Hi there! Before you start reading I'd like to let you know that all opinions expressed herein are the personal opinions of Gabrielle Stravelli, not the US State Department or American Music Abroad.
Also, my beautiful bandmates featured in the pictures below are: Jim Ridl, piano, Pat O'Leary, bass and Jordan Young, drums. All photos by John Ferguson.
It's hard to say exactly when we fell in love with Moldova, but we fell hard and fast. It's a very poor country- the poorest in Europe except when they're bested by Belarus. Most of the architecture is Soviet-style and many of the buildings look sort of run down. And yet we had so many warm and open interactions with people and students there that I think we all walked away feeling it's very "poor in resources, rich in spirit!" (And also, do I know any millionaires that could help these folks out, cause they totally deserve it...) Yes, I'm aware of how simplistic that sounds. And yet I'd go back there in a heart beat.
Our tour started with a trip to Balti (pronounced 'Belts') on Monday, November 9th and a trip to Cahul (ka-hool) on Tuesday, November 10th, both about a two hour drive from the capital Chisinau, where we stayed. We did a presentation/masterclass during the afternoons and performed a concert in the evenings. The students were not all music students and they seemed very shy at the start of the hour, but as we played and talked about American music and culture we eventually got them singing some simple blues licks. I've really noticed the difference in the demeanor of Americans- my loud, outgoing self very much included- we are more gregarious, more outspoken and in some ways, more open. This isn't to say that Moldovans aren't open, but they definitely take more time to warm up- though once they warm to you they treat you like family. I know this is largely a result of the comfort and privilege we enjoy in America. We can afford to be relaxed, and I'm more aware of this than ever.
There's a huge classical tradition in Europe but it seems that there isn't a lot of access to live Jazz in Moldova and there certainly aren't a lot of visits from American musicians. Happily, our concerts were very well received. People seemed not only enthusiastic, but grateful for the fact that we had visited their town and performed for them.
Our first concert in Balti, at the National V. Alesandri Theatre, was sold out and very well received. In our 2nd concert at Cahul's Cultural Palace the following evening, it felt like the crowd took a little longer to warm up, but in the end it felt really successful. In each country that we've visited, we've learned a traditional folk song, arranged it in a jazz style and I've performed it in the native language, which is perhaps the most important part. In Cahul, once I sang the Moldovan folk song "Ioanne, Ioanne" (Ioanne is the name John in English) I felt like I had totally won them over. We're eager to make the point that we're not only in their country to share American music but also to receive THEIR unique culture and music and people have seemed incredibly appreciative of that gesture.
At the end of both concerts, almost the entire audience came up onstage to take pictures with us, to have us sign things and to talk- with limited English and limited Moldovan :) This part of the night was a favorite for me during our time in Moldova. I don't want to just leave the stage and go back to the hotel. I want to talk to people, talk to local musicians, talk to people who've visited the US, talk to people who've never met an American in their whole life, hug people (I'm Italian, afterall!) and thank them for being with us and sharing the experience. If we're not making personal connections, then I think we're missing the point of the tour. And I want to convey how happy I am to be there and how grateful I am that they were open to us and came to see us- because that really is how I feel.