Voronezh progressive-folk band Abstractor presented its debut album in their hometown on December 6. Specifically for the performance, one of the leaders of the band Yaroslav Borisov, who has been living and studying in the USA since 2017, came to Voronezh. The creator and member of such bands as Happy55, Drugoe Delo, Abstractor и TsEY, Borisov is going into higher musical education at Methodist University (Fayetteville, North Carolina).
Journalists of RIA “Voronezh” talked to Yaroslav Borisov about academic musical education, life in America and the future of his Voronezh projects.
– Is Methodist University an educational institution of the Methodist church? How did you end up there?
– In America, there are many educational institutions under the auspices of churches. But that’s a formality. No one forces you to go to church, that’s not the point. Although the university is under the auspices of the Methodist confession, it’s a place for everyone to study. It is one the most multinational universities in North Carolina. I learned about it from a friend who had moved to the USA many years ago. Something was running through my head, I was thinking about trying myself abroad but didn’t know how. It couldn’t be done with a working visa. I don’t have a higher musical education, so I thought about combining these things. First of all, I wanted to rehabilitate myself as an academic piano player which I had long forgone – to improve my skill, to receive a certificate. Second of all, I could perhaps explore the American music world for myself, because with so many academic music festivals it is really boiling there! To tell the truth, everything I did with Happy55 was leaning towards academic music, I was always interested in it. And here in Voronezh, other projects – Drugoe Delo or Abstractor – happened to be in demand, so I was engaged in them all the time. But artistic work in the academic field – for example, a project that we did with Happy55 and a symphonic orchestra – is something deep, it is where I’ve always wanted to sink in. But it is not commercialized, so you can’t make money from it.
But in the USA, despite the fact that I’m studying at the Department of Music, I keep applying for academic festivals, I’ve written several piano pieces and started working on a symphonic piece. It is very big, for an orchestra and singers. And I have a reason to work on it – it’s not a study task, it’s a work order. I’ve been to the contemporary composer festival in São Paulo. I have to say that in America it is much easier to go wherever. There’s a great number of festivals. Something is going on in every city, in every state – both prestigious forums and local band festivals.
– Are such festivals in demand with the audience?
– Yes, people attend them. And certainly more people than here.
– Could you have such training in Russia?
– In my opinion, there was no point for me in trying to go for higher education here. The significance of education is different here and there. For example, if I graduate from the university, I will be able to enter a major university for Master’s Degree programme as a composer. I met a New York professor at one of the festivals, which always consist of meetings, lectures and master-classes in addition to concerts. I played him my music and asked if this could be interesting. He said that something like that could easily be played at concerts in New York. I will probably go to consult with him, show him my pieces. Generally, writing music for an orchestra is very hard, I’m only beginning to learn how to do it, I do a lot intuitively, and it’s a good reason to dive into this world. I didn’t have such an opportunity here. But I didn’t think about it specifically, it sort of just happened. I realized that I was alone there. There’s no one to do projects with – outside of the academic programme most of the students are interested in jazz or gospel. I’m on my own, and I’m not restricted from doing anything. I play my pieces at official university concerts. And I’m not even a composer, I’m in the Music Performance programme, but they allow me to play my music and send me to festivals.
– In Russia, graduates of musical universities usually enter orchestras. Is there a working employment scheme in the USA?
– It’s almost the same. But they have a very advanced institution of Protestant confessions, so many musicians become heads of church choirs and children’s music study groups. Everything that is done in music schools in our country is done in churches in the USA. There is no such thing there as music.
– You’ve already done some concerts in churches, chapels. Do such stages feel as religious?
– Not at all. But it is hard for us to understand. Protestantism is a very liberal religion. In my take, the word “religious” has acquired meanings that don’t go with it. In the USA, orchestras, choirs, music bands and ensembles perform in churches. Churches are usually well-developed and attended by a lot of people. All in all, there are two types of concert sites – a church and a university. Even our university was visited by some pop celebrities who performed on the basketball court. Students were given free tickets. If you look into the history of pop bands of the 1980s-1990s, they performed at universities. It’s because a university is usually a separate town. Sometimes a small one, sometimes an enormous one like the university in Ohio with buses driving around the campus because they have thousands of students. Celebrities visit universities because it’s a massive audience. And universities pay celebrities to perform so students could enjoy themselves./p>
– The training is done in English. Do you know the language well?
– No really. But I only learned it there. I had no basic English training. I took TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language which is mandatory for non-English foreigners who enter American universities – RIA “Voronezh”) and received 73 points – that’s almost nothing. Different universities have different requirements, some don’t accept students with less than 85 TOEFL points, but the passing score at Methodist University was 61, so I passed although I was one of the worst. Of course, it was hard at first. But when you’re in you-have-to conditions, you make extra efforts, and in the end everything works out. Americans are very polite and understanding people. No one will bother you without a serious reason. Everyone understands what your language level is, they will gladly help you. There are also many supportive organizations where you can study every day if you want to get better. For immigrants, all of it is free.
– Is it possible to be doing just music there?
– I haven’t tried it yet. But music teachers are doing well there. Professors who start teaching after receiving their degree have a sheltered life.
– Are you planning to stay there?
– I don’t know. It’s too soon to tell, and I’m not planning ahead. I’m only a second-year student, and the training takes four years.
– Were you treated warily because you are Russian when you had just arrived?
