Vivian Podgainy: Military Musician

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There are so many ways to support your country and also follow your passion. Maxine sat down with her Aunt Vivian who is doing just that.  

Interview by Maxine

Senior Master Sergeant Vivian L. Podgainy is a cellist with the Air Force Strings, The United States Air Force Band, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C. She began her career in the Air Force in 1995. She served as principal cellist of the U.S. Air Force Strings Orchestra from 1997 through 2011 and performed two concerti as soloist with the orchestra. Highlights of her career include the 2009 inauguration concert on the national mall, as well as a performance at the Kennedy Center Honors banquet in 2016. 

She received a Bachelor of Music degree from the Oberlin Conservatory and a Master of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music. Before joining the Air Force, Sergeant Podgainy performed and taught in Hartford, CT, Springfield, MA, and Greensboro, NC, as well as Cleveland, Akron, Canton, and Columbus, OH.

What inspired you to join the Air Force Band?

I first heard of the AF Band through a friend, and when an opening was announced in the International Musician (a monthly publication of the American Federation of Musicians), I decided to take the audition, since I was looking for one job in one state in my field of expertise ('cello performance) which paid a living wage, had health benefits and was within a day's drive of extended family. I won the audition and was also qualified to join the Air Force.

Did you have to go to the Air Force Academy?

Performing musicians in the U.S. Air Force Band (singers and instrumentalists) are enlisted members of the Air Force and must complete Basic Military Training in San Antonio, TX. (Conductors are officers and must complete Officer Training School.) Typically, enlisted members of the Air Force Band have at least a Bachelor's Degree in Music Performance, many have Master's Degrees in Music Performance, and some have the Doctor of Musical Arts degree.

How long have you been serving?

I will complete 23 years on active duty with the Air Force in late August of this year.

What is it like to go overseas?

Going overseas is a memorable experience.

What is the longest amount of time you have spent overseas?

The longest I've gone overseas with the Air Force Band is three weeks.

When does the band play? Is it for specific occasions?

The USAF Band is the "umbrella" organization comprised of a half dozen discrete performing units (called "flights"). (There's more information about this on our website.) Each flight has its own schedule of rehearsals and performances. I'm in the USAF Strings, a flight which has 20 members--19 string players and an accordionist. One of the flights, the Ceremonial Brass, has a congressional mandate to perform for military funerals. The others have either public outreach missions (public concerts/touring) or a combination of protocol and public outreach missions. Sometimes, flights combine to perform. For example, when the Strings and the Airmen of Note (jazz group) combine, we're the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Or when the Strings combine with some of the wind, brass and percussion players in the Concert Band, it's a chamber symphony.

What do you do for fun?

For fun: I love to read! Magazines, newspapers, books, etc. Preferably hard copies, not electronic. Also, I like to watch funny movies and British murder mysteries. 

What is one misconception about women in the military that you would like to correct?

A misconception about women in the military I'd like to address: We are all different, just like any women anywhere--it's difficult-to-impossible to categorize us beyond the fact that we have the same employer!

What is the hardest thing about being a musician in the military?

For me, the most difficult thing about being a military musician is the random schedule. No two weeks are exactly alike, schedule-wise.

What inspires you?

I find inspiration from many different people--men, women and children. I aspire to do my best each day, including (but not limited to) taking good care of myself and family, keeping my skills up with my cello playing and attempting to be kindly and pleasant to people.

I also find inspiration from listening to great music--classical, jazz and classic rock, mostly.

What do you do if you feel stressed when you are serving overseas?

To elaborate on taking good care of myself: A great stress-reliever for me is strenuous physical activity a few times a week (usually running for about thirty minutes). Other things I do to relieve stress are to try to converse with family members and/or friends, deep breathing, stretching and positive affirmations. Meditation for a few minutes before going to sleep each night clears my mind out so I can sleep more soundly. I also really like brief naps during the early part of the day (ending by 3 pm. latest) when possible, about 40 minutes--long enough to get some rest/relaxation, but not long enough to go into REM. My favorite word today is "sleep!"

What was your favorite thing about being 10 or 11?

One thing I really enjoyed about being 10 or 11 years old was getting to know the world around me--I was very curious about lots of things.

What was the last thing that made you laugh?

The last thing that made me laugh a lot was yesterday, when my husband and I were chatting about the movie we had just seen (Incredibles 2).

Chocolate or Vanilla?

Dark chocolate, for sure

Jeans or dresses?

Definitely jeans, but I like to dress up for special occasions.

Heels or sneakers?

Sneakers

Friday night or Sunday Morning?

Sunday morning so I can--you guessed it--sleep in now and then.

What is one piece of advice you would like to give girls reading this?

Here's a multi-faceted piece of advice:  Follow your dream(s) while putting in your best effort/working hard and keeping an open mind for unexpected opportunities, also ensuring you have a good support system (family/friends/teachers/mentors) who you sometimes ask for help.