Behind the Lyre: Andrei Podolianets and the The Military Band Service of the Armed Forces of Russia (Part 1)

On 23rd July, we had the opportunity to speak with Andrei Podolianets from The Military Band Service of the Armed Forces of Russia In this interview, Andrei shares his journey to learning drum kit, his introduction to military music and the process of joining a Russian military band.

The second half of this blog will be posted on 28th August. Make sure to keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!

Andrei Podolianets from The Military Band Service of the Armed Forces of Russia
Andrei Podolianets

[photo property of Andrei Podolianets]

Thank you so much for agreeing to take part in our “Behind the Lyre” Series, Andrei. Would you like to briefly introduce yourself to the people who read the BBICO News blogs?

Greetings! My name is Andrei Podolianets and I’m a drummer from Russia. I started playing drums when I was at school. Throughout my career, I have performed with various bands from a duo to a full orchestra and military bands, and I have also taught drum courses to kids and adults.

Okay. Fantastic – lots to talk about that there! You mentioned that you started learning drums when you were in school. Could you tell me a little bit more about how you got involved with music initially?

It was destiny, I can say, because I didn’t choose the instrument – the instrument chose me! During my last school years my classmates decided to create the band – a rock band. The only vacant place was for a drummer, so I said “Ok, I will play drums!”. I was 16, and I persuaded my Dad to buy me a drum set, and after that, my little brother, Kirill, decided to play bass guitar. That’s how the journey began.

So you started on drum kit initially. When did you start playing other percussion instruments?

I played on drum set for some years and I moved from rock music to jazz music. After playing jazz music, I became interested in rudimental drumming, so that is how I became familiar with marching music and other percussion instruments. At first from videos, then with practising by myself. After that I came across military bands.

Were you having lessons when you were learning drum kit, or were you self-taught?

I didn’t initially start lessons with a teacher – I learnt from local musicians. In Samara, Russia, where I was born and grew up, it was difficult to find anything musical when you are not into music. For me it was easy to find a local music shop, but difficult to understand how the instrument worked. So I asked everybody I found who could play drums, and this how I started to take lessons with local drummers. One day after a concert, I was invited by Sergei Ravin, the director of the local jazz school, to study jazz drums. I was so excited, accepted the offer, and this was where I met my first drum teacher – Sergei Gurov.

Amazing. And how many years were you studying at the jazz school?

I studied there for a couple of years. It was almost like a club where people can share interests, play music, and study.

Military Medical Academy Band – Symphony No. 7, Invasion Theme (Shostakovich), 2016 

How was the transition from learning jazz drums to playing military music?

So after learning some basics of jazz music I met a drummer and my future good friend, Ivan Kirzon. We shared some ideas about playing in a percussion group and found some interesting videos of American marching bands on YouTube, and we just loved it! So, we made a try to get into it, without any knowledge, without anything. We found solos and exercises, then organised a small percussion group with a wind section. We arranged a pop song and rehearsed it like a marching band – just copying videos from the internet. Unfortunately, our only show was cancelled, and the ensemble disbanded. I decided to get a degree in music, so moved to St. Petersburg to study at college.

My father was a military officer, so I was familiar with the army (we use the word “army” to describe military service in general, it does not necessarily mean “infantry”), but I never saw any military bands in Samara. I just saw people in uniform, that’s all. It was in St. Petersburg that I witnessed a real parade with live music for the first time. I found this really exciting – it was great to see that music can be connected with the military. I saw many bands in St. Petersburg and was trying to understand how to get into one – it turned out to be extremely difficult!

Oh really, why is it so difficult to join a military band in Russia?

As I said before that if you don’t know anybody from music, you don’t know how to get into it. Military music is even worse! I visited the drafting offices, where you go to enrol in the military, but they couldn’t help much. You really must know somebody who’s already involved. I was in a new city, so it was difficult to find someone. After speaking with everybody I thought could help, I found a guy who was a military musician, so he made a call for me – it was amazing!

So when you finally met someone that could introduce you, what is the enrolment process like for musicians joining the military in Russia?

