Seattle Peace Chorus – Trip to the Soviet Union – 1988

The chorus was invited to return to the Soviet Union and sing with Soviet choruses, and so embarked on their second trip to the USSR. In Leningrad, the chorus performed at a seminary, sharing the stage with seminarians and female choral instructors. They then traveled to Moscow, where they performed to standing-room-only crowds. The audience seemed very eager and excited to meet Americans. The song they all knew and sang with the chorus was “We Shall Overcome.” The chorus then traveled to Vladimir, a city northeast of Moscow, where they met and performed with the Vladimir Chamber Choir. They journeyed on to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where they performed with several choirs from the local university. Most of the people the chorus encountered seemed to have an intense hunger for first-hand information about the US and about the chorus. Leaving Tashkent, the chorus flew back to Moscow and on to Copenhagen and home, savoring the novel experiences and new friendships. The chorus produced “Peace Journey: The Next Step” (a slide show later converted to video) to convey the 1988 Soviet experience. The slide show was later made into the video here.


Corrections are welcome.

00:04 [ heartbeats ]

00:10 [ Price Chenault ] When we showed up at the Pedagogical Institute, there were literally hundreds of people on the steps to greet us. They were dressed in those dazzling Uzbek costumes. and they did traditional dances and ethnic singing there on the steps in the afternoon sunlight. We went into the hall and there were yet another seven hundred people. As we walked down the aisle, they handed each of us an Uzbek hat and a carnation. They were all students and they were very interested in us.

00:39 [ heartbeats ]

00:41 [ Marli Martin ] She and I both spoke German. That created a special bond. She wanted to share her problems-- a husband she didn’t like, shortages of goods, worries about her daughter’s future. She was overjoyed to have us in her home. She was also very fearful. Why were we taking pictures? Why were we asking questions?

00:01 [ heartbeats ]

01:05 [ Person 3 ] There was a little old lady a little old babushka sitting on the train. She saw the button that had my name printed in Russian, and started talking to me about it. I didn’t understand anything, but she was all excited. She knew I didn’t understand but she was going to talk to me the whole trip anyway.

02:31 [ heartbeats ]

01:23 [ Wes Baker singing] Listen can you hear the sound of hearts beating

01:33 [ heartbeats ]

01:36 [ Hazel Thomas ] When we tried to talk we used our dictionary. Sometimes we were 5 or 10 minutes just for a single thought about our lives about our families about our grandchildren.

01:50 [ heartbeats ]

01:53 [ Wes Baker ] We were talking to a couple seedy old guys out in back of the church. When we said we were Americans, one of them bristled and he said, "Americantsi!" and he spat!

02:04 [ heartbeats ]

02:07 [ Bob Ewen ] I started telling them in Russian who we were and what we were doing. Suddenly there was a sea of eager faces around. Everybody had a question they were dying to ask.

02:21 [ voices talking ]

02:24 [ Wes Baker singing ] Listen can you hear the sound of singing all the world around, black or white, red or tan, it’s the sound of the family of man. [ Wes Baker singing ] Whoa singing away. Whoa singing away. Whoa singing away. Whoa singing away.

02:57 [ Narrator, John Gilbert ] The Seattle Peace Chorus has returned to the largest country on earth. We’re familiar now with the guidebook facts on the Soviet Union, its immensity— sweeping from the Arctic to Southwest Asia, from northern Europe almost to Alaska, its diversity— over 100 ethnic groups and languages scattered through 15 republics, its history—a land of prodigious achievement in epics of literature, musical masterpieces, timeless works of art and architecture, and a land of wars, of revolutions. We know something of the geography, the politics, the problems of this modern superpower. But this is not just a trip to a vast and fascinating country. It’s a fulfillment, a response to a deepening committment. This time we were invited. And this time, to an extent that is surprising and thrilling, we sense that we’re among friends.

03:58 [ Glen Moehring ] I’d been there before, and, yes, I wanted to go back. Music is important to me and the thought of singing with people who had been labeled for so many years as our enemies was very powerful.

