How a Musician Used Sheet Music Encryption to Help Soviet Defectors


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Join Dr. Merryl Goldberg as she shares her story of sneaking information into the Soviet Union to help people defect utilizing her own encryption code that turned clear text into musical notes on sheet music. This inspiring journey of resilience, transformation, and humanity from 1985 Cold War tension will resonate with music lovers, history buffs, mathematicians and crypto enthusiasts alike.


Video Transcript

>> ANNOUNCER: Please welcome Britta Glade.

 

(Applause).

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Hello and welcome to the final installment in South Stage Keynote for Wednesday afternoon. On behalf of our RSA Conference, I want to say thank you. Thank you for being here this week as part of RSA Conference, and I thank you for being in this session. I think it's going to be a nice treat for all of you.
   

So, I always like to know a little bit about my audience. By raise of hands, who out there considers themselves to be a musician? Oh, excellent. Okay. Keep your hands up. Keep your hands up. Additionally, who took the recorder in elementary school? Right? Okay. You know how to make a C sharp. You know how to make a B flat. So, I would say we've almost got a good 50% of musicians in the room. Okay. Hands down.

 

Another question. This is going to be the sympathy vote. How many of you have had a fourth grader this year, either at home or in your world, who has been learning the recorder? Oh, yeah. Okay. There's going to be some songs that might sound a little bit familiar to you guys, so keep that in mind.
   

So, I became very interested in this relationship between music and programming early in my career. I was on a press tour. I was sitting in the lobby of Dr. Dobbs Journal. I was trying to cram, look super smart, so that when I go in with the editor, everything is going to be good. I'm looking at the carousel of magazines, and they were hardcore programming or hardcore music, and it seemed odd to me. It seemed like really different audiences.
   

So, when I went into the office, I asked Glen who, mind you, there’s piles of programming books and there’s electric guitars all over the wall, I wondered is this a personal interest of his or is there a business reason that they have these types of publications. And he shared with me they had actually over 70% readership crossover between these programming publications and these hardcore musical pubs.
   

The light bulb went on. Music is programming. Right? A middle C is a middle C is a middle C. It's always going to sound like that. Put CEG together, you know, C chord is going to sound that way. Go up a chord, D, F sharp, A, it’s going to sound that way. Combine it with this. There's a scientific predictable way that music is going to sound. It's just like programming, right?
   

So, when the submission came through, our conference speaker process, with a shoutout to Chuck Davies. Is Chuck -- Chuck. Okay. Chuck is the one who introduced this story to us, and it’s an amazing one. SO, we looked at this. We explored it. It's always going ‑‑ this is an evergreen story. It’s an amazing story. You're going to meet -- you’re going to meet Merryl in a moment. But particularly with the situation that's going on right now in the Ukraine, it became all the more relevant, right?
   

So, RSA community, I have tremendous, tremendous pleasure of introducing you to Dr. Merryl Goldberg.

 

(Applause).

 

(Music).

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Thank you so much for having me.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Thank you for being here. Okay. Was that the best walk-on music you guys have ever heard? Right? Okay. Yeah. We got some energy here. Was that your band?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: That was my band.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: I didn’t know that was actually your band. Okay. We're in for a treat. Okay. We have a room. I would establish 53.5% of our room is musical. So, we've got people who know where we're coming from. So, they're going to know a little bit about the music that you've written as they look at the sheet music that’s in front of us. So, awesome. Just so you know what you're dealing with in here. Okay.
   

So, this would be an interesting story any time. You're a young woman in your 20’s. You decide to go on vacation to the Soviet Union in the mid '80s. Interesting choice. Musical instrument in hand. Let me show you this beautiful young woman who goes to ‑‑ same smile, same smile, same sparkle in the eye. Set the stage for us. How did you find yourself there?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Right. So, it was 1985. I was 26 years old. You're