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Yale Russian Chorus: 1950-59

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Fall 1955: Photo - Serge Jaroff

Early musical models for the Yale Russian Chorus included especially the Don Cossacks under Serge Jaroff. The YRC tried to attend every concert of the group in the New York/Boston area. Here the YRC spends an evening with Mr. Jaroff at the Balalaika restaurant in New York City after a Don Cossack concert at Carnegie Hall in the fall of 1955.

October 1955: Poster - Coffin lecture on Raskolnikov

The Yale Russian Chorus began in 1953 as a musical offshoot of the Yale Russian Club. Membership in the two organizations overlapped considerably until 1958 or so. An early activity was organizing lectures on Russian and Soviet topics for the Yale community. In 1955, when he gave this lecture, William Sloan Coffin Jr. was studying for a Bachelor of Divinity at the Yale Divinity School.

April 1958: Poster - A Life for the Czar

In April 1958 the YRC presented a concert version of the first act of Mikhail Glinka's opera, A Life for the Czar (known in the USSR as Ivan Susanin), in collaboration with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. This was the first US performance of the original Glinka version.

August 1958: Photo, 5x7 - Red Square

After the signing of the Lacy Zarubin Agreement on cultural exchange between the USA and the USSR, the Chorus raised money to travel with 18 singers to the USSR in August 1958. They gave informal concerts (i.e. not prearranged, not in concert halls) in parks and squares, typically opening with a few spirituals from the Yale Songbook and then launching into songs in Russian.

August 1958: Photo, 8x10 - Red Square (John Francis)

After the YRC sang for a half hour to an hour in a park or square, Russians would gather around each singer to ask questions and discuss whatever was on their mind. The singing and discussions with Soviet citizens were the core of the YRC's efforts to promote real cultural exchange between the USA and the USSR. The other side of those activities was bringing Russian choral music - at that time largely unknown in the USA - to American audiences and discussing with them the YRC's experiences in cultural exchange.

May 1959: Article - Readers Digest

After the 1958 YRC trip Charles Neff wrote an account of the experience in the Lion Magazine, which was then picked up by the Readers Digest in May 1959. That article gave the YRC nation-wide name recognition and helped immensely in fund-raising for future trips and in getting concerts at US universities. It also introduced the American public to a working model for cultural exchange with the USSR.