A viola standout at South hopes for a career performing music

Sofiya Zavydovska, 17, a Class of 2022 South Salem High School graduate (Salem-Keizer Public Schools photo)

This article is part of a series of profiles of Class of 2022 graduates.

Sofiya Zavydovska comes from a family of athletes – but in elementary school, when an orchestra teacher came recruiting, she found it fascinating.

Zavydovska, a first-generation Ukranian-American, grew up in Salem with her family listening to everything from jazz to European disco and Ukrainian folk melodies. The idea that music could come from an instrument, not just a recording, sparked her interest. She signed up for viola.

“I kind of just wanted to be unique because everyone was playing violin,” Zavydovska said.

Now 17, she’s graduating from South Salem High School with a decorated orchestra record, serving as viola section leader for ensembles that won first place in state competitions earlier this year.

Zavydovska said the all-state orchestra competition announced the top five finishers, starting with fifth. The ensemble knew they’d performed well, so when second place was called and South still hadn’t been named, she said she and her fellow musicians began celebrating.

“We were cheering for second place because we knew we got first place at that point,” she said.

South’s orchestra program typically has 30 to 40 incoming freshmen who want to play, said director Damian Berdakin. Of those, maybe two or three are skilled enough to begin high school in chamber orchestra, the school’s most advanced ensemble. 

Zavydovska made the cut as soon as she arrived at South.

“She always sounded very mature on her tone and the way she thought about music. You can tell really quickly by how they look up, what you see in their eyes while they’re playing,” Berdakin said.

She’s able to offer clear directions, he said – both to her sectionmates and to him, as the director, about what’s working or not in a piece of music.

“She’s very amazing that way,” he said.

Zavydovska is involved in so many ensembles she typically has a music rehearsal of some kind every day of the week. In addition to South’s chamber orchestra, she plays with the Portland Youth Philharmonic and the Salem-Keizer All-City Orchestra.

“Each one has their own community of sorts. I’ve made so many friends,” she said.

Her favorite piece is the 1919 viola sonata by British-American composer Rebecca Clarke, an upbeat piece with a sadder backstory.

“She wasn’t allowed to play music. She kind of dropped it all because she … was forced into being a housewife and just never played music again. Even though she made that one piece that was so great,” Zavydovska said.

This year, she said music has helped keep her grounded as she’s worried about relatives in Ukraine affected by the war.

“It’s nice to have somewhere to escape to when other parts of life are really stressful,” she said.

Returning to live performance this year was a boost after a year of online rehearsals and performances, she said.

“You can see the audience actually listening to the music more and not taking it for granted as much,” she said.

In the fall, she’ll attend the University of British Columbia on a full-ride scholarship to study viola performance.

Zavydovska visited the school as a freshman on an orchestra trip.

“I think she has very fond memories of that trip,” Berdakin said. “I like to think that had some impression on her.”

After college, she hopes to have a career performing with a symphony or orchestra, though she’s more recently considered music teaching as well.

Berdakin said he has no doubt she’ll be successful in reaching that goal.

“She makes the section better and makes everyone want to be part of that section,” he said. “We’re definitely going to miss her next year.”

Correction: This story was updated to reflect the correct spelling of Zavydovska’s name. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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