Being With The People — A Diary by Kirk Edwards: Leningrad 1989 — Wednesday, June 21


For The Madera Tribune

Kirk Edwards is shown here holding the Russian flag presented to him as a gift from a member of the Soviet band.

In 1989, Kirk Edwards, a 1973 MHS graduate, had an experience unique to Madera natives. He traveled as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Band to the Soviet Union — the first U.S. Band to do so. Throughout his stay, he kept a diary, an abridged copy of which is here published, in serial form, for the first time.


• • •


A concert, a drawing, and a flag


This morning everyone is excited about our tour of the Hermitage Museum, which served as Peter the Great’s Winter Palace.

Suzanne, our tourist guide, gave us a comprehensive tour of the museum. She was quite knowledgeable about the various works of art and the history of the museum. She surprised me by remarking that I reminded her of Peter the Great. She said that Peter the Great was also tall and thin like me.


After lunch we had a combined band rehearsal at the October Hall. Boba had been drinking less it seemed on this occasion. I brought my barrage of gifts, which consisted of cigarettes, felt pens, clarinet reeds, and chewing gum to the rehearsal. The people from the Leningrad Military District Band also brought wonderful gifts to exchange at the rehearsal. I was quite enjoying “The Market” and the diplomacy so much that I hardly had adequate time to prepare for the rehearsal. The love that was demonstrated to us was overwhelming.


While I was in the clarinet section, Locia asked, “Do you have a Bible,” in broken English. I did not understand his request at first. I later understood that he was inquiring if I had a Russian Language Bible. I had brought a ‘Good News’ Bible, but I was reluctant to part with it. I had used that Good News Bible for eight years and often used it to help me prepare for the Sunday school class that I taught.


Today’s rehearsal was much more involved than Tuesday’s rehearsal. All of the Coast Guard Band member’s instruments had finally arrived. So, everyone had their instruments for rehearsal for the first time. The significance of our working together and the love and respect shown to us by the Russian people was quite overwhelming. We worked on the finer points of the music in today’s rehearsal. [The Kazan Cathedral Concern followed.]


The Kazan Cathedral concert


The Kazan Cathedral concert was very intriguing because it would be our first interaction with the public since we had arrived in Russia. Even the name of the venue, The Kazan Cathedral of Atheism and Religion evoked sort of a mystical or at least a curious sentiment.


The concert was sort of a dialog format, an alternating between the U.S. Coast Guard Band and the Leningrad Military District Band. There was no competition between the bands. The audience’s response to our performances was thunderous. The audience members would present bouquets of flowers to our soloist following each musical selection. Many of the flower bearers were beautiful young girls. The Leningrader’s love for music was quite obvious judging by their response and they seemed very knowledgeable regarding music in general. The crowd had a special affinity to American Jazz music. Leningrad Television cameras intently honed in on us. I was frequently the focus of much attention because it seemed that I might have appeared exotic to them.


The audience’s overwhelming favorite segments of the U.S. Coast Guard Band performance were the Coast Guard Band Masters of Swing, and the U.S. Coast Guard Band’s Dixieland Jazz Band. The Leningrad audience seemed to have a great affinity for American jazz music.


One of the funniest occurrences during our Kazan Cathedral concert was that a trumpet player in the audience had brought his trumpet to the concert. He would routinely play spontaneous reprises to the selections that we played. He was quite good, and it was a hilarious and effective gesture.


We packed up our equipment immediately after the conclusion of the concert. The audience seemed as though they were still under a spell. Then a man approached me and started talking to me in broken English, saying, “present, present, present.” Then he beckoned to me to follow him. I thought that he wanted to introduce me to someone. He led me through the crowd to an easel and a stool. He was an artist.


Through the use of gestures, he asked me if I would sit for him to draw a portrait of me. I felt that I should not pass up this opportunity.


The people pressed tightly around the artist (Sergey) while he was drawing my picture (with charcoal on an 18” X 24” canvas) There was a little girl kneeling and peering at me while Sergey drew the portrait. People who spoke a language that I did not understand were all around me. But, I still felt very much at ease, except for the fact that I was concerned about the security of my clarinet while I posed for the drawing.


While I sat for the portrait, many thoughts raced through my head. The most prevalent idea was that I wanted my face to express a love for the Russian people and the hope that our countries might live together peaceably.


This whole scenario seemed surreal to me. I could not believe that this was happening to me. The portrait was breathtakingly life-like. I asked Sergey what I might compensate him for the drawing. But, he simply replied, “Present.” Sergey’s friend Arif served as our translator. Arif spoke English reasonably well, although he had a strong Russian accent. Arif told me that Sergey wanted me to have the portrait as a memento to remember him by. Sergey, Arif, and I shook hands.


When we reached the hotel I invited them to my room because I wanted to present some small gifts to them. They informed me that they were not allowed to enter our tourist hotel. So, I brought the gifts down to them as they waited outside of the hotel. I gave them some cigarettes, chewing gum, and chocolates. Even after giving me the extraordinary portrait they seemed overwhelmed by me giving them these small tokens of my appreciation.


After returning to my room, I carefully unwrapped the gift that Sergey Kuzmin, the clarinetist, gave me. To my astonishment it was a full size Soviet Flag with the representation of the yellow hammer and sickle on its crimson red background.

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