– No one is the USA is treated warily. The USA is an immigrants’ country. Even Americans themselves say so. What does the word “alien” means when it is a country of aliens? The inscription on the Statue of Liberty says: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!". But you have to know what you’re there for.
– It this emigration to you?
– I have a student visa, there is not talk of emigration. The opportunity came up, so I thought – why not? Me and my wife and daughter all went together. I can’t imagine going without them. With modern means of communication, I don’t feel absent. Of course, I miss my friends, I’m not able to see them everyday, but we call each other, and we’ve even recorded an album remotely. We exchange music sketches, rehearse, make plans. I’m planning to come back in the summer, and not for four days like this time but, let’s say, a couple of months, arrange some sort of concert schedule. At festivals, I demonstrated our music to the composers I’d met there, and they all said that the music was very interesting, and that it would be great if I’d take the band to, let’s say, Boston. I also offered to reads a lecture about the mix of folk and contemporary music that we make in Abstractor. They said that it would be interesting too. So right now I’m working on both this and taking the guys there. You can’t count on anything during the first year – no language training, no connections, no nothing. What kind of plans can you make if it takes a year to realize how everything is done here? It’s hard to make forecasts. Many people in Russia think that it’s some sort of heaven there. That once you get off the plane, you immediately get a warm welcome. They are very friendly, yes, but they all have a hard life. They all have jobs, taxes, bills, and so on. All social services work well in America, so if you’re dumb and poor and you like it, you can go ahead and live on welfare. And if you want to work – work, and everyone will appreciate it. If you work hard and keep yourself busy, you won’t be poor.
– Is it different in terms of household and everyday life?
– Completely different. For example, you can’t throw away household appliances into the trash, you have to take it to a special place. The level of social responsibility is very high. When you go to any social service, they will hear you out and address your need, and there’s no need for bribing. This is the cornerstone in education. It’s not that all Americans are super-smart; neither are Russians. But you can’t buy the results of a pass-fail exam. It is simply impossible. You can’t “come to terms” with a teacher on exams or your diploma in any college. You can only pass an exam if you study hard and make a grade. It is the only way. It is the same as offering a policeman, who stopped you while you were driving, to “work it out”: you’ll be taken to the station and fined for something like that. By the way, the police do not patrol the streets. No one wants anything from you.
– Tell us about your Voronezh projects. How did Abstractor record an album remotely?
– Easily. We recorded the rhythm section – bass and drums – together here in a studio. Everything else was recorded at home, which is very easy to do with modern equipment. I recorded my vocals in a built-in closet. Literally. I bought a microphone, got into the closet. And the guys even said: “What a great job you did with the vocals!”./p>
– How was it to play concerts together after being separated for this long?
– Hard. But it was only hard because we’d expanded our set – we made three new songs in a day and a half when I had just arrived. And all this time we’ve been rehearsing them. We wrote them together. We exchange music sketches via the Internet, it’s sort of a non-stop joint work. These songs are not on the album. In fact, the album turned out to be short, it only has six songs, so we decided to expand the set for the concert.
– Do the other projects – Happy55, Drugoe Delo – also exist in the “minimized window” mode?
– They do exist. The recording of “Patsan” with Drugoe Delo was also done remotely. I had been away for almost a year when it came out. And now we’re making an album. The guys recorded something here, and I then recorded my part. We have five or six new songs./p>
– So these stories are yet to unfold?
– There is no need to fold anything. I can only imagine how people in the 1980s suffered from isolation, like Dovlatov or Brodsky. Some people accept you for your origins, but they are still strangers.
– Is it true that Russians tend to stick with Russians, or is it just another stereotype?
– Russians don’t like Russians abroad. And I don’t like Russians, at least in large cities. In small towns we get along. We have friends – an amazing Ukrainian family, great people. They moved to the States in 2000s. But I’ve seen Russians in large cities, heard the way they talk. For example, I went to a Russian store in Charlotte and talked there to a man who’d lived in California and then came back. He said that Russians are being avoided there. It is unbearable to communicate with people who came here with a feel of the 1990s. It’s like they keep some sort of a kolkhoz world inside them. When I was flying here, I was on the plane with a woman from New York. She told me that being in Brighton Beach was unbearable: Russian cab drivers constantly try to screw you over, extort money and cheat. Even in Russia it’s not a thing anymore. But they hold on to this 90s’ heritage. Russian stores look like it’s 1996, though it’s 2018 and the USA. Why are you doing this, why are you holding on to it? You came here to get familiar with another culture, to explore something, or what? If you don’t get the way people live there, you’ll always feel uncomfortable. But, of course, I’m not talking about everyone. I have a friend in New York myself.
– Has being involved in academic music distanced you from the avant-garde projects you did in Voronezh?
– On the contrary, it has contributed into them. I felt that moving deeper was what I’d always wanted but what was difficult to accomplish. And in the USA, I’ve ended up in sort of an isolation thanks to which all I do is study. I’ve even ended up in kind of zen state. I feel homesick, I feel morally uncomfortable, but I have to work, I have my own thing, and so I set these emotions aside and keep playing.
– Sounds sad.
– Quite the opposite, there is no sadness. I don’t regret anything. I have a lot of work to do. Just as we thought, the first year was an adaptation period, and the second is all work. I hope that the third would be even more work. That’s what I’m going for, because it is related to music. If we feel good there, we’ll stay, if bad – we’ll come back. I’m not worrying about it at all.