2004 Russian Journey

Mary Ann & Marcus - Red Square -
St Basil's Cathedral in rear
Our journey began with Marcus meeting with Howard Meeker (Cleveland State University) to discuss Anatoly Selianin's interest in presenting a Sousa style concert with the Volga Concert Band (Saratov, Russia). After further meetings with Selianin, the date of October 15th, 2004 was established and preparations began.

Invitations were extended by the Russian Embassy for Mary Ann and Marcus to apply for visas. Travel arrangements were completed with the help of Debbie VanNostran at V.I.P. Travel in Medina and air transport arranged on Delta Airlines.

Neiman and Selianin exchanged emails and phone calls to finalize the 28 selections that would be presented on the Sousa style concert and music was sent to the Saratov Philharmonic for preparation by the Volga Concert Band.

The journey begins:

After a whirlwind of activities, meetings with the Meekers and others on Russian culture and information on Meeker's trip, the Neiman's were ready to leave for
Moscow. Their bags were packed, passports, visas, and tickets in hand, their prepared for their Friday, October 8th departure.

Medina Community Band clarinetist 
Jamie Holcomb drove the Neiman's to Cleveland Airport for the first leg of the journey, which would take them to Cincinnati Airport, New York JFK Airport, and on to Moscow. After 13 hours of flights and a total of 16 hours of travel, the Neiman's landed in Moscow and were greeting by overcast skies and light rain. Moscow is ten time zones (eight hours) ahead of Medina (OH) time.

The Neiman's were met in 
Moscow by Anatoly Dudin, chair of the music department at the MoscowUniversity of Culture, and Anton Doronkin, a student at the Moscow State University of Culture and Arts, who served as our translator. It was discovered that all of the Neiman's baggage, except Marcus' baggage arrived safely. Forms were filed and they were off to the University for lunch and a lecture for students and faculty. Of great interest to the students and faculty were entry requirements for American schools of music.

A short tour of 
Moscow followed. Roadways were in similar condition to those in the United States and orange barrels were a "welcome" sight. War memorials dotted the landscape in remembrance of the Second World War. The highlight of the tour was a visit to Red Square. Arrival was close to dusk and the colors were striking.  From a church, off the Square, a choir could be heard singing a beautiful Russian hymn. It was like something out of a motion picture. Then on to the train station.

Like something from a motion picture.

The train station was a picture of contrasts: old Russian (looking very much the 19th century characters from a novel) were mixed with modern Russians.  Everyone was rushing to catch their train. The train looked like the Oriental Express. Our car was a first class car suitable for two. The car contained two bunks, a small table with tea service and blankets and pillows for sleeping. With a 15-hour trip from 
Moscow to Saratov (about 800 miles), we settled in for the night and slept off and on throughout the trip.  Looking out our window, the landscape swept by in a blur. It looked very much like the scene one might see in rural Medina County, yet this was Southern Russia, thousands of miles from our rural home.

By Sunday mid-morning, we arrived in 
Saratov and were met by our host, Anatoly Selianin. Accompanied by several students and two cabs, we left for our apartment (graciously loaned to us by a friend of Anatoly) in downtown Saratov. It was evident that most residents live in small apartments. While the buildings were often in disrepair, we soon found that apartments were warm, neat, clean, and very comfortable. Our's was a four room apartment: bathroom, kitchen, living area, and bedroom.  Interestingly enough, it was one block from what had been the KGB headquarters in Saratov. You must remember that Saratov was a closed city (not open to foreigners) until recently. It still has a strong and large presence of Russian military. It is also the home of the world's first astronaut Uri Gagarin.

After planting our luggage, Anatoly took us to his home where we showered (the hot water was out in our apartment) and had a wonderful lunch fixed by Anatoly's lovely wife. The lunch consisted of caviar, salmon, salad (composed entirely of home grown vegetables) and a main disk. Bottled water, fruit juices, and Vodka were part of every meal. It was then that I found that our first rehearsal would be at 2p (it was somewhat after 1p). I indicated that we must get to the concert hall. Anatoly indicated that we had just completed a long journey and would eat and then go to the rehearsal. He also indicated that conductors were never late, merely delayed.

Anatoly had taken my suggestion and arranged the band in a seating similar to that I have used with Medina Community Band, which was of great help to me during the days of rehearsal to come. Rehearsals would be every day (Sunday through Thursday) for two-and-a-half to three hours, beginning at 
14:00hours (2p).  The Volga Concert Band is one of the few professional concert bands in Russia. It is composed of exceptionally talented professional musicians, faculty from the Saratov Conservatory of Music, and select Conservatory musicians. It numbers approximately 65 members, about ten or more who spoke English.  One of the flute players, Ina, served as my translator (she continued to remind me, as did Anatoly speak slowly, use small words).  

While I thought I would have communication problems, I really didn't. In most cases, the band understood what I wanted musically through my baton, singing the parts, or if necessary, speaking to Ina who translated to the band. I continued to tell them not only about the style and interpretation of the American music, but also information about the pieces, the composers, and why or when the pieces were composed. Them commented that they were impressed that I was not only an excellent conductor, but also a talented teacher.

