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Staff Spotlight: The multi-talented Victor Gorodinsky

May 16, 2013
Victor G.
Victor Gorodinsky with his beloved cat, Asya

Our staff spotlight this month is Victor Gorodinsky, Memorial Library’s Slavic Languages Cataloger. Although his work keeps him very busy, Victor participates in a diverse array of unique activities and hobbies. Read on to learn more about Victor and the many roles he plays within and outside of the library.

News: Let’s start with the University of Wisconsin Russian Folk Orchestra, since you just recently had a concert. Can you speak a little about your involvement with founding and conducting the group?

VG: I am a professional musician—I was born in Russia and got my Master’s Degree in Music there. When I moved to the United States in 1982, I first settled in Chicago where I lived for three years. I was happily surprised to discover that there was a Russian Folk Orchestra at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I certainly did not expect to find something like that in the United States, but it was there! So I started traveling to Champaign to perform with the orchestra, which was founded and directed by one of the music professors at the University. In 1985 I moved to Champaign to be closer to the orchestra and ended up becoming sort of the “unofficial assistant conductor,” until the current conductor retired and I took his place. We did concerts and traveled a bit—it was fun. And that is how my “library life” began: I received my MLS there and worked as the Slavic Languages Cataloger at the University for ten years.

In 1995, I followed the job market to Madison where I was hired as the Slavic Languages Cataloger here at Memorial Library. I had this ambitious idea to start a Russian ensemble here but had to kind of settle in first and learn the music scene in Madison, which is incredibly rich! About a year later, I started talking with CREECA (Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia at UW—Madison); I introduced my idea and although I had no experience whatsoever with starting a group from scratch and didn’t know much about finding money for such an endeavor, somehow the plan began taking shape.

The first thing was to find instruments. Russian instruments, such as balalaikas and domras aren’t like guitars or pianos that you can simply purchase at the local music store. I luckily had some connections for obtaining the instruments and with CREECA’s help was able to get a grant to purchase them. Once we got the instruments, we of course needed to find players. We distributed flyers around campus and about eight people showed up (better than nothing!). I brought a boom box and a few instruments so I could introduce the musicians to them, and most seemed genuinely interested. So now we needed a place to rehearse. The Slavic Department offered their conference room at 1418 Van Hise for practice after hours, and we’ve been rehearsing there ever since. During the first rehearsal, I had to basically teach the musicians how to play their instruments. I’m not an expert on all the instruments, but was able to instruct them somewhat. The musicians were very talented and some of them were able to pick it up very quickly.

In 1997 we had our first public performance, which was very short with a “whopping” repertoire of about five pieces and only eight people making up the “orchestra” (it was more of an ensemble at that point). But we did it, and it seemed to get a good reception. Sometimes I look back and can’t believe I actually pulled it off! The orchestra grew each year and is now at 37 members, four of whom are original members. The orchestra is mostly made up of students, but we are not exclusive to UW—anyone is welcome! Madison residents and retired UW professors are also among the players. We have some truly dedicated members; one of them travels from Milwaukee for rehearsals every Tuesday. We just released our fourth CD and are doing another recording session this Saturday (May 11). In the past, we used to only record live performances but we are now recording in a professional studio, which is a great accomplishment.

Victor and the Russian Folk Orchestra
Victor and the Russian Folk Orchestra

The Russian Folk Orchestra takes up a lot of my time and energy. It’s become a really big part of my life. I don’t just direct; I do almost everything. I arrange the music and organize the concerts. Last summer, we did a big Russian music festival, and I got a lot of help from my orchestra members, but with them being primarily students, they are very busy so I end up doing most of the day-to-day work on my own. In June we are traveling to Stratford, WI to perform at their annual festival, and we have concerts booked already for next fall. We were also recently invited to play in Germany! The only thing standing in our way is the funds. Hopefully someday we’ll be able to go there. I love traveling with this group. The farthest we’ve traveled together is Minneapolis, which was a lot of fun. So to be able to fly to Germany together would be fantastic! We have an incredible group… It’s like a family. We love each other, have parties during the year, and we share lots of laughs.

News: Can you tell me a little bit about the work you do as a Slavic Languages Librarian?