04:10 [ Jim Pilon ] Glosnost and Perestroika were exciting, of course, but that wasn’t where my interest was focused. I just wanted to put a human face on the Soviet Union.

04:21 [ Pat Ewen ] I went with a number of preconceptions. Most of them were negative. Looking back, I guess I was afraid to go.

04:28 [ Helen Lauritzen ] The Seattle Peace Chorus begain in 1983. It was a time of growing concern about the nuclear arms race. Through our songs, we urged people to build a world of greater understanding and cooperation. In 1985, we went to the Soviet Union as citizen diplomats. We reached out to the people. We told them we wanted to live in peace. For three years, we shared that experience with people all over the United States. But now thousands of Americans are traveling there. Many of us didn’t think we needed to go back. But then we received a remarkable invitation. Viktor Popov offered to set up concerts with Soviet Choruses, even to arrange a special festival. Popov is director of the Gosteleradio Children’s Chorus in Moscow. He had stayed at my home in 1986 when his chorus stopped in Seattle. Our ability to talk to one another was very limited, but it was obvious we both believed in the power of music to move the human spirit. His invitation offered opportunities we hadn’t had in ’85. It could all be much more personal. It was a hard choice, but it seemed important to take the next step.

05:59 [ Violin music ]

06:06 [ Narrator ] Pavlova, Faberge, Tchaikovsky, the great names Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Rostrelli, Rachmaninoff, and their great city, with so many names of its own: Saint Petersburg, then Petrograd, now Leningrad, the famous window upon Europe became the seat of revolution, then a city under horrible siege, Soviet’s citadel of Western culture, the window is now thrown open to tourists avid for the Hermitage and the splendors along the Neva. Too late for snows, too early for the irridescence of white summer nights, we pick up where we left off in ’85, not with great names, but with the people.

06:57 [ Seattle Peace Chorus, singing "I Am but a Small Voice"] Come all citizens of the world we are one.

07:05 [ Narrator ] And with the gift we left behind— our music.

07:12 [ Juan Huey Ray ] Our first experience in the Soviet Union was in a church. What a feeling! The Soviet Union may be an atheist state but we were not the only people in that church.

07:24 [ Singing ]

07:31 [ Sue Boyle ] After the service, the seminary students shared their supper with us. It felt monastic: people in black robes, the spare meal, the simplicity. We gave a concert; they reciprocated. It deepened into the richest experience.

07:49 [ Singing ]

07:53 [ Sue Boyle ] One of the priests said, "Let us be always so wise "and full of love "as music has done us today."

08:03 [ Applause ]

08:05 [ Sue Boyle ] He couldn’t have said it better.

08:07 [ Juan Huey Ray] They asked us to teach them an American song. But when we started to sing "We Shall Overcome," heh, they already knew it. And they sang it with such conviction. It happened again and again, everywhere.

08:26 [ Singing, "We Shall Overcome" ]

08:35 [ Suzanne Tedesco ] There were three generations in this small, one-bedroom apartment: grandmother in her seventies, the mother, Galia, around forty, and Lisa, the ten-year-old. They shared a kitchen and bath with the other apartments on the floor. Lisa slept with grandmother in the bedroom and her mother slept on the couch where we were sitting. I brought out photos of my family. Galia saw the picture of my daughter, who’s three, and said, "Wait, wait." She got out a picture of Lisa when she was three and, you know, they looked exactly the same. Then she said to me, "We’re sisters!"

09:11 [ Narrator ] In the late evening of May Day, we boarded the Red Arrow. Nine hours on the night train brought us into Moscow. And there to greet us was the silver-haird Viktor Popov. That set the tone for our experience: musical, personal. Nine million people make this the fifth largest city in the world, and it inspired the same awe we felt before, for here is the Kremlen nerve-center of the country, the seat of power for all the Soviet Bloc. But there’s more to Moscow than Red Square, and though we found this impressive city entertaining, even exciting, we were intent on deeper the deeper purposes of this tour. So we sang; we listened; we reached out.

