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Phone Singer Follows His Calling

«The Moscow Times», 8 мая 1997 г.
By Viktoria Mitling

    As soon as the phone rings Andrey Istokov picks up the receiver, pushes the speaker button and picks up his guitar.
"Is that Andrey? Do you really sing over the phone?" asks a gruff male voice.
"Yes, 1 do. What would you like to hear?" says Istokov, sitting in his apartment decorated with Oriental carpets on the walls.
"Something sad with a Russian sense of nostalgia."
    Andrey performs the romantic ballad based on Pushkin's poem "I Used to Love You." His deaf cat snuggles beside him and purrs with pleasure as he senses the vibrations of the music.
    Istokov, 32, has been singing Russian romance, folk and popular songs — as well as his own ballads — on callers' requests for over a year. A courier by day, he performs what he calls his "forced altruism" at night.
    A professionally trained singer, Istokov graduated from the State Institute of Theater Art and performed at the religious theater “Glas” until 1993. He left the theater because he felt restricted. "I did not feel satisfied financially or artistically," recalls Istokov.
    He says he cannot realize his dream of entering the big stage because he is handicapped by a lack of finances to promote himself. "I do not have sponsors. My parents are poor. It takes money to become known, and even more money to become a star”.
    Istokov continued his singing, however, by performing for cultural and charity organizations and at birthday and anniversary celebrations. He also began composing his own songs, which he would sing over the phone to friends. "My friends enjoyed my singing so much they would call and ask me to sing something. Then I thought, Why not expand my audience?' — and started advertising."
    Istokov publicizes his phone singing in newspapers and in a telephone advertising service which costs him 300,000 to 700,000 rubles ($52 to • $121) a month. His singing is free of charge to callers, but he accepts donations when offered.
"People often call me a lunatic because I sing over the phone for free. After 1 placed my first ads, 1 only got rude and insulting calls," says Istokov. One elderly woman left a message on Smirnov's answering machine encouraging him to stop singing for others and instead see a psychiatrist. "Russians today mistrust anything advertised as free and immediately assume it is a prank or a сon."
    Olga Anikhina, a young woman who is partly paralyzed from cerebral palsy and rarely leaves home, is Istokov's oldest fan; she has been calling him for around a year. "Andryusha's voice is filled with love and sunshine. Whenever 1 feel lonely, 1 pick up the phone and ask him to sing for me, I always feel better by the time I hang up the phone," she says.
    A blind man who stumbled over yet another new pothole said he was ready to give up on life until he was inspired by Istokov's singing. "It just makes me feel so hopeful that young men like you still exist in Russia today. You bring joy to people instead of getting drunk or being a thug," he told Istokov.
    When Istokov first started his service, he waited for every call with bated breath. But within six months he found himself on the phone for four or five hours a day, and decided to limit his service to two hours each evening. He now answers about 100 calls a week.
Sometimes people phone in just to talk over their problems. "Do you mind if we just talk?" says a shaky male voice. "1 love this woman, but she has left me twice already because 1 hit her when 1 get drunk." Istokov puts down his guitar and advises the caller to give up on that woman but to remember this loss the next time he feels like hitting someone.
"When someone calls and 1 feel they need to talk, 1 start asking them questions myself. It is not a burden for me. These conversations enrich my life," he says.

Istokov’s singing service is available over tel. 236-0871 (Moscow).

 
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