Galina, many events and transitions in your life can be characterized as...well…unexpected. You began playing the violin and were a violinist in the student orchestra for five years and then suddenly and unexpectedly transitioned to the guitar. When and why did you decide to leave your first love, the violin, behind?

What a lovely word “unexpected” is, but unfortunately  my transition to the guitar was anything but unexpected. You’re right, I began playing the violin and started singing as far back as I can remember. At first I sang by myself and then as a duet with my father. I sang in many different choirs or solo accompanied by a piano. It wasn’t until my freshman year at college that I began singing with a guitar only because it’s impossible to sing while playing the violin.

I’m guessing your parents weren’t thrilled by your enthusiasm for playing the guitar. Many parents in Russia want their children to become professional classical musicians, and the guitar could seriously derail those dreams?

My parents are another story all together. I was a very late child, especially for my father, which may be why I always felt like the beloved baby of the family.  The age difference between my two children is 15 years, so I know the tender feelings toward a late child. Both of my parents sang. By father actually graduated from a conservatory but decided to become a historian instead. I started music lessons when I was 5, but that wasn’t all; I also studied literature and math. In college, math was my true love and I later became a math teacher. But back to your question; my parents never pressured me to be a musician, they were happy that math was my true passion.

 Tell me a little about the St. Petersburg music club “Meridian”?

Meridian…what an amazing memory. When I first came, Anna Yashinskaya or Anya, ruled the club.  The members of this club weren’t anti-government activists. They just felt bound by the strict communist censorship and wanted the freedom to be true to themselves and sing the music that brought them together.  They wanted to write their own music and poetry away from the eyes of the KGB. And for some reason, these people took me as their own even though I didn’t know their songs or anything about writing your own music. To think how different my life would have been had they not accepted me! A little while ago, Roman Katz called and told me that Anya had passed away, but in my own little club Meridian she will always be the sharp-tongued Anya that brought all of us together.

You were invited to sing at many amazing festivals including the famous “Grushinsk” festival. To be invited to the Grushinsk festival at 22 is nothing short of amazing! Did your head spin from all the fame? Do you by any chance remember what you sang?

It’s true that any time I was invited to a festival it was amazing and unexpected. The first time I went to the Moscow festival, I was invited as part of the Leningrad delegation and completely unexpectedly won third place behind Misha Stolar and Alex Brunov. I was immediately invited to the Leningrad, Riga and Minsk festivals. I can brag a little that at the Minsk festival I was miss congeniality.  I went to the Grushinsk festival twice and of course I remember what I sang, but I’ll only tell you about one special song: Pelagia, written by Nora Yavorsky with music by Velen Popovsky The interesting thing is that this song is meant to be sung a cappella.  Can you imagine a mountain with thousands of people on it, and me on stage singing a song with long pauses and no guitar! One woman came up to me and said “when  you started singing I immediately started crying…first because of the song and then because I felt sorry for you, you sounded amazing but kind of awkward and then all of the sudden, but then suddenly the entire mountain lit up with little lights, cigarette lighters were used instead of applause because otherwise you couldn’t hear the rest of the song. At that moment I almost burst into tears too.  Of course my head was spinning, but not because of my success, more because of all the amazing people that were part of this movement and the inspired poetry they wrote.

In 1980 you had your first concert as a duet with A. Brunov. You sang together for six years. Tell me a little about this artistic collaboration?  

Initially the duet was just us singing along with one another. Alesha is an incredible performer and knew a million more songs than I did. For me, the poetry or the words are the most important part of the song, and the music is just an accompaniment to the poetry. So we sang a cappella or sometimes with a violin.  Together we traveled all over the former Soviet Union, from Baltic to Ust-Ilimsk.

 I must admit that when I first heard you in a duet with Lena Lebedeva, I fell in love with both of you!  You were the only ones that could do justice to the songs written by the amazing and too early departed Vera Matveiva. I’d love to hear more about your collaboration with Lena.

My collaboration with Lena began by the fireside at the Moscow music festival. After that festival, in 1988, we got the opportunity to record a two record set titled “Melodies”, one record with songs sung by Vera and the other with Lena and me performing cover songs written by Vera. Unfortunately, as soon as the set was completed, it was banned by the government. About four months later, it was un-banned and we released the entire set. To this day I don’t know why it was banned and then allowed. At first we released 15,000 copies but then had multiple editions both as a set and with each record released separately. Later they made a CD out of it. Unfortunately, my Yiddish record was never released until we came to America. 

 You have had the privilege to be surrounded by some of the greatest Russian folk musicians and poets. Who has had the greatest influence on you or been your greatest inspiration?    

Yes, I have been fortunate to have met many folk artists. At the club Meridian, I met Eugene Kliachkin, Alexander Gorodnitsky, Aleksandr Dolsky, Valentin Vikhorev, Boris Poloskin, Aleksandr Rozenbaum, basically all of the greatest artists in the Leningrad music circle. After my first performance at the Moscow music festival I met Sergej Nikitin and Viktor Berkovsky. They came back stage and asked me “where did you come from” before the awarded me my first laureate. I continue to consider many of these people as some of my closest friends. In terms of inspirations…I’m not sure. I am inspired by all talented people, but some are just closer to my heart than others. For example, all work by Michael Scherbakovis pure genius.

To get back to the subject of unexpected transitions in your life; In Russia you got a degree in sound engineering, but then went on to become a math teacher and then in America, you received a Master’s degree in Physical Therapy. How do you explain your unorthodox career path?

What can I say…I love learning new things.

You were at the V. Muzikantov's concert in Philadelphia. Does your repertoire include any songs by North American artists?

Vladimir is one of my oldest and dearest friends. I love his songs but the truth is that almost no one can perform them as well as he can, although I do try.

Last fall, you sang mostly Yiddish songs at the American music festival. Do you speak Yiddish?

Songs in Yiddish are my absolute favorite. They are my childhood. They are a part of me. I wasn’t allowed to sing them on the grand stage in Russia so I sang in Yiddish in smaller more private venues.

What does your family think about your performances? Do your children speak Russian?

My children speak and understand Russian very well, but of course their strongest language is English. I sing to my son in Russian every night and he knows my songs very well.

I have just one more question that I ask all my interviewees purely out of great respect and admiration. Do you plan to record and/or release any more CDs? And if so, can I place my order right now?  Music aficionados love having disks that they can listen to over and over again, and I know that yours would be such a disk!

Yes, I have many disks and plans to record new ones. As for your advanced order, thank you!

December 2004 - February 2005

Interviewed by Isaac Estulin (Toronto, Canada)