Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Christian Singing School: A Taste of Heaven

Eighty-some of us from across Ukraine and Russia are back home after the annual Christian Singing School. In its 16th year - give or take - the school aims to improve a cappella, congregational singing of Russian-speaking congregations. The last two years the school was held at Donetsk Christian University in southeast Ukraine. Say, care for an inside look ~ plus a 31-second listen?

(Double-click photos to enlarge.) We started Sunday evening, July 19th and here we are Wednesday morning. We didn't usually practice on the stage, but Kostya Zhigulin, our musical director, wanted us to get comfortable looking in the direction of an audience.

Wonder of wonders ~ I managed to upload video for the first time ever ~ Hooray! This little snippet can not capture the rich, full-bodied sound, but its fairly decent. . .

Oh I love it. My prayer is that in heaven we'll be singing in Russian. So beautifully polysyllabic. On the other hand, we're promised that there will be no pain in heaven. Pain and polysyllabicism: can they possibly co-exist? I think not. But then again some things are known only to God. Well, moving right along. . .

Our daily routine included sectionals. Here are the altos with Elena, our leader, a music teacher by profession and Julia, not pictured, the ultimate alto. They are so gifted with reading music. The rest of us just tagged along behind the super singers.

Twice daily we met for group choir. Here are the basses. Oh, fabulous.

We started practicing Sunday evening, 18 July. Our day was packed from 7:30 am through 8:30 pm except for a free hour after lunch. A bit more intense than I'd prefer. . . but is the photographer ever consulted about her schedule preferences? Nyet. . .

Music theory was part of our daily schedule. We were divided into groups according to our knowledge of music. Did I mention that I was in the very highest bunch? Ah yes, but only because I asked for an upgrade. And I promised to sing softly and do no harm. . .

Here's Evan's music theory class, one of maybe seven such groups. He's in the blue-purple shirt in center-right. Evan (pronounced *e-VAN* - with the soft a used in Russian - but we call him *VAN-ya,* the diminutive here in the land of diminutive-ization - You still with me on this?) sings operatic quality bass and studies music in Moscow. We have a special appreciation for Vanya because in August he's marrying our Rostov sister, Marianna, back row, toward the left. Hey, wonder how Marianna managed to get into Vanya's class, eh?

Here are the basses again. Oh so serious. So very deeeep.

Somebody's the brains behind the whole thing and that would be our brother, Wiley Dean, from near Florence, Alabama. He's a master of fund-raising, delegating and motivating. Thank the good Lord for the leaders among us. . . Especially for the servant leaders among us, such as Wiley.

This energetic group volunteered their one hour of free time each day to sing and record children's songs in Russian. Looks like they're doing The Lord's Army, above. Making a DVD of Christian songs for Russian-speaking children has been my absolute dream. But first, I'm hoping to get songs up on YouTube. In the learning mode on this, so this is baby-step by baby-step. Translation: Don't be rushin' me! Although it's true that we're in Russia, but I prefer not to be rushin' around when learning new skills. ;)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Move Over Mendelsson: *The JK Wedding Entrance Dance*

Are you one of the nearly 7 million folks who have watched the *JK Wedding Entrance Dance* on YouTube in first week it was posted? If not, get on over there and have a laugh out of this feel-good way to make quite an entrance coming down the aisle. The Today Show got in on the act and invited the wedding party to New York to recreate their moves for the show.

This is definitely not for everybody's wedding. But my favorite part is at the very end where we get a glimpse of silver-haired family members clapping along too and smiling. Now head on over to YouTube and get ready for a paradigm shift on The Wedding March.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Remembering the Romanovs in Happier Times

This week in history, Czar Nicholas II and his family were executed in Yekaterinburg, Russia where they were in exile. Last year, on the 90th anniversary of that dark day in 1918, I posted a story, Today in Russian History. . . But now let's take a look at happier times, a glimpse into the Romanovs' family life at their summer palace in Yalta.

Last September, I was in Crimea, that peninsula of Ukraine that dangles down into the Black Sea. And when the chance came to visit Yalta, once the Riveria of Russia, I said Da in a flash. I had always wanted to visit Livadia Palace, not only because of fascination with the royal family but also because of the Yalta Conference there 30 years later when Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt met. More about them later.

Say, care to join me for a tour of the palace? I think you'll enjoy the photos ~ although capturing images of glass-covered photos hanging on palace walls does have it's limitations. Still, we get the idea.

The Romanov family. You'll remember Czar Nicholas II, his wife Empress Alexandra, their four daughters and long-awaited son, Alexei, heir to the throne. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like. . .Livadia Palace. This overlooks the Black Sea, semi-visible in the distance.

