A 1994 Visit in Russia

Elsie Landon Buck

Russian and American educators met in October 1994 for the first United States/Russia Joint Conference on Education. The meetings were held at the Presidium of Science at the Russian Academy of Federal Service and I was there as a delegate in the area of Music and Multicultural Education.

It proved to be a tremendous experience. All-day meetings were scheduled during the week, with Dr. Alexander Asmolov, Vice-Minister for the Russian Republic, Russian Minstry of Education, as one of the first speakers in the plenary session. Asmolov, considered one of the most progressive of the leading Russian educators, initiated the conference, which included working sessions between the delegates of the two countries. They dealt with sixteen topics, including Language Arts, Gifted Education, Multicultural Education, and Music.

Each day was filled with exciting discoveries for all delegates as information was exchanged between both countries. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about music education in Russian schools. On Wednesday, we visited two schools in the Moscow City Palace for Youth Creativity, where we met teachers and saw firsthand what happens in their music classes.

Education in Russian schools is going through a period of adjustment and change. Teachers are victims of the instability of the ruble. Those we talked with in school #1828 (schools are numbered, not identified with a place or name), in the southern part of the city of Moscow, are earning the American equivalent of fifty dollars a month.

In one of our sessions, V. V. Aleev, from the Institute of General Secondary Education, Russian Ministry of Education, Moscow, made an interesting point when he stated the need to teach church music in the secondary schools in Russia. He felt this needed to be done to promote "reconstruction of the holistic picture of the musical art, which is founded on three musical branches: secular classical music, church music, and folk music." He went on to say, "The inclusion of church music into the system of secondary school general culture education may become an important step in overcoming the informational vacuum which has been characteristic of artistic pedagogical practice in Russia of the late decades."

My husband Edwin and I visited with Dr. and Mrs. Harry Mayden during this week as well. Mayden is Secretary of Education for the Seventh-day Adventist Euro-Asia Division. He told us there are seven church schools in this division - new developments in the post-Communist era, with many challenges facing the church in the education of its children and youth at this time.

On Sabbath, October 8, we attended church at the Theological Seminary in Zaoski, where we heard the church choir, directed by Elena Godunova, in a moving rendition of a sacred composition of Russian origin. It was our privilege also to meet Elena Bulgakova, who is the Dean of the Seminary Music Department. Hearing the deeply moving music of this worship service, from the voices of the choir and also from the congregation in the singing of two hymns, gave us memories we will treasure for the rest of our lives.

Shortly after that experience, we returned to America. We learned much from our fellow musicians in Russia. Challenges face both our nations. For them it was the reordering of content and the enlargement of services; for us it is the recognition of the value of worthy music in the context of Home, School and Church. Both are challenges that will continue well into the future.