10:00 [ Singing ]

10:02 [ Liz Lamson ] Valentina took us to Moscow State University. It was a lovely spring-like day, just the first - one of the first just lovely warm days. We took off our shoes and ran through the park. These newlyweds cam into the park to get their picture taken. Suzanne & I asked if we could take their photo. The next thing we knew we were in their limo and they were taking pictures of us!

10:29 [ Suzanne Tedesco] Valentina wanted to show us where Reagan and Gorbachev would meet. So there we were, laughing and out of breath. There was this guard at the door, incredibly stern. Itwas so interesting to watch Valentina’s face change. Her demeanor suddenly became serious. I realized that certain behavior is not considered appropriate in public.

10:50 [ Liz Lamson] We had lost track of time and we had to rush back to Valentina’s apartment for dinner. It had been just a wonderful carefree kind of day.

11:00 [ Russian song ]

11:05 [ street sounds ]

11:16 [ Marsha Hudson] The concert in Moscow was the best ever.

11:20 [ SPC - song by Woody Guthrie ] This land is your land; this land is my land, from California to the New York island.

11:25 [ Marsha Hudson ] We sang so well and the audience was just great.

11:29 [ SPC ] This land is your land; this land is our land; this land was made for you and me.

11:42 [ Applause ]

11:47 [ Marsha Hudson ] Viktor Popov enjoyed our concert so much, he was almost child-like, leaning, clapping his hands over his head.

11:55 [ Helen Lauritzen ] There are people for whom music is natural. Popov is one of those and he translates this to children.

12:03 [ Children’s chorus, singing ]

12:09 [ Helen Lauritzen ] The children sang with such spirit and understanding.

12:14 [ Children’s chorus, singing ]

12:19 [ Helen Lauritzen ] Music, he said, is an expression of life. Not only must they understand it in their mind, They must feel it with their hearts.

12:29 [ Children’s chorus, singing ]

12:35 [ Helen Lauritzen ] Once when they were rehearsing a sacred song he interrupted to tell them "You don’t shout at God." "You must implore Him."

12:45 [ Children’s chorus, singing ]

12:49 [ Mary Bowers ] We were talking about those homes in the country the houses they call dachas. And Viktor Sergeyev said, "I don’t have a dacha." "Music is my dacha."

13:03 [ Traffic noises ]

13:09 [ Narrator ] The Chorus journeys northeast four hours by bus to Vladimir and Suzdal. Each a capital long before Moscow, these cities are old.

13:18 [ Music ]

13:35 Our guides tell us In Moscow you experience the Soviet Union. Here you will experience Russia. For most of us this is where it all came together: The things we had studied, the work, the rehearsals, and the preparation that happens only in the heart.

13:55 [ Music ]

14:10 [ Henry Perry ] Popov called it the heart of Russia. He set up the festival in Vladimir because he knew people would flock to hear us.

14:17 [ Singing ]

14:20 [ Jean Moehring ] And the audience? There were not adults or just young people or children. It was everybody families and they were all dressed up because this was an occasion and it was important.

14:38 [ Singing ]

14:49 [ Bill Comer ] Vladimir was the high point for me. Music appears to be part of their spirituality and there we got a glimpse of the Russian soul.

15:00 [ Singing ]

15:38 [ Juan Huey Ray ] Spiritual music in sacred places pure soul.

15:44 [ Singing ]

15:56 [ Juan Huey Ray ] We felt the heartbeat of the Russian people that night with the Chamber Choir in Saint George’s and we gave as good as we got.

16:07 [ SPC with soloist Venise Jones ] Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come. T’was Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.

17:03 [ Bird song ]

17:13 [ Balalaika music ]

17:20 [ Susan Simon ] We jogged past a woman digging in a patch of ground. She was planting potatoes. We offered to help but she invited us into her garden and gave us fresh-cut tulips. Then she took us inside and showed us her home. She and her husband had built it. The government owns the land but the house belongs to them. We sat in her house and talked until it got dark.

17:48 [ Balalaika music ]

17:49 [ Kurt Asplund ] We went to Viktor’s apartment with Felix and Vladimir from the Chamber Choir. They knew so many American songs Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, and the Beatles as well. After singing with them through the evening there was this feeling as if we had been friends forever. It was all so quick and so intense. The next morning Vladimir came with flowers to see us off. It was hard to say goodbye.

