By Paul X. Rutz, American Forces Press Service
A young, classically trained pianist with a wide range of performing styles has been entertaining American troops overseas for years. Now she has a special reason to thank the troops who protect her new country.
Born in Altai, Siberia, 27 year-old Oksana Kolesnikova received her American citizenship on Jan. 18. Via telephone from her home in Los Angeles today, she explained why she thinks going overseas to entertain the troops is one of the most important things she does. “I truly enjoy entertaining the troops — because, for me, they’re protecting my newly found homeland,” she said. “I’m so grateful to be in the position to go there and take a few hours of worries away from them.” Kolesnikova said becoming a U.S. citizen after a long wait was one of her proudest moments. “For me it’s been 12 long years,” she said. “It has been my dream to become a citizen, and it has finally been achieved.”
In September 2003, Kolesnikova did a solo tour with the Navy’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation program, stopping in Italy, Spain and Greece. In February 2004, she went to Asia, including stops in Guam, Korea, Japan, Okinawa and Singapore, with Navy MWR. She said plans are in the works for another overseas tour early this year, this time with Armed Forces Entertainment.
Often playing three concerts per day at military installations, Kolesnikova said she enjoys the diversity of performances she gets to put forth. “I play a variety of different musical styles, so if I know my audience consists of different ages, I start with something that older people will appreciate and also some younger crowds would like,” she said. “Normally I go by ear … and adjust my program accordingly.”
On a typical tour day overseas, she first stops by the school on base, performing for servicemembers’ children. She called her school visits a “very interactive, very educational” experience. “I do story telling, accompanied by music,” she said. “Sometimes I tell Russian fairytales and dress up in Russian costume.”
The next stop is often a dinner show at the Officers’ Club, where servicemembers and their families can enjoy Kolesnikova’s classical repertoire and her original compositions. “I also accompany that with stories about the classical composers,” she said. “I enjoy sharing funny anecdotes or funny stories with my audience, like something that happened to me while I was learning English. … It makes it entertaining.”
The last concert of each visit comes at night, when Kolesnikova plays for a young adult crowd. Here, she puts classical music aside in favor of rock pieces, blues and even hip-hop, she said. Sometimes she puts on an air guitar competition. “I invite volunteers onstage, and, oh, they love it,” she said. “We select the winner who plays the meanest air guitar, and they receive my CD that I sent to the troops.”
Kolesnikova recorded that CD, “Send Freedom to U.S. Troops,” as a compilation of the music she most frequently plays for them during her tours. As a Christmas gift to U.S. troops overseas, she sent 300 copies of the CD that had been paid for by American civilians. Kolesnikova gave people who paid for the disks the opportunity to include personal notes. A partnership with “4 the Troops,” a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization, helped make that possible.
Kolesnikova said she hopes to continue bringing joy to the troops for as long as they need to be overseas. “Unless I have something booked ahead of time, I will definitely try to go and volunteer my time to entertain our troops over there — because, for me, it’s so special,” she said. “I want to see all the soldiers and to play for them at one point or another.”