VG: I do a lot… My official title when I started here in 1995 was Slavic, Eastern European, and Central Asian languages Cataloger; among other things, I’m a language specialist. But over the years, my duties have expanded. Cataloging is my primary thing but I also perform other duties related to cataloging and technical services. The adoption of RDA has generated a lot of work that has to do with converting pre-RDA records to the new format. You would not believe how busy we are right now! I love doing this, though. We strive to keep our database perfectly clean and up-to-date, and I’m very proud of it, but it is exhausting. At the end of the day I’m dead—not physically, of course, but… brain dead! When I get home, I collapse onto my couch, to the delight of my cat; she loves cuddling with me (and vice versa). The work is never done. I love doing it—it’s fascinating work, but it is brain-tiring.

News: What is your favorite part of your job?

VG: Cataloging is all about organizing materials in a way that makes them accessible to the people who need the information. It’s funny because I’m not the most organized person (if you see my living room you’ll know what I’m talking about), but I really enjoy the work. It’s what I love. Although computers have become an integral part of all our lives and I use them every day, I still get excited about using them. I just really enjoy working with computers—organizing the materials, making sure people can find what they’re looking for… Not just the people like me, but those who probably couldn’t care less about the cataloging side of it, who just need the materials! I’ve been doing it for such a long time and I still love it.

I also love working for the University. My first job in this country was in a business in downtown Chicago, and I have learned to appreciate the benefits of working in an academic environment. Plus, UW really is a first class University!

News: It’s hard to believe with the work you do at the library and with the orchestra that you have time for hobbies, but I hear you are quite the magician!

VG: Yes, magic has been a big part of my life since I was probably five. I don’t have the time for it much lately, but I have done a few small shows for the library in the past for Halloween and things like that. At this point I’m kind of a “passive magician.” Once or twice a year, I go to International Magic Conventions. I might go to one in Michigan this year. I have a lot of magic at home that I get from these conventions, but just don’t have time to do it much lately. I’m not a professional magician by any means, but it has always been a big hobby for me. Most people think of magic as a form of entertainment, which it is, but it is also a very ancient art. Magic is mentioned in Egyptian papyruses from way back before Christ. I know a lot about the history of magic, and have attended lectures at magic conventions discussing magic history and theory, which is fascinating. I also love to watch magic being performed—magicians usually don’t like the word “tricks”. I consider it to be a very unique and beautiful art. It’s a different art, not like painting or music or sculpture, of course, but it is still an art. It requires a lot of practice, so I don’t have much time for it now, but I guess you could say I’m the resident magician at Memorial Library. I have this sign in my office in CTS that says “Magician’s parking only—all others will disappear.”

Another passion of mine is traveling. I have been all over the United States, Canada, and Europe, and even Japan and Kazakhstan. My most favorite place? Probably Montréal, Québec; I have been madly in love with that city for years! Since I moved to the U.S. I’ve only ever lived in the Midwest, so it is nice to be able to travel and see other parts of the States as well. Sometimes I think it would be nice to live on the coast—California or Oregon, or the New England area. It is beautiful out there. But I truly love Madison. It’s a great city, there’s always something going on—I love the farmer’s market… It’s been seventeen years and I still discover new neighborhoods, new restaurants. So I am grateful to fate for putting me here.

News: So between the orchestra, your work at the library, your hobby as a magician, and traveling… I don’t suppose you still have time for reading, do you?

VG: I do somehow manage to make time for reading still, although these days I read less, but I watch a lot of movies; over the years I have become a real movie-buff. I read and speak several languages, but when I read for pleasure I mostly enjoy reading in Russian, particularly the well-established classics.

As for movies, I usually stick to serious movies, often foreign. I subscribe to Netflix and I probably watch two to three films a week. I haven’t been out to the movie theater in probably seven or eight years, though. I prefer to watch them at home because I can cuddle up with my cat and also I don’t have to deal with the guy next to me laughing loudly during the most inappropriate moments, it happens all the time! Oh, and I hate the smell of popcorn!

Want more?

VG pics 18

Know a librarian or library staff member with a cool skill or interest? They belong in the spotlight! Submit your suggestions to news@library.wisc.edu.  We’d love to learn more about you!