I knew I wanted to pursue a career in music, so, after completing 10 years of high school, I was admitted to a music college in Oryol, Russia. I’m not sure why I chose that particular place – me and my mother were considering several cities to go to, and for some reason we chose Oryol, maybe because of its name – ‘oryol’ in Russian language means ‘eagle’. There were a few entry exams to pass to be accepted, and I passed all of them with good results.
As I was brilliant at solfege, they decided I was too advanced for the 1st year, and was allocated to the 2nd year solfege group. My main subject was choir conducting, and of course, there were lots of other music related subjects to study. The college life was quite attractive. I lived in a hostel with many other students. As there were no mobile phones, no computers at that time, and we even didn’t have a land line at home, the only way me and mum could keep in touch was by writing letters.
I forgot to say that my brother also attended music academy, but he learned to play drums and xylophone. After finishing the school, he was also admitted to the college in Oryol after Year 8 (it was possible to go to college after completing 8 years of high school, and continue studying school subjects at college). My brother and me didn’t communicate very much while in college, as we were on different years, and studied different programs. But sometimes he was coming to eat my cooked food.
I just want to mention that all college students were required to work on collective farms (called ‘kolkhoz’) for 2 weeks in September. Each year we went to different farms to pick up potatoes most of the time, or apples, just to help out the villagers. It wasn’t a bad idea after all, to teach young people how to work and develop working capacity, to prepare them for an adult life. However, it was quite challenging for me as my mum didn’t ask me to do anything around the house, she only wanted me to study hard.
After year 3 ended, I signed up to go to Moldavia in July, for a whole month, with the group of many other students, including my brother, to work on tomato fields. It was a hard work, and the weather was hot all the time. It was paid work, though, so a payment at the end motivated us to work at our best. We lived in barracks, 10 people in one room, getting up at 6 am 6 days a week, working 6 hours with 30-min break. Sunday was the day off, when we could sleep till 8 am, rest, and have some cultural activities planned by our group leaders.
After a week in a field work, it became a bit easier, I even got used to having my head down for several hours (well, you can’t pick up tomatoes in any other position, can you?) I don’t remember whether it even rained while we were in Moldavia. At the end of the day we had to pour cold water on ourselves to cool down – there were lots of taps just outside the barracks. Last two weeks passed really quickly, we earned some cash, and happily returned to Oryol, to start an academic year.
The last year was very important, we had to prepare for the final exams. As choir conducting department students, we were required to prepare two pieces of music, and work with our academic choir so that they could perform those pieces for me for the final exam, with me as a conductor. I must say I was an example student at college. I didn’t date anyone as I wasn’t attractive, so, no one even looked at me with an interest. I dedicated all my strength into studies, and graduated with so-called ‘red’ distinction diploma. We were allocated to various small towns to go to work to, for example, to start a choir there, or be a cultural event organiser. Another option was to continue in higher education, which I chose to do.