The instrumentation of the band was: 2 piccolo (who also played flute), 6 flute, 2 oboe (one who doubled on English horn), 2 bassoon, 1 e-flat clarinet, 12 clarinet, 1 bass clarinet, 4 alto sax, 1 tenor sax, 1 baritone sax, 5 horn, 12 cornet/trumpet, 6 trombone, 2 euphonium, 6 tuba, and percussion.  Our percussion section was augmented with harp, Celesta/piano, drum set, and various mallet instruments. The quality of the ensemble was excellent and they worked very hard during our rehearsals.  Interestingly enough, they had many of the same challenges that my own band had: talking too much between numbers, playing too loud, and playing things too fast. I felt right at home during rehearsals.

The trumpet soloist was one of Anatoly's former students and had won international honors as a soloist and would play 
Ohio composer Frank Simon's Willow Echoes. The trumpet trio, who would play Herbert L. Clarke's Three Aces were fantastic.  Likewise, the brass sextet and Dixieland ensemble were great. Mary Ann was seated first clarinet and fit right in quickly! If you are interested in the entire program, visit the schedule calendar section on this website.

The Russian musicians were very interested in the melodic and almost dance like quality of our Sousa marches. They were fascinated with the interpretation and style that we brought to them. Likewise, the loved the Symphonic selections from Harry Potter and another John Williams composition Fantasy of Flight. 
Michael Golemo, former Sounds of Sousa Band member and director of bands at Iowa State University and Ludwig Music were kind enough to provide us with a copy of Michael's arrangement of Sousa's Marching Through Georgia, which was greatly warmly by both band and audience.

In general, the band enjoyed the Sousa marches, as well as those by 
Ohio composers King and Fillmore, very much. Like Sousa probably found, the band and audience enjoyed Ragtime and Jazz a great deal. I could not have asked for more from the band, they were wonderful!

Saratov really was much like Columbus (OH) or Ann Arbor (MI) a college town! Saratov boasts about one million residents and has six or seven universities. It is over 400 years old and boasts a great many statues and public artwork. A 201 year old Opera Hall compliment a wonderful art museum and the Conservatory of Music.

Everyone walks and it is evident that there are far fewer overweight residents in 
Saratov than in our own country. No speed limits encouraged a completely unique traffic flow. American rock music could be heard throughout the shopping areas of the city and open markets of all sorts were well stocked and very busy.  

While many buildings were in disrepair, it was evident that new buildings were being constructed and remodeling taking place. Roadways and sidewalks were a patchwork of various conditions, from very good to very bad.  We walked the three blocks from our apartment to Anatoly's and the additional two blocks to the Philharmonic Hall every day.

Our day consisted of rising sometime between 9a and 10a and preparing for our journey to Anatoly's for an hour lunch, heading to the Philharmonic for our three hour rehearsal, a long and wonderful dinner at Anatoly's, the walk back to our apartment, and to bed.  We were exhausted!  

My luggage finally arrived on Wednesday and it was nice to have clean clothing to wear. Our water was finally on by then and likewise, it was nice not to have to bath with "wash and wipes."

The young (both men and women) seem to be in much better physical condition that those in the United States. Many women wore form fitting jeans, 5-inch heels, and fashionable coats. Men worse mostly black outfits.  

In addition to walking much of the general area between our apartment and the Philharmonic Hall, we had the opportunity to take in a portion of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty" ballet at the Opera Hall (which was a 201-year old work of art). We also visited the Saratov Art Museums, one of the first in Russia, various stores, and the Conservatory of Music.  

From an economic standpoint, we seems to believe that the residents of Saratov had buying power and were using it. American goods were common as were others from Europe.  Yet, we did see poor residents and it was not uncommon to see people seeking food in trash areas. The ruble is the coin of the realm.  The United States dollar will bring almost 30 rubles. To our knowledge, many of the residents have dachas (summer homes) on the Volga where they raise their own fruits and vegetables. All our meals consisted mainly of home grown foods.

Preparations for the concert continued. The band was reaching a peak of readiness and the soloists were ready. Advertisement, in the form of large banners and placards, were up all around town. It was surreal seeing my name in Russian on buildings and signs.

We decided that a pre-concert rehearsal was neither needed, nor desired, and I gave the musicians the day off. These professional musicians receive no pay for rehearsals and make about $15/week for concerts!  

The concert went off almost without flaw. A warm and responsive audience greeted very composition with loud applause and rhythmic clapping. As we opened the concert with Russian composer Irving Berlin's America the Beautiful, I looked up to my right of the stage to see the Russian and United States flags, side-by-side. Tears welled in my eyes and a large lump formed in my throat. That's how the concert started.

While I have worked with many soloists, the Russian trumpet soloist was one of the finest and our soprano, who sang Lehar's Vilia from the Merry Widow (in Russian) and Percy Hall's arrangement of Herbert's Art Is Calling to Me from the Enchantress (in English), was as talented as she was beautiful.

