Again, me and my mum were choosing where I would go to complete higher education. We went to a few cities for an audition, but I was in a doubt I could get admitted into any of those establishments. There were always a large number of candidates for a single place, competing with one another. For example, if the cohort needed 5 people, there were 20 who applied. It was difficult to pass entry exams with the results good enough to be selected.

I wasn’t confident to go ahead with those places. Yet, I was told, when I was still on a final year in college, that one of the choir conducting  graduates was admitted to the music conservatoire in Astrakhan, the city at the Caspian sea, in Tataria, which was a part of Russia. So, I was determined to try my luck over there, too. Together with my mum we travelled to Astrakhan, after having sent an application form.

Astrakhan turned out to be a very hot place in summer, with lots of mosquitoes. In July it was around 40 degrees, and the wind was blowing sand around. Despite of not liking the climate, I decided to stay and sit the entry exams. I passed them all, and was admitted to the choir conducting department, again. I wasn’t particularly passionate about choir conducting, but I had much more chance to get a place in this particular department. Besides, there were lots of other classes to attend.

Before an academic year started, all students had to work at the factory that produced tinned and canned products from tomatoes, aubergines, and courgettes. We were working for free there, just to help the industry, but it was a great fun. Besides, we could take some tins or cans home, so, well, free food we had. 

The years spent at conservatoire were full of attractions. Each year our choir had performances, sometimes we travelled to other cities to perform. It was a very exciting time, but a hard work was required to pass exams and make it to the next year. Me and many other students had to sneak to the conservatoire in the evening, then hide in the basement to be able to stay overnight unnoticed, and practise for piano exam.

There, for the first time, I saw and heard a real pipe organ in the conservatoire concert hall, and fell in love with it. I asked to be admitted on an organ class, but was told that only students from piano department were allowed, and there was only 5 places. I didn’t give up the idea of learning to play the organ, and started to practise on my own on a small electronic organ in one of the rooms there.

Once, an organ teacher caught me practising, and after hearing me play said there was one place vacant in the organ class as one of the students left. I couldn’t hide my joy, and soon started to attend her classes. I was actually the only one that made to a performing a solo recital in the concert hall. I also had a chance to play along with the choir on two occasions. I was so proud as I was the only student that did a solo recital and played with the choir at that time. But me playing with the choir turned out to be the end of my organ class. The organ teacher lost hours and money, as it was her who was supposed to play with the choir, so she got upset with me. Yet, it wasn’t my fault as our conductor said I would better follow the choir as being a conductor myself.

At the end of my studying there, I met Vlad, my future husband. The city librarian actually gave him my address (we were both going to the foreign languages department in the library, to borrow Polish books), and he came to my hostel, with an old guitar. After having dated for three months, we decided to get married. He wasn’t allowed to live with me in the hostel, so I had to move in to live with him and his mother. Their flat was very much neglected, and looked awful. I didn’t want to live there. As it wasn’t enough, Vlad got summoned by the military to go to war in Chechnya. We were horrified by that, and decided to leave the city. I thought for good, but I was actually wrong.

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