Hi! My name is Andrew Furmanczyk and this is my story.
I’m writing this bio here for those of you who wish to know a bit more about me.
I was born in Ontario, Canada in 1986.
I moved to British Columbia when I was 5 years old and a week before we were supposed to fly across the country to our new home I broke my left arm pretty badly. It was a clean break through both bones in my arm, so it was all wobbly. My parents had to worry about my broken arm on top of moving over a thousand kilometers across the country. (I’m thankful to my parents for looking after me.) Anyway, my mom had been a vocalist and had a piano from her younger days and a couple months after we got to B.C., my mom asked me if I’d like to take piano lessons and maybe make some new friends. I said “yes!” and that’s how I got started in music.
I first started piano lessons at the age of 5 in 1992.
I loved piano right from the beginning. Surprisingly enough I really loved playing scales, and I would go into my class and show off by playing my scales sitting on the bench backwards! I was very competitive and a huge show off. I had a drive to be the best, and that was what kept me practicing in the beginning. At that stage of my piano, when I was done practicing what was needed, I would usually sit at the piano for hours just playing around making songs up on the fly and improvising. (I had so much fun!)
Four years into my piano lessons, I composed a short piece in D minor titled “Victory”. I entered it in a province wide competition in the 8-12 year old category and won! That was my first taste of success with piano. I got published in the paper and had my picture taken with my small trophy. I was very proud of myself for winning. (Probably too proud looking back at it!)
Eventually, I was done my initial beginner music program and had to switch teachers and that’s when I enrolled in the local city music school. I took lessons from a teacher named Mrs. Rommel. We spent quite a few good years together from grade 1 until grade 7 piano. Between grade 5-6 piano while on summer vacation I heard Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt and it was so beautiful and I became so inspired, that on the spot I decided I wanted to be able to play high level music and be a concert pianist. I started to practice 4-6 hours a day, and began learning extra songs that were in higher grades than my current level that I would pick out myself. For example, I learnt the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven up to moderate performance standards in one week, and could play it note perfect while blindfolded within the month. As I started doing the extra work, I saw my skills skyrocketing. I think my teacher was impressed and maybe felt that I was ready for an advanced teacher?
So next, Mrs. Rommel recommended me to her own teacher, Mrs. Lori Elder and I was told I had to “audition” for her.
Just that word “audition” alone scared the heck out of me. I’d never done anything like that in my life. She had the reputation of being the best teacher in the city. What if I wasn’t good enough for her? What if she rejected me? I was pretty nervous about the whole thing, but I pushed forward.
When I got to the audition, I was amazed to see two grand pianos proudly placed next to each other. Surrounding the pianos were bookcases stacked with piles of music books, thick editions of many different Sonatas, and Concertos from many composers! Everything in her studio looked so well planned and thought out. This place was amazing! There was just so much stuff I couldn’t believe! I felt like I was in piano heaven! All these stuff intimidated me even further, but I decided that I’d just have to play my best and pray she accepted me. I played Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven, and also a few other pieces including the first page of the Revolutionary Etude by Chopin.
After I finished playing for her, we talked a bit and she said that I could come back next year and study with her. (That meant I was accepted! I wanted to leap for joy!)
So for the next year I continued with Mrs. Rommel. After I finished my grade 7 with her, we said our goodbye’s (I was sad to say goodbye, but also excited to continue my piano journey!)
Next September I started with Mrs. Lori Elder, a piano teacher with a very respected and well-deserved reputation of excellence. We started grade 8 together, and she immediately started shaping new things in my playing. I remember, one of the first pieces we worked on was a Beethoven piece and she was drilling me over and over making sure I got my tempo steady. I was a pretty strong willed student, and rarely listened to my teachers as much as I should have, but Lori’s way of doing things wasn’t mean, but it forced me to listen to her. Looking back, I’m so happy things worked out the way they did. I started to learn so many new things and techniques I was previously unaware of. I consider her to be my favorite teacher, and the top piano teacher in the northern half of British Columbia. I am so thankful of Mrs. Rommel for recommending me to Lori.