18:19 [ Balalaika music ]

18:26 [ Jet noise ]

18:30 [ Bob Ewen ] We were on the plane to Tashkent. The people all around me all had questions. A factory-worker asked me Didn’t it worry me to have a five-year-old daughter with our drug problem the way it is? You bet, I told him. It scares me to death. They weren’t out to pick holes in our system. They just wanted to know what we perceived as problems and how we hoped to solve them.

18:55 [ Music ]

19:07 [ Narrator ] The sister city is more beautiful than ever Sunny, green, with Spring already in full bloom. Tashkent was nice to come home to.

19:20 [ Music ]

19:31 [ Narrator ] Our ties to this city are important and the relation deepens as we greet familiar faces and continue to share the stage with Soviet choruses.

19:40 [ Soviet chorus: men ] All the leaves are brown [ women ] the leaves are brown [ men ] and the sky is gray [ women ] and the sky is gray [ men ] I’ve been for a walk [ women ] I’ve been for a walk [ men ] on a winter’s day

19:52 [ Narrator ] We meet a multitude of people so many of them young. They want to talk, sing, dance.

19:58 [ Soviet chorus: men ] If I didn’t tell her [ women ] If I didn’t tell her [ men ] I could leave today [ women ] I could leave today [ men ] California dreaming [ women ] California dreaming [ men ] on such a winter’s day [ women ] California dreaming

20:12 [ Narrator ] Two thousand years old but modern and big Tashkent is a city of renewal and, in this central Asian desert, an oasis of hospitality.

20:23 [ Music ]

20:25 [ Doris Hulse ] The house was adobe and no windows face the street. This was traditional. Before emancipation, women’s faces were not to be seen in public. We wash at a faucet and ate in a courtyard.

20:39 [ Music, singing ]

20:44 [ Doris Hulse ] I felt like we rediscovered the Garden of Eden. I may not go home, I said. I may just stay right here. In that case, said my host, we’ll have to find you a husband. Uzbeks are very good husbands, you know. I laughed and told them I already had a husband.

21:01 [ Music ]

21:02 [ Anne Reese ] Our hosts’ ten-year-old son sang us a school-song about Lenin. After singing it, he wrote out the words in English. Lenin will always live. Lenin will always give help in moments when life is hard. Lenin - the hope we see in Spring so bright and free. Lenin’s in you and me.

21:20 [ Music ]

21:23 [ Bill Anderson ] The man took hold of my arm and said, you know the best thing that’s going to come of Perestroika is that there’s going to be some unemployment around here. That’s what we need - some unemployment.

21:34 [ Bruce Hulse ] Volodya talked about Perestroika. Government officials push it. The masses want it. The bureaucracy resists it. But this guy was perfectly comfortable, saying, Hey, it’s happening. It’s inevitable.

21:50 [ Music ]

21:56 [ Narrator ] In a time of great change, change is what you notice most. It’s hard to put a name on. and it doesn’t photograph. But listen, and you can hear it the hope that rises on each heartbeat.

22:15 [ Singing ] We are not afraid We are not afraid [repeated]. We are not afraid, someday. Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe We shall overcome someday. We shall all be free

23:10 [ Bill Cote ] He was wearing a Milwaukee Brewers T-shirt and a baseball cap. His name was Sasha. He was twenty two eager to talk. He walked along with us. Sort of out of the blue, he asked, "Do you know Omaha?" He pulled this letter out of his pocket. It was postmarked 19 years ago. He had found out recently that his grandmother lived in Omaha. Under the past regimes, His father had been afraid to tell him. He thought it was dangerous for Sasha to know. Inside the letter were these photographs. When I came back I went to the Seattle Public Library and got the Omaha telephone book. Sure enough. There was a Milontovich. I called the number. This woman answered . . .

24:07 [ Singing ] We shall live in peace someday. Oh, deep in our hearts I do believe we shall overcome someday. We shall overcome someday. We shall overcome someday.