Mary Ann's performance with the Dixieland brought down the house and she was presented with two arms worth of flowers! We ended the concert with Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever (what else) and Agapkin's Farewell to a Slovanic Woman. The audience called me back numerous times and we finally agreed to take the trio of Stars and Stripes again.

Following numerous pictures with band members and audience, we changed and headed to a Georgian restaurant. What an great meal. While I had never really done a great deal of drinking, a enjoyed the nightly Vodka toasts. However, I limited my shots to about a quarter a short rather than a full shot.

The next morning we headed out to visit a Russian military museum that overlooked the Volga. Hundreds of Saratov residents and students filled the museum and caused massive traffic jams throughout the area. Then a trip to downtown Saratov and a meeting with Mikhail A. Bryzgalov, Saratov regional minister of culture. I present Minister Bryzgalov with a proclamation from Medina Mayor Jane Leaver and information about Medina. Likewise, the minister presented me with a great deal of information about Saratov as well as a CD of the Saratov Museum of Art.

From there we returned to our apartment to rest and finish our packing. Soon Anatoly and his students came with cabs and packed us up for the drive to theSaratov train station. The weather was simply beautiful with fall in the air. We boarded our train mid-afternoon and prepared for our 15-hour trip back to Moscow. We sadly bid farewell to our host and friend.  

Another short tour of Moscow and I found that McDonald's is evident even in downtown Moscow. Unfortunately, we didn't have the opportunity to try a Russian "Big Mac." Perhaps next time.

We arrived at the MoscowAirport at about 10a and were greeted with another huge traffic jam and what seemed like hundreds of people, all wanting to board planes. Customs was very tight and all our bags were checked. We finally boarded our flight shortly after 1p and prepared for the 10-hour flight to JFK. This flight commonly boasted of having many newly adopted Russian babies making their way with their new parents to the United States. It seemed that they must have all talked to each other so that when one stopped crying, the next would start. And so it went for ten hours.

Without too many snags, we completed our flight and arrived in Cleveland shortly after 10p on Sunday, the journey was almost over. The ride home with Jamie was a mix of excited conversation and longing to take a shower and sleep in our own beds.

Like most travelers, we had enjoyed our journey and found that the adventure was one we would never forget.  I will never forget the talents and faces of those wonderful Russian musicians in Saratov and Anatoly and his wife! Yet, stepping to the podium of Medina Community Band and hearing those wonderful first tones make tears of joy come to my eyes again I was home! We made it!

The journal will continue. We have been encouraged to believe that the new year will likely hold an invitation to return to the Moscow University and a return visit to Saratov, and other adventures.

St. Basil's Cathedral - South end of the Square

Anatoly tries on Neiman's Sousa costume hat (fits pretty good!)

The Selianins and Neiman's following the concert
  Dudin, Marcus, Mary Ann, and translator in front of the Kremlin


Philharmonic Hall Manager, Marcus, and Mary Ann

Red Square

After every concert, there must be a party (Georgian style)
Another Cathedral to the Northeast of Red Square

Yes, we had a great time at the post concert party!

The Kremlin - West side of Red Square

Government building in Saratov

Marcus & Mary Ann in front of Lennin's Masoleum

Saratov park war memorial

GEMs on the East side of Red Square

Saratov Opera House - 201 years old

Anatoly Dudin (Moscow Univ of Culture), Mary Ann & Marcus at University Ballroom

A market square across from the Saratov Conservatory of Music

Mary Ann & Marcus talk about American music schools

The Volga River as seen from the Military Museum

Moscow University of Culture - faculty and students who participated in lecture - October 9, 2004

Saratov Military Museum finds Marcus admiring the hardware

Mary Ann stretches in the first class car on the train from Moscow to Saratov

A visit with Mikhail A. Bryzgalov, Saratov Region Minister of Culture (second from left)

Marcus & Anatoly Selianin relax in Anatoly's apartment in Saratov

Mary Ann & Marcus visit the Volga River

Anatoly & Marcus admire one of the numerous posters advertising October 15th concert

  Saratov train station and departure on Saturday, October 16

Marcus rehearses Volga Concert Band, Saratov Philharmonic Hall

Mary Ann bids farewell to Saratov and boards our train for the ride to Moscow

Marcus, Saratov Conservatory of Music Chair, Anatoly

A train station somewhere between Moscow and Saratov

Visiting the home of the first chair clarinetist - Volga Concert Band

New apartment buildings on the campus of Moscow University

Russian kitten resides in comfort in street vendor's abode

The home of the Constantin Sergeyevich Stanislavsky theatre

Mary Ann & Marcus prior to concert

Apartment buildings in downtown Moscow

Ina (flutist & translator) and Marcus prior to concert

Yes, a McDonald's in Moscow - but no time for a Big Mac

Members of the Volga Band flute section mug with Neiman after second half of the concert

One tire conductor gets ready to sleep on the train to Moscow