t make excuses. She didn’t have a piano so she found one; she didn’t let anything get in the way of her music, and all young musicians should follow her example. If they do, the world would be filled with more feelings and emotions.
Five years ago my mother went to Russia and returned home remarried. I was OK with having another step-parent since my father remarried the year before, but I wasn’t sure how to bond with my step-dad. He was very reserved and quiet while I overpowered him with my loud personality.
One day, my mother couldn’t pick me up from school so she sent my step-dad. I got into the car and there was an awkward silence, so I turned on the radio and “Samson” by Regina Spektor started to play. I realized it wasn’t the radio playing, but his Regina Spektor CD.
Support the New York Jewish Week
Our nonprofit newsroom depends on readers like you. Make a donation now to support independent Jewish journalism in New York.
I asked him which of her songs he liked best. He replied, “Us,” my favorite song, and that sparked our relationship. Now we have a strong connection that began with our love for her music.
Spektor has brought me closer to music, to my culture and to my step-dad, and I hope to one day express my gratitude to her in person.
Watch Regina Spektor perform “Us” on YouTube.