It doesn’t take long when speaking with Karla Telganova of Hillsboro to realize that she is a strong woman and speaks freely of the things that are nearest and dearest to her heart.
Telganova is the accompanist for music students in Marion Middle and Senior High Schools. She also is involved in musicals and other performances requiring a pianist. Audiences take note of how her fingers float lightly and easily over the keys and bring out pleasing melodies from even the most complex pieces.
“Music is my life,” she said. “It inspires men and women, changes mindsets, softens hearts and souls, and inspires individuals to a better life.”
Known affectionately as “Mrs. T” by the students she serves, Telganova encourages them to get a college education.
“I tell everyone America is the best country in the world,” she said. “You have so many privileges. You have one chance, and you have to go for it.”
Telganova and her husband, Kakim Kunantaev, grew up in the capital city of Kazakhstan in the Soviet Union. They came to the United States in 1990.
“We came with three suitcases but with educated minds,” she said.
Her entire youth was devoted to education.
“You have to be excellent,” she was told.
At age 5, she entered a school for gifted children, where she took regular classes as well as four hours each day in classical music and dance.
She was required to give public performances every semester, becoming a concert pianist.
“We were raised to be performers,” she said.
In eighth grade and high school, she played piano as part of the school orchestra.
After high school, Telganova attended a music conservatory and eventually earned advanced degrees in her field. Her husband earned a Ph.D. in economics. She taught in the conservatory following her graduation.
“We wanted to be extra-ordinary. We wanted to be excellent,” she said. “I had a very good life.”
Prior to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Telganovas were given the opportunity to visit the United States through an exchange program sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee. They decided to come to Tabor College in Hillsboro for one year to learn English. Their 10-year-old daughter came with them. They stayed on as teachers at Tabor for several more years.
One day, her husband said, “Let’s start our life over again.”
They became Christians, and they became U.S. citizens. They also had another child, a little boy who now is 22 and attends Texas Christian University.
“My life has completely changed,” Telganova said. “I gave up everything — my career, my degree, my family.”
She has been playing piano at Marion schools for eight years.
“I do love kids, and I love music,” she said. “It’s the best language in the world. It makes people better than they are.”
She reaches out to students who are living with difficult circumstances.
“I hug them,” she said. “I see how music brings out the spirit in them.”
She enjoys working at the Center for Performing Arts.
“This building inspires students to do great things,” she said. “This is my biggest joy, to come here and play, and to see how they change and how much fun they have. It brings me joy every single day.”