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Being With The People: Leningrad; June 20, 1989

For The Madera Tribune

A Russian-American concert. CWO Edwards is pictured, fourth from left, in a blue uniform. The Leningrad Military District Band is pictured adjacent to him in the white uniforms with a white shirts.


A Diary by Kirk Edwards

Chief Warrant Officer Four, (CWO4)

United States Coast Guard (Retired)

Former Director of Cadet Bands, U.S. Coast Guard Academy


On the occasion of the First U.S. Military Band to Visit the Soviet Union, (USSR)

In celebration of signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty

• • •

Making music with the Russians

We had a joint rehearsal with the Leningrad District Band at the Glinka Cappella, a school for gifted children. The Academic Glinka Capella was first constructed in 1773-77 to serve as the home of the Emperor Court Choir Capella. It is the oldest concert Hall in Leningrad and is considered one of the most acoustically sound music halls in the world.

The members of the Coast Guard Band were reserved and hesitant upon our arrival to the rehearsal, but it was convened almost immediately because we had arrived at the last minute. Approximately half of the Coast Guard Band members had not yet received their instruments because the Finn-air Freight delivery had not yet arrived with their instruments.

So, we did not have an opportunity to warm up on our instruments, but that did not seem so important. Being a musician did not seem to be as important as being an ambassador at this point. It was notable that the members of the Coast Guard Band traveled to Leningrad on a diplomatic visa. I felt that at this very moment what we were doing would have a significant historical impact on the relations between our two countries.

There was a language barrier, but one could sense that everyone could appreciate the historical implications of the moment. The members of the Leningrad District Band welcomed us with handshakes, smiles, and hugs. Despite the language barrier, the U.S. Coast Guard Band and the Leningrad District Band produced some beautiful sonorities; the consonant and beautiful harmony between the East and the West, (A partnership between the U.S. and the Soviet Union).

The U.S. Coast Guard Band members whose instruments had yet to be delivered seemed spellbound during the rehearsal. After our rehearsal intermission the Coast Guard Band musicians whose instruments had not yet arrived borrowed some instruments so that they could share in this tremendous experience.

The Leningrad Military District Band conductors exhibited a fiery passion, great familiarity and knowledge of the repertoire, and lots of charisma. The Russian band seemed to be very fond of them and showed them great respect. The Leningrad Band members seemed partial to the younger conductors. The LMD Band conductor, who was second of the three in regards to seniority, was Col. Nicolai Uschapovsky. Nicolai exhibited a very able conducting technique and exuded lots of passionate. Sasha, their youngest conductor was also one of the most passionate conductors that I have ever seen. The Leningrad Military District Band members were very friendly and eager to meet us. We had been informed that they did not have access to quality musical instruments and accessories. So, we took a many reeds, mouthpieces, and other musical accessories to share with them. We also brought other non-musical items to give them, or to trade with them.

Clarinetists Locia and Boba were the first musicians from the Leningrad Military District Band that I met at the joint rehearsal. I was seated between them in the second clarinet section. Locia was forty years old and spoke English very well. Locia was an excellent clarinetist and he had played in the Leningrad Military District Band for twenty years. Boba, who smelled strongly of alcohol, has been a member of the band for 23 years. Boba was very nice and was an excellent clarinetist. Locia was also employed as a clarinet teacher at a college, and he invited me to hear “the examination” of his students.

LCDR Buckley conducted the combined bands in a rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture during the first rehearsal. All of the musicians enthusiastically applauded spontaneously after the rehearsal of the 1812 Overture. Since John Banker’s tuba had not yet arrived, he stood behind the tuba section intently observing the music and the performance. John was focused and engaged on the rehearsal even though he did not have an instrument to play. He subtly moved rhythmically along with the music. The senior conductor of the Leningrad Military District Band, Boris conducted Alfred Reed’s Russian Christmas Music. A thunderous chorus of chimes rang out during the rehearsal of Russian Christmas Music. I shared one music stand with Boba and Locia. The Leningrad Band’s euphoniums looked profoundly different from the ones that the USCG Band members played. The Soviet instruments did not have as much of the curvature of the American version of the euphonium.

After approximately a thirty-minute rehearsal, Locia turned to me and said, “Entr’acte,” which I learned meant intermission. So, we took a break. During the break I decided to distribute some of the gifts that I had brought for the musicians of the LMD Band. Besides musical accessories I also brought a wide variety of candy and cigarettes to present to them. They were very grateful as we shook hands and at times embraced. This initiated a mutual exchange of gifts between the members of the two bands. Despite their depressed economy, the Russian musicians were not outdone in our exchanging of gifts. Monday’s rehearsal was very short and relaxed. Kevin Schempf and I made plans to meet Sergey, the Leningrad Band Eb clarinetist after our tour of the city that evening.

The tour guide for our entire visit to Leningrad was Suzanne. Suzanne is very intelligent and attractive. She exudes confidence and is quite friendly to all of the Coast Guard Band members. She seems to take us in, as would an adoptive mother genuinely concerned for her new children’s welfare. Her command of the English language is exquisite. She is always smartly dressed and speaks in a very soothing tone. She provides excellent commentary of the many attractions that we visit. Suzanne advises us regarding currency exchange, shopping regulations and practices, traditions and customs, and regulations in general. She also teaches us many helpful phrases in Russian. I was fascinated by that way that certain words are translated or spoken.

Suzanne taught us to say, “Yellow-Blue-Bus,” which sounds like “I love you” in the Russian language. She was anxious to address our individual problems and concerns. When a band member lightheartedly suggested that he would like to go on a date with her after the tour, she let him know in no uncertain terms that she was married and did not appreciate his advances. Everyone marveled at the fact that she took such a liking to John Banker. She loved his outgoing personality and his lively antics as he sang with the Dixieland Band. She seemed enthralled with him. Suzanne said that John was cute and that he was a “tricky boy.” We thought that she meant that he was very clever, by saying he was a “tricky boy.”

Suzanne taught our band director, LCDR Lewis Buckley some valuable phrases to greet the Russian audiences in their tongue. She was invaluable and commanded all of our respect. I asked Suzanne if she had attended the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. She proudly replied, “Yes, many of the Olympic events took place in Leningrad.” We discussed the incredible Soviet basketball team and Arvydas Sabonis. Suzanne mentioned that the Soviet athletes are finally able to enjoy their earnings because of a recent change of government policy. We took a leisurely tour of the city that evening.


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