Friday, November 24, 2006

Travelling Russians

After a frustrating couple of days of slow downloads, timing-out for several web-sites and the inability to access Blethers at all some of the time, I'm typing with crossed fingers (no, not really) that we seem to have recovered. I've been seduced by Neil into adding the Twitter badge to my sidebar - not wildly useful in that no-one really wants to know what I'm doing except Mr B, and if I'm updating the badge he knows what I'm doing - but providing, in Neil's case, an explanation of why he wasn't around for me to moan at about my internet woes.

But a word more about our Russian friends, now safely in Cumbrae - kudos to the good people at The College for taking them in a day early after their brush with yesterday's weather on the Clyde. This incident underlined for me what I knew already: this is such a hard life, this touring with your music. So why do such splendid musicians have to trail round the towns and villages of Britain in winter, or leave their homes in St Petersburg every summer to perform in Italy? We're talking a minibus driven by their conductor: nae roadies, nae backup - there is no sense of pampering and they cannot afford to stay in hotels or B&Bs.

They are in this position because Russia is full of excellent singers and professional choirs - far too full for there to be audiences for their performances. The hangover from the Soviet era, in fact, when many of them received their training. Now there are no grants for young musicians and no subsidies for performers. So they come here, bringing their music to a wider audience and sending our money home to families and to impoverished students. They rely on hospitality to keep their costs down and good takings to make any kind of profit from the outlay on the hired bus (I noticed that this year's bus had Swiss plates)

I was horrified to learn of their experiences elsewhere - though not, Jurij assured me, in most of Scotland. But it must be galling to turn up to a venue to find that the responsible contact has either forgotten about publicity or not bothered to set it up; where a church which seats 500 provides an audience of 50; where the incumbent announces that he has only charged £5.oo for a ticket and intends to take half the proceeds anyway. I felt his gloom when he announced that he wasn't getting any younger, and watched him write mails to his daughter back in St Petersburg.

So why am I going on about this? I suppose I'm flagging up a point of view to counter those I've come across about visiting choirs being "too much bother" - "too demanding" - "expect you to look after them all the time". Let's put it straight: these are terrific musicians trying to earn a living by their singing. They can earn the same money creating mobile phone rings - one of last year's tenors coudn't come because this is what he's doing now and he has a girl friend. He's got a life, in other words, that he wants to live normally. But I'd rather have the singing than the ringing!


  1. Do you know if the choir have approached Glasgow University about doing concerts? We have a 'music in the university' programme that funds this sort of thing. Remember the lunch time concert?

  2. GU wouldn't really work. I don't see the Uni providing overnight hospitality and food, do you? I *do * remember the lunchtime concerts - this choir doesn't quite fit my memories!

  3. They organise evening concerts as well. Just a thought - thought they could have made a weekend of Dunoon and done a bit of travelling - no? Think they would rocket in the city...

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