Shortly after I started with Lori, I got my first job! It was at the skating rink as a public skating supervisor. This job was important in my development as a teacher and person as I had to deal with the public a lot, and enforce the rules when necessary. After supervising first, I next was given skating classes of kids to teach. This is what first got me teaching. I found out I loved teaching, it felt so good inside to pass on my own knowledge and skills to others!
While I continued growing more as a teacher on the ice, my piano playing ability continued to climb higher and higher, until I got to the point where I felt like I could learn anything and take on any piece.
That’s around the time when I started work on Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat major. I tackled this ARCT (Grade 11) piece right out of Grade 9, but I managed to learn and memorize all 14 pages in just two months. This piece became the triumphant piece that I could show off to audiences! I was so at home playing it, and I was soaking up all the attention like a happy flower under warm sunlight. My technique had also gotten so good that I could literally play the Polonaise in A flat back to back to back 20+ times in a row without a pause or break. Playing any amount of notes or chords took no energy or consequence to my stamina; it seemed that nothing could stop me. When I performed this piece in public, people told me things like: “The keyboard looked like it was on fire!” “You got such a big sound!” “You played amazing!” and such. All these comments started to go to my head a little, and I felt invincible!
Later that summer…
I started working for a youth camp run by the YMCA as one of the camp leaders. It was a blast, and the camp had a “music day” which I was put in charge of running. I hadn’t taught piano before because I didn’t see myself as a piano teacher yet, but this situation forced me into my first experience of teaching piano. When I found out that I was supposed to teach piano, I was a bit nervous, but I just buckled down and did my best. I ended up teaching 20 kids a song in just one hour total, which left me 2-3 minutes per kid to teach them a song on the piano. After the time was over we ate our lunch, and then had a recital, and every kid got up and was able to play their song. Every kid there except one had never taken a piano lesson in their life! That’s when one girl I taught at the camp that day named “Bonnie” enjoyed her experience on the piano that day. She enjoyed it so much that her mom approached me and ask how much I charged for private lessons. I was a bit shocked because I didn’t think of myself as a piano teacher yet, but I realized that every piano teacher starts somewhere. So I told her I had little to no experience and I wouldn’t charge much because of that. Her mom agreed and I started teaching little 8 year old Bonnie. I was amazed at how quick she was to learn, and how dedicated she was! In just the first year of piano lessons we finished primer book 1, primer book 2, and finished the GRADE ONE book! (3 years of studies in just 1 year!)
Next, I began performing on a regular basis.
I started out at a place called Simon Frasier Lodge, a place for senior citizens. I played for an hour every Friday before lunch. I quickly expanded to other facilities, eventually working my way up to playing to an audience of over 650 at a massive dinner on a beautiful grand piano. I was performing on average about 4 solid hours a week. That is a lot of performance time considering that when you play in a recital you perform for 30 seconds to 5 minutes, and you do that maybe twice a year. All this performing further accelerated my skills and helped me understand what made a good performance, how to play to and audience and draw people in. I started to get standing ovations when I played at different events. Later on I even performed a violin piano duet with my friend Ian on stage in front of several thousand people on Canada day. It was amazing! It’s still to this day one of the greatest memories of my life!
Everything was coming together and I was looking towards university next, getting a performance degree, maybe teaching a little on a side, and hopefully becoming a concert pianist! I was just starting learning Chopin’s e minor Concerto (it’s over 100 pages long) along with a new Beethoven sonata.
That’s when disaster struck…
Out of the blue, I woke up with massive pain in my chest. It hurt to breath. My body throbbed with pain. Every breath I took felt like my ribs were shattering from the inside out. My neck hurt; my eyes hurt; my whole body was in pain. I had cold chills, sweat all over; I was vomiting. But most of all, my heart felt like a thousand knives were stabbing into it from all directions. I felt this pressure on my chest, the best way to describe it would be if I was laying on my back as a sumo wrestler was standing on top of it. My heart felt bruised and tight, almost as if a snake was squeezing my heart from the inside.
Every time my heart beat, lub dub, lub dub, there was pain like someone was punching my exposed heart.