Oh, time out while we get our bearings. . .

Here on the Crimean peninsula, Yalta (2) is the southeastern edge of the tip. You'll forgive me, will you not, for recycling my map of Crimea from other posts? Those various markings are places I visited last fall. . .

Back at the royal ranch, here we are on 2nd floor.

This is Czar Nicholas' study. They say that he had no personal secretary and handled it all himself. Wonder where he would set his computer? Or FAX machine? Or. . . iPhone? Wonder if young Aleksei ever played under his dad's desk, a la JFK, Jr?

Looking east toward the center of Yalta.

Son Aleksei with his tutor, studying Russian language.

Girls with a tutor. They studied French and English.

Daughter Anastasia minding her knitting. Kids doing handiwork - so useful.

Family dinner table. Nice china, crystal and silver. I think Martha Stewart would join me in nudging the goblets a bit over to the right. Then again, who am I to argue with the royal setter of tables? Say, have to wonder how those dishes held up in the dishwasher. Oh that's right, their dishwasher was the two-legged variety. So no worries about that gold filigree.

Here is the family Bible. Seeing this tugged at my heartstrings. They say that the Romanov family were devout believers. Out back of the palace is a little chapel with it's own gold cupola.

Welcome to the music room, with a panorama of the city.

Sheet music and long-play albums in the Music Room.

Downstairs in a quiet hallway, here are trophies from the czar's deer hunting.

And. . . here are some very special photos of the Romanov family.

The Romanov family lived at Livadia four times, the last in 1914. Surely some of their happiest, most carefree hours were spent there near the sea. As politics turned unpleasant and Czar Nicholas abdicated the throne in March of 1917, the family requested that they be permitted to live at Livadia as private citizens. But their request was denied and that summer they were evacuated to the Ural Mountains.

* * * * *

Fast forward to 1945 and things around Livadia looked a bit different.

Here's yours truly with the Big Three. They met here at Livadia Palace for the Yalta Conference in 1945 as World War II was wrapping up. Apparently after Nazi occupation during the war, this palace was not quite presentable for company. Our tour guide said that a train load of furnishings came from Moscow - or was it St Petersburg? - with everything needed for the conference including door knobs and light fixtures.

This is a place rich with history. A place were Russian history, Soviet history, US History and the history of the World War all intersect. I loved seeing room where Roosevelt stayed, just off the main meeting room here. He was in such poor health and died months later. So I have lots more photos of Livadia - mostly related to the Yalta Conference. And that's a topic for another blog post.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Obama and Medvedev: Army Buds from Waaay Back?

Before we wrap this historic week when President Obama made his first visit to Russia as chief executive, let's look at several special items that appeared in the media on both sides of the Big Pond. First, this enthusiastically Photoshopped picture of Presidents Obama and Medvedev was on the front of this week's Arguments and Facts, a Russian tabloid.

Could it be true - as the photo indicates - that our presidents have been best friends forever? The caption notes, We are allies in a fight against a common enemy. Once against Fascism and now against world crises.

Mrs Obama was busy too
. In a city where folks seem more inclined to judge the first lady on her mothering skills - and the state-fair splendor of her peppers - oratory might be superfluous, noted Robin Givhan in the Washington Post.

(Photo by Epsilon via Getty Images: Published in the Washington Post) Mrs Obama visited an orphanage and a hospital and - let the record show - learned to say спасибо (spa-SEE-bo) or thank you, in Russian. Note that the First Lady was presented a ma-TROSH-ka doll, a set of wooden nesting dolls, the most popular souvenir of Russia. Looking at the size of that doll, I'd guess it holds at least ten dolls. This matroshka is likely the First Daughters' favorite gift from their trip to Russia!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

*United Breaks Guitars:* A Consumer's Musical Rant

Can YouTube be the disgruntled customer's best friend? Musician David Carroll, fed up with United's breaking his $3,500 Taylor guitar and then the run-around afterward is giving it a try. He took matters into his own hands with this 4-minute musical protest. Clever!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Guess Who Came over for Dinner?

After a busy Monday of meetings followed by a joint press conference, President and Mrs Obama had dinner with President and Mrs Medvedev in their Moscow-area estate. One thing to love about Russian folks is their wonderful hospitality. There's nothing better than getting together with folks in their own private home, putting feet together under the same table and sharing a meal. Myself, I'm keeping the phone nearby in case of a last minute invitation. Oh, I'd love a dinner invite to Moscow when a US president comes to town.

