Chronicle: Akito Hirotani—Miracle violin that survived the A-bombing, Part 3

by Akito Hirotani, former English teacher living in Hiroshima City

As Sergei Palchikoff headed to a pawnshop with his violin in hand, he was approached by the owner of Nisshin-kan, a Hiroshima movie theater. The owner asked Sergei to play the violin on the spot and was amazed by his performance. Mr. Palchikoff was immediately hired as an accompanist for the silent movies the theater would show, and to perform the cinematic background music, he organized a string ensemble made up of his White Russian friends.

A teacher at Hiroshima Jogakuin School (present-day Hiroshima Jogakuin Junior & Senior High School) heard stories about Mr. Palchikoff and recommended him to Nannie B. Gaines, principal of the school, which had placed an emphasis on music education as a Christian mission school. In 1926, he started work as a music teacher at the school and immediately formed a string orchestra. In June, the orchestra held its first concert. As orchestras comprised of female students were extremely rare in those days, the Jogakuin orchestra created a sensation both inside and outside Hiroshima Prefecture. Some photographs remain to this day of the orchestra taken when it performed in the recording studio of the Hiroshima Central Broadcasting (present-day NHK Hiroshima) and at the Army Hospital.

Mr. Palchikoff was reportedly a strict teacher. He had his students repeat basic drills over and over. When he taught the ”Hallelujah” chorus, he repeatedly made the students stop singing though they had only sung as far as “ha,” the song’s initial sound. The story goes that by the time they finally made it through the entire “hallelujah,” the students were completely exhausted. Besides teaching classes at school, Mr. Palchikoff gave private violin lessons and taught English at his home, which was located close to the school, and provided foreign language lessons at the Army Cadet School. Based on photographs of Mr. Palchikoff taken around that time, the tall, dignified figure reflected his stern and noble character. But his appearance also displays the sense of someone who felt isolated and distressed from having to leave his own country.

His oldest son, Nicolay, was born in 1924, and his second son, David, was born in 1933. While looking back at his elementary school days in Hiroshima, Nicolay later said, “I rode my bicycle all over Hiroshima with friends. I was accepted as a Hiroshima native and didn’t experience any discrimination whatsoever.”

(Originally published on August 18, 2021)