Eugene Birman

Eugene Birman
USA

Coming to Estonia...
I wanted to live and work in a place where people care about classical music, where culture is not just the recreation of a stratum of society, but an essential part in the life of a nation. Estonia is known worldwide for its musical traditions, but it will be recognized even more so for its wonderful efforts to develop classical music – truly, all kinds of music – within students and young professionals. I am happy to have found that here.

I was given the opportunity to study in Estonia at the Estonia Academy of Music & Theatre in Tallinn by the U.S. State Department and the Fulbright Student Program.

Before coming here...
My idea was formed mainly during a short visit I had made a year prior to my arrival, at that time not knowing that the next time I would arrive in Tallinn would be with two large suitcases in tow. Having been born 400 km away in Daugavpils, Latvia, I knew very well that Estonia was, foremost in the Baltics, navigating its way out of decades of occupation and was really quite successful at doing so. I didn’t imagine the rich cultural life, however, nor that there is so much of “city” outside of the medieval walls. Tallinn is much more alive than what one gets from a cursory tour of the old city.

Student life in Estonia...
EMTA is considerably smaller than the academic institutions I am used to, and it is refreshing seeing students playing in professional ensembles – even the Philharmonic – while still finishing their degrees. There are a lot of international students here, from all over Europe, and English is spoken sometimes more than I was used to in New York but I’ve found it even more rewarding to get to know the Estonians themselves who, contrary to popular perception, are some of the kindest and warmest people I’ve met.

Studying in Estonia...
I came here knowing almost no one in the professional music world and I am now in contact with a number of musicians and conductors, which I think can be attributed not only to my own networking skills but the openness of people here to new ideas and new people in general. I am unbelievably fortunate to have the teacher that I have here – I have never met anyone in my life, actually, who has taken such an interest in what I do and has devoted himself so entirely to helping me succeed.

The best things for me...
Gaining a foundation on which to build a career. This is so difficult to find and establish but it’s really gratifying to see that support and faith in the people in my field. I think, here, you are really rewarded for what you do and how you do it.

Studying in Estonia...
I think it is not so different from university life anywhere. Since coming here, I’ve spoken English, French, Italian, Russian, and Turkish among the students I’ve met; I never imagined the diversity of foreign students that study here. Beyond that, it is really what one makes of it: Tallinn had the reputation of a “party town” for a few years and perhaps now that’s receded but whatever you are looking for, you can find it. I think that’s the hallmark of a great city.

While being away from my home country, I miss the most...
In practical terms, there’s very little here that I can’t get anywhere. I wish the weather was warmer, the wine was better (although the hot wine is great!), and I didn’t have to fly 10,000 km to see my family and my car but otherwise, there hasn’t been as much of an adjustment as I thought.

I like international experience...
It is not just important, it is essential. I would not be who I am without having traveled and studied in different countries. Although it is cliche, this is still very much a world where national boundaries matter less and less and no matter what field you are in and who you want to be, not experiencing new things, not seeing foreign places and meeting people very different from you: that’s a huge disadvantage. Especially in the arts, there is no longer such a thing as borders. We have to get out and see what’s on the other side of the street, if not the other side of the world.

My future...
For the time being, stay in the region and continue my projects, as well as do more work in film music. More long term, I would like to have an Oscar by the time I’m thirty!

The last thing I want to say...
Just because it wasn’t mentioned above: don’t be afraid of the language! It’s very challenging to learn but just having a conversation in Estonian, even a few words, is totally worth the effort!

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