There was an official interview and a small audition. Then of course you have to present some official documents, but the process depends on meeting with the Conductor (band leader) and your audition.

Military Academy of the Signal Corps Band – Battle of Liaoyang (Efanov) in 2017

Could you speak a bit about how the military bands in Russia work?

Yes, there is a main structure in the military for bands, it is called The Military Band Service of the Armed Forces of Russia. Every band has:

  • An Officer commanding (in the rank of Lieutenant and up to Colonel), who is the commander and conductor (band leader)
  • A ‘Starshina’ (in the rank of ‘Praporshchik’, equal to WO2), a senior musician, who is the second-in-command and in charge of uniform and equipment, as well as discipline and documentation
  • Section Leaders (Staff Sergeants)
  • Soloists (Sergeants)
  • Soloists’ Assistants (Corporals)
  • Musicians (Lance Corporals, Privates and Civilians)

So, am I correct in understanding that you have one organisation for all branches of the military in Russia? As opposed to separate music services for the Air Force, Navy and Army, for example?

Yeah, it’s just the one.

Once you’d been accepted into your first military band, did you have to undertake any additional training?

I was expecting to have more training. To be involved in the military band, you have to be able to play an instrument and read music, you don’t necessarily have to have a degree in music. However, to be a military band conductor, you have to study a special degree in military music at Military University. So essentially, only one person in the band must complete specific training.

So when you passed your audition and your interviews, you went straight into a job with a band?

Yes, straight into the band. Immediately. The first band that I joined was the Military Medical Academy Band, who I played with for 6 months. Generally, Military Academies have their own bands to provide musical support, both within the Academies and outside of them, for servicemen and for general public.

What specific instrument did you play in the Military Medical Academy Band?

I played bass drum and cymbals.

Andrei Podolianets before a concert with The Military Medical Academy Band in 2016 in Russia
Andrei Podolianets before a concert with The Military Medical Academy Band in 2016

[photo property of Andrei Podolianets]

I was a civilian musician. In Russian military bands, there are three types of personnel: contracted professional staff, military musicians; conscripts – in Britain I don’t think you have conscription?

No, not at the moment.

Russia still has conscription, so sometimes recruits can be attached to a band, and sometimes not – it depends on a band. And of course, civilians like me!

So you didn’t have another military role to fulfil, you were there to join the band and play music?

No, I didn’t have any operational role, I carried out only musical tasks. I actually did exactly the same things as my military colleagues, except for service duties, but overall we did the same.

So when, and why, I suppose, did you move to a second band? (9 months)

I actually spent a very short period of time in the army, especially when compared to other military personnel. Usually people stay in the Armed Forces for all their life, it’s a lifetime job. When I joined the first band, I was also still studying at college, so I couldn’t be a full-time military bandsman. I spent only six months in the Military Medical Academy Band because I had to prepare for my final exams. When I finished my education, I decided to continue playing in military bands, but as with before, it was very difficult to find a place!  I called my friend, drummer Dmitry Gorshkov from the previous band to enquire about any other positions in any other bands. As with before, someone knew someone, so he made a call to arrange an audition. It was more official this time around, with a more rigorous application process. I then joined the Military Academy of Signal Corps Band.

Was that as a civilian again?

Yes, correct, as a civilian.

Was this on bass drum and marching cymbals again?

No, that time I was more experienced, so I could play snare drum. I preferred this, as I like to play with sticks more.

2018 Performance by the Military Academy of the Signal Corps Band in Russia
2018 Performance by the Military Academy of the Signal Corps Band

[photo property of Andrei Podolianets]

…this blog will be continued on 28th August – keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!


Get Involved in ‘Behind the Lyre’

Would you be interested in sharing some of your experience working within or with a military or marching band? If so, we would love the opportunity to speak with you.

We’re looking for people from all countries, of all ages and abilities, who play all sorts of instruments! We’re also looking for those who are a little further behind the lyre. This includes educators, directors, agents responsible for sourcing musical instruments, the instrument manufacturers themselves, and many more. We would love to share your important role in military and marching music with the rest of our community.

To find out more, or to schedule an interview, please email hannah.williams@bbico.com.

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