Eric Conway, D.M.A.:
Today's big event was a concert in a town about 2 hours from Minsk - Borisov, Belarus. This town is close to 1000 years old! We performed at the Borisov's Children's Music and Art School.
The day was free for the choir, however, I gave a music workshop at the Belarusian State Academy of Music, where my friend Pasha was a student. As other countries schedules often mirror the ours in the states, we often tour when other school systems are in the throes of finals or right after school has closed for the summer. The Minsk Conservatory was in between sessions, however there was a group of about 30 students and faculty who attended the workshop. The school reminded me a great deal of my alma mater the Peabody Conservatory in the architecture and venerable presentation of its artifacts.
Many who attended the workshop, were present at our concert at the Belarusian State Philharmonic Hall last night. Virtually everyone at the workshop was a member of the conservatory choir. During the workshop, I learned that one of America's favorite composers had ties to Belarus. George Gershwin's father was from Belarus and his mother was from Ukraine. Because of this tie, Belarus had a special connection with George Gershwin's music. We had a lengthy discussion about George Gershwin, American choral practices, and about principals of good choral production. The hour workshop flew by.
During the walk back, one of the students accompanied me back to the hotel. He gave me even more in-depth history lesson of Belarus. He mentioned that virtually every building in Belarus was built since 1945, after World War II. Because of Belarus's proximity to Poland, Belarus was one of the first targets of Nazi Germany. Minsk, many of you may know was the site of one of the largest Nazi-run ghettos in World War II temporarily housing over 100,000 Jews. The capital city of Minsk was virtually destroyed save a couple buildings. Because Belarus is sounded by 5 different countries, they were frequent targets for invasion. The city was rebuilt but not reconstructed. The new architecture is typical of Stalinist architecture which favored grand buildings, broad avenues and wide squares. It is easy for us in the United States to be oblivious to this region, as there are so many small countries in Eastern Europe. We all know Western European countries bordering along the Atlantic, but not Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, or Belarus.
At 2PM we left our hotel for our concert at the Children's Music School. Borisov was a typical European town, quiet and orderly. Before the concert we ate at a local American style diner that featured pizza and pasta. We gave a one-hour concert in the school which was enthusiastically received by the students, all who were members of the school's choir. Because of youth, they spoke more English than previous generations of Belarusians. Although this concert was during the day while in school, the students were very emotional in the reception of our music. We felt like rock stars for the moment with the students at the school cheering!
Before we returned to our Minsk Hotel, we stopped to a local market for some food items for the evening. Often when one travels, one learns a great deal about a foreign culture through their grocery markets, like in this culture if you want a bag for your groceries, you must pay for the bag.
We then quickly returned to our hotel as this would be our last night in Minsk, Belarus. Tomorrow we have a concert in a remote town called Mogilev (3 hours away from Minsk). We will check out of our hotel at 11:00 a.m. We will perform an open-air concert for their Mogilev city festival. We will stay in Mogilev throughout during the day and attend the fireworks presentation in the evening. We leave Mogilev at 12 AM for the Minsk Airport to arrive at 3:00 a.m. for a 5:00 a.m. departure for Montenegro - OUCH!!
This will be our last communication until Montenegro!