I was extremely scared of what might be wrong, yet for some reason (maybe out of denial) I tried to tough it out at home for the first day. Eventually my breathing became so shallow, that when I laid down to go to sleep that night I couldn’t take even a wisp of air into my lungs. If someone pushed me on my back and kept me there, I wouldn’t have been able to take a breath to save my life. When I was sitting up, I could take a small gasp of air before the pain would be so great that my body wouldn’t let me take a deeper breath.
That’s when I got taken to the hospital by my Dad…
While at the hospital, my breathing got even worse and I started to lose consciousness due to not being able to take enough oxygen in to keep myself awake. They quickly put me on pure oxygen, and started taking massive amounts of tests. They said I had something called pericarditis, which means “inflammation of the outer sack of the heart”. In other words, the lining around my heart was inflamed and was grinding up against my lung like sandpaper. My body tried to compensate by adding more fluid around the heart, which actually constricted my heart more. Because of this extra fluid, if I tried to breath, there wasn’t as much space in my chest cavity and this created pressure on my heart. That’s what shortened my breathing. If too much fluid built up, that high amount of pressure could pop my heart and I would die. They put me on some anti-inflammatory drugs and sent me home once I began to stabilize. They had me on massive amounts of ibuprofen, but I don’t remember getting warned of the nasty side effects.
It took over a month after the first hospital visit before I could do normal things like walking, or skating, and even playing the piano. So when I tried to go back to playing the piano, my muscles were so weak that they didn’t have the stamina they used to. I interpreted the pain I was experiencing in my arms as things I needed to push through because I didn’t understand limits, I refused to believe in them. I had always just forged ahead no matter the difficulty, and in piano that had gotten me pretty far so I told myself I’d do the same in this situation no matter how difficult it got. I ignored the pain.
Little did I know…I was actually hurting myself more because my muscles weren’t strong enough to take that much practicing anymore.
I quickly developed tendentious in both arms. Then I got pericarditis again a few months later, and had to stop everything I was doing. I couldn’t do anything active, I could barely sleep, I had ulcers in my stomach (from the ibuprofen I was on), and I couldn’t even play piano anymore. After 5 minutes of playing, my arms would throb and hurt so much that I could hardly move them. My life was shut down just like that. Everyone, of my dreams were gone and now I was just trying to survive. Every time I tried to get back on the horse and recover from pericarditis, I was sent back to the beginning and started my recovery from square one again. Pericarditis, just kept coming back every time I started to get somewhere. Over the course of time I’d had over a dozen cases of pericarditis, and it eventually broke my will.
I was forced to quit the job I loved, and spent a few months stuck in the house doing nothing but watching episodes of Star Trek ( Star Trek is awesome, but laying around the house not being able to do anything for months is not). Eventually I recovered enough and I found a job where I didn’t need to be active – making maps on a computer. My boss (John) was awesome, and he treated me great. However, I thrive on being around others, and interacting with a special 3D computer putting in 150,000 DEM points over an 8 hour a day really just depressed me even more. I think being in that situation made me realize how much my situation had changed, and it was very sobering. With everything going downhill, I didn’t really have an identity anymore. I used to feel happy and excited to live life, but eventually I became really depressed and was starting to give up. Despite all this my piano teacher, Lori Elder, was amazingly supportive and understanding.
Then one night everything changed… I was deep in thought and I was feeling sorry for myself and my situation, but I stopped myself and thought, “You know what? At least I had all those experiences; I bet there are people out there who would have loved to experience all the great things I got to be a part of.”
Suddenly I realized how lucky I really was and I was appalled at myself for being so self-centered. “So what that I can’t play like I used to! I still have my experiences and training. Maybe there are people out there who don’t know piano/music and desperately want to learn but cannot, because of lesson fees outside of their budget, or perhaps lack of teachers in their area. I was lucky enough to be trained. I can pass on my knowledge to others so they can pursue their passion in music and live a happier life!”
That’s when I decided I was going to continue sharing my skill in music, not through playing, but through teaching, and help people with no cost to them. I was just going to enjoy contributing to society in a positive way. So I began making the how to play piano video lessons back in 2006. I learned then that keeping my mind on myself whether I’m in good times (becoming of overly egotistical) or bad (feeling sorry for myself), isn’t a healthy way of living. Since I made that change my life has slowly and constantly been turning in the right direction!
