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 typical music played by Russian military bands, what a typical day was like as a military musician, and introduces us to an enormous competition between military bands in Russia.
To read the first half of our interview with Andrei, please click here.
Could you tell me a little bit about the type of music that you would play in each band, Andrei?
The repertoire is similar – classical music, regimental marches written around the 18th to 19th centuries, and other marches. It also includes a lot of music written in the last century, during and after World War 2. We also played waltzes and arrangements of pop music.
[Andrei very kindly sent the following recordings for BBICO New Readers to listen to]
Did you ever have anything or any pieces that were your favourites to play?
It’s very hard to choose! If I had to, it would probably be ‘On the Hills of Manchuria’ (I. Shatrov).
So, although you were a civilian, did you still wear military uniform for marches and performances?
Exactly. You can’t actually recognise who is a serviceman and who is a civilian. A military band is a military band, so you have to wear uniform. I would generally wear Private’s uniform – we would look the same but without wearing special insignia (service stripes, for example). Academies, as well as most of the units, do not have their own uniform (only sleeve emblems/signs). In terms of British military, there is only one No. 1 Dress for all branches. The only difference is the main colour: sea-green is for infantry, black or white is for navy, blue is for air force. Bands usually wear the symbol of a Lyre on the right sleeve of the parade uniform. In 2018 No.1 Dress changed from shirts and ties to a neck collar.
I see, thanks for the Andrei. So, do you have any favourite memories from your time in the bands that you look back on particularly fondly?
Again, it’s really hard to choose, but I would say probably the Victory Day Parade, because it’s the top of any military band’s performance. It was tough because we had to prepare for three months for this event. You might know about parades in the Red Square in Moscow, but other big cities have their own main squares where parades take place too. There were many actions for the massed bands – we rehearsed every day for three months. Then we rehearsed with troops and vehicles (trucks, tanks, etc). It’s a lot of hard work. It doesn’t matter if it is rainy, if it’s hot, or if it’s winter – people carry out their duty.
So, you rehearsed for three months, but how long is the actual parade itself?
60 minutes. It’s short! It feels similar to the rehearsal, but with an audience. For three months we did the same; we used the same instruments, played the same repertoire, and had to shave our faces every day.
I understand that you were a civilian musician, but for military personnel working as military musicians, what were their additional responsibilities? (if any!)
Some additional responsibilities may include the following: to be the person on duty, a post of the librarian or the physical instructor (all within the band). It depends on the band in particular. Academy bands focus mainly on the music because there are so many rehearsals and performances for them to attend.
You mentioned that every day you rehearsed; it didn’t matter what you were preparing for – what was a typical day like for you?
Well, usually we would start at 09:00, but it did vary between the two bands that I was part of. In the Military Academy of Signal Corps Band, we would gather every Monday morning at 07:30 and play reveille [a signal sounded especially on a bugle or drum to wake personnel in the armed forces], which is a carried on tradition. There would be a raising the flag ceremony, playing the national anthem and a small parade. After reveille, we had to rehearse, then after that we would have lunch. After the lunch we often stayed to rehearse with the percussion section, to prepare some displays.
In the Military Medical Academy Band we didn’t play reveilles, but had to rehearse until the lunch time and if we didn’t have any scheduled performance in the afternoon, we just went home, or practiced individually. In general, both bands would rehearse every day, no matter what we had scheduled. We would prepare for competitions against other military bands, annual recitals, special concerts or any other type of performance.
You mentioned competitions between military bands – could you explain that a little bit?
There is one big Competition. It is like Olympic games for military bands. It has several levels, and the number of bands competing at each level gets fewer and fewer. One of the winners performs at the Spasskaya Tower Military Tattoo in the Red Square in Moscow. The Military Medical Academy Band, which I played in but left in 2017, won that competition last year.
For the Competition the Military Academy of Signal Corps Band prepared and played the following pieces:
- Ceremonial repertoire – the National Anthem (A. Alexandrov), A Life for the Tsar (M. Glinka, opera finale), Posting of guards (V. Pavlov), Krasnaya Zarya (S. Tchernetsky), two Drill Marches, one Slow March (all pieces were mandatory)
- Tattoo (‘defilé’, ‘platz-concert’) – several pieces
- Concert performance – four classical pieces
Is joining military bands a popular job for musicians in Russia?
Many musicians stay in the military bands after their conscription service, some people get in after working as civilians. This job provides a certain level of stability in life, and I suppose there is some interest in the position of a military musician in large cities, such as St. Petersburg and Moscow.
So when you left the band in January of 2017, Andrei, what did you do afterwards?
I left the Military Medical Academy Band in January of 2017 to focus on my studies, before joining the Military Academy of Signal Corps Band, which I left in August of 2018. I continued my teaching career. In Samara I taught classical percussion in a music school for one year.
However, in St. Petersburg, right after military bands I had a fantastic opportunity to establish from scratch an entire drum department in the Palace of Creativity ‘U Voznesenskogo mosta’. The staff wanted to create a percussion ensemble for participating in local competitions, but I wanted a real Corps of Drums. I used other bands and groups as good examples, such as the Royal Marines Corps of Drums, so I watched a lot of videos and read a lot of information. I was involved in Russian military bands, so not surprising, the music we decided to start with was ‘Pohodniy March’, a common army quick march.
Looking back now, it was a very interesting experience, but it wasn’t easy because it had nothing at the start. They just hired me and said; ‘’Do what you have to do!”. I had only one year to prepare everything, to recruit, to choose a classroom, to find instruments… In the end, 16 kids were recruited, ages 6-16, and only a couple of them had ever played drums before.
So, at the end of the year had you managed to put the group together?
Yes, we did it! We finished with a concert where they played two pieces – one was a military piece, and the other one was a modern marching piece. We had visuals of course [Andrei demonstrates stick work over the video call], kind of like paramilitary stuff!
Thank you so much for sharing all of this, Andrei – is there anything else you’d like to say about your experience with military bands?
The military band was a life changing moment. After my time working there, I realised, this is what I would like to do. There is something about this kind of job that gives a sense of community. This is why many people go for the military band and stay there for life – you have something that unites you with others, like a team.
That seems like the perfect note to end on, Andrei! Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to speak with me about your time in the Russian Military bands!
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