Well, in this video, President Medvedev converses some in English. Now come on, dear Obamas, you really can say something in Russian! Learn to say thank you in Russian - spa-SEE-bo - and you'll score huge points with your hosts.

(Thanks to Kyle and Svet for sharing this first on their blog, Windows to Russia.)

Monday, July 06, 2009

Welcome to Russia, Mr President!

So President Obama and family have arrived in Moscow for a three-day visit. As you can imagine, it's a major news story when leaders of super powers meet. According to this video just released from RussiaToday, an unprecedented level of security is in place for the president's visit with 10,000 people employed to provide for his safety and security.

As the video notes, this is not the president's first visit to Russia. Mr Obama's first came in 2005 and things hit a snag when his plane was detained for three hours in the city of Perm. Hopefully this visit will go quite a bit more smoothly and may the results exceed expectations.

My new little pin of my two favorite flags.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Russia Has Its Freedoms

Many freedoms exist in Russia, a fact to which I can attest. One is the freedom to choose ones apparel. This has its advantages. Like the dear grandmother pictured below who was parading around town in this jacket and head scarf on a 90-degree afternoon. She's free to do that, of course. (Double-click photo to enlarge.)

I like her selection of footwear: She went with sandals rather than boots. That's her choice. Welcome to Russia!

Say, do you know a guy who wears shorts and dark socks? He might be Russian. Send him on over. There are others of that ilk here, walking about freely on the streets.

Usually it's dark socks, black leather shoes and shorts. But with his athletic shoes, at least this fellow's going in the right direction, fashion-wise.

Freedom of apparel comes in quite handy. Myself, I've left home, thought I was reasonably presentable but mercy me, was I wrong.

I've been known to combine dark, navy capris with a black top. That's the problem with dressing in the semi-dark. Navy can pass for black. But you know what, no one even noticed. Or if they noticed, no one let on. This is something to love about Russia.

There are no fashion police here. At least not on the street where I live. And for that, I am truly thankful. Then too there's the freedom to plant flowers. Or not. And the freedom to photograph other people's flowers. Or not.

There's freedom to stop and sniff other people's flowers. Or not.

There's the freedom to paint graffiti. Just don't get caught. . .
But these words are very special. It warms my heart just to see this:

Literally, this says God is! That's Russian for, There is a God! This has been up on that wall for several years already. Even better, no one has painted over the message.

There's the freedom to worship, to gather in churches. On the left is the entrance to our church building, the white one there. We are free to worship.

We are free to post the sign at the entrance, Rostov Church of Christ. That's a wonderful freedom that not all believers enjoy. In Belarus, for instance, posting the church name on the building is forbidden. Unless, of course, it's part of the official state church. But welcome to Russia where we do have that freedom.

There is a God! He is alive.
In Him we live. . .and we survive.

For flesh is as grass and the glory of man as the flower thereof. The grass withers and the flower fades. But the word of our God endures forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

Well there's bound to be a way to segue back to the freedom of apparel. But on this Independance Day, guess what -- I'm disinclined to worry about it! Granted, this freedom thing can get taken a bit too far! ;)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

President Obama's Upcoming Visit to Russia

Our president's July 4th weekend will be 110% pure Americana, it's most likely, but come Monday the 6th, President Obama is scheduled for three days in Russia. Several delicate topics are on the table and in preparation for the visit, Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff has been in Moscow conferring with his Russian counterpart, General Nikolai Makarov, Chief of Staff.

Top concerns are the missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic and S.T.A.R.T, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Other topics include improving military relations and global security issues.

In the video above, you can catch John Beyrle, US Ambassador to Russia, in several clips. Now there's an interesting fellow. History buffs will be interested to know about Ambassador Beyrle's unique connection with Russia.

His late father, Jumpin' Joe Beyrle, is the only World War II veteran to have served in both the U.S. and Russian armies. Joe was a paratroooper and captured by the Nazis shortly after D-Day. He escaped a German war camp after several attempts and that figured his chances of survival would better if he were to head east toward the advancing Russian army. A fascinating story - here's my post about it, written last summer, shortly after son John Beyrle was appointed US Ambassador to Russia. This will be the ambassador's first time to host a US president in Russia, if I'm not mistaken.

Another recent guest is Representative Howard Berman, in Moscow to lay groundwork for the president's visit. Mr Berman is chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

For insight into current relations between Russia and the United States, may I recommend Windows to Russia, a fine blog written by an Kyle and Sveta Keeton - a ex-pat married to a national.