– – – Part 2 The Next Journey 2007-2013 – – –
What happened during and after the YouTube lessons?
It felt so great to be helping people, the feedback from all of you was so incredible that it completely turned my life around! Instead of feeling useless, I had a purpose again.
After I released the piano lessons online I wanted to pursue teaching music more, so I continued to study with Lori Elder, but with a focused approach on ‘Piano Pedagogy’ (How to teach) instead of ‘Piano Performance’. Lori really opened up her teaching world to me. She helped balance me more, armed me with skills, and gave me support when I ran into problems with my own real life students. She taught me how to be a better teacher. I don’t think I would’ve gotten to where I am without Lori’s guidance and help; she’s been like family to me.
While my pedagogy lessons were going on, a wonderful lady named Maureen hired me to work at her professional piano studio here in my local city. Being hired there changed my full time job from computer mapping to teaching piano and this is where I got even more experience with a broad range of students.
Within that year, I started filming the 1st reshoot of the “How to play piano” course. I upgraded my camera and editing software in hopes to increase the production value of the lessons, but I made a huge error on the audio side of things as you probably know! (Oooops!)
With the “How to play piano” project on going, I was taking my first pedagogy exams! After the first set of exams Lori sent me to a master piano teacher named Mr. Edward Parker in another city.
Mr. Parker was one of the best piano teachers in the whole country, and wrote the textbook I studied my pedagogy from! I went to attend a few of his Pedagogy classes, and I ended up hitting it off with him so well that he invited me to live at his place and be mentored by him. I packed up my stuff and spent that summer/fall surrounded in his piano world. He would be teaching piano usually more than 12 hours a day every day except Sunday, when he would only do a half day. He let me teach some of his students and overall it was a great experience. During my stay I learned a lot of things related to music and life, and I’m very grateful to him. I had planned to stay there, but circumstances changed and my students back at home were all left without a teacher. I thought it made the most sense for me to return home again since they needed me.
After I was back, I continued with the YouTube videos until I ran out of good topics to cover.
I also finished my next set of Pedagogy exams with Lori, scoring near the very top scores in all of Canada. Later in the middle of that year, I was camping in the summer and while carrying some heavy logs I got a hernia. That made finishing up the series fairly difficult so production slowed down. I remember filming and having my guts bulging out…was a pretty intense experience, but I really loved producing the videos for you guys! A few months later I ended up getting surgery and then building my 2nd version of the how to play piano website by myself over a few days from a wireless keyboard while recovering in bed.
Next, I decided I needed to expand my topics outside of just piano since I had covered so many topics on the piano already.
I began covering Music Theory in a complete and in depth way, this time adding homework and covering every topic needed for all of Rudiments! That project took me the year to complete, but I still really enjoyed making the course! Only problem is all the video production, combined with teaching started to catch up with me and I ended up getting really burnt out. So once I finished the last video in the series, I decided I needed to rest, improve my health and relax for 2-3 months while I figure out the next project I would take on.
Well… that little break ended up stretching for close to 3 years and some of you probably wondered where I was and what I was doing all that time.
One of the main things I did while away was continue teaching my piano students. I enjoy teaching so much, and I still remember these two Korean brothers named Jaemin and Min. I taught them up to grade 10 and they were so talented. Not only did I really enjoyed teaching them, but they were hilarious and always made me smile, I really enjoyed getting to know them. Now that they’ve graduated, I would consider them friends! I even began teaching a few Skype lessons and really enjoyed teaching a dedicated and talented student named Ron from Alaska.
Another reason I decided to take that break was that I came out of the “Learn Free Music Theory” course feeling sort of lost…
I had went into making the YouTube videos thinking that because of my illness, I didn’t have much time to live and I made it my goal to pass my musical knowledge on to others to help them follow their own passion. It gave me a purpose to work towards, and once the music theory course was done, I felt like my initial mission was “complete”. I hadn’t expected to live to see the end of my project since I was so sick at the time, but somehow I was still alive.
I didn’t know what my purpose was anymore…
A million ideas of what to do next went through my head. I even I thought about making random sketch videos or being a YouTube entertainer, but I wanted my work to contribute more to society. I took more time and thought about what I really wanted to accomplish if I had a full life to live. I knew I wanted to do something more with media, technology, and education, but I didn’t know what yet. Without a clear direction to go, I figured I would upgrade my video production quality with a DSLR camera while I figured out my end game goals. So, I bought a camera, and surprise, I got hooked on photography! I ended up taking a couple hundred thousand images over the next 2 years and gave myself an education on cameras, lenses, composition, etc.
I think I enjoyed photography because of the adventure. It got me out of the house that I had been kept inside so long for, because of my illness. I loved searching for beautiful things in the world to capture and I created a Facebook Photography page for a place to share those photos with others.
I also had some time to think, grow, and mature more.
I became more aware of how little I knew, and how it’s not as important to enjoy the action of what you do compared with what your work actually accomplishes. I had a lot of fun doing photography, but at the end of the day, I felt somewhat empty and wasn’t satisfied knowing that my photos would be all that I contributed to society if I continued to do photography full time.
I decided to step back from photography and make it a hobby, and focus on what I really want to seriously accomplish in life. My thoughts naturally came back to what I had done with YouTube and how I still wanted to do more.
I dreamt about creating an international music academy that could enrich society and take advantage of our modern tools; an academy that had great material and could be learned by anyone, not just a few elite.
I believe in our modern age of copy and paste; the idea of restricting knowledge in order to keep it exclusive should be upgraded; to open access and equal opportunities for all. The deciding factors in success should be dedication, skill, hard work, and passion. Could more people be open to follow their passion if they’re not restricted by unnecessary blocks, like class limits, or tuition? I think the answer is yes. I’m not saying how we’ve done education in the past is bad, however, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to improve upon where we are and build a better system that pushes the whole world forward. Using technology we can improve the way education is done! I dream of creating an open and free world class academy that trains amazing performance musicians, and a new generation of composers.
That dream is what fueled the relaunching of the Academy and this 3.0 redesign of the website.
Incidentally enough, I was approached by a new educational tech start up called ‘Versal’ earlier this year and fell in love with the awesome team and mission they have. They’re aiming to uplift education by using technology to give people the ability to create rich interactive courses online without any coding knowledge! They asked me if I’d be interested in beta testing their platform, and after looking at it, I knew Versal could help me overcome the teaching problems I had with video only lessons. Being able to create interactive lessons powered by the Versal platform is a huge step forward the Academy and has got me very excited for the future! I should be able to cover all topics of music, even the most complex topics such as Harmony will be possible now!
I’m excited to build this Academy, but after I burned out last time, I learned the hard way that I can’t do all of this on my own.
I need to trust people, and rely on others besides just myself. In order to hire others, I’ll need to create a scalable business model that actually works. I’m still trying to figure out what that will look like, but all I know is I want to keep it free and open to everyone. It will be difficult, but I am driven by that dream, so if you believe in that dream also, I invite you to roll up your sleeves and come help build an international music academy with me! Feel free to contact me if you’d like to volunteer to help.
What about my piano playing you ask? Well, I’ve still got tendentious, and it doesn’t look like it’s ever going to be fully healed, but that’s ok. I’ve accepted that I will probably never play piano to the level I once did, but I’ve got new dreams to build towards and hearing the stories of you all following your passion inspires me and brings me the joy I need to keep going! I’ve learned to be much more happy serving others rather than serving myself.
I’m really thankful for all the wonderful people along the way, and I’ve been lucky enough to have in my life.
My own family have been my biggest supporters and I love them so much! My Mom Susan, my Dad Lawrence, my Brother Joshua, and my Fiancée Lovely, are all such a big part of my life. They’ve helped and encouraged me each day and I owe them so much.
Lastly and most of all, I want to express my thankfulness to God for everything. I’m so thankful for my life and your life also!
Thank you so much for your support, and together let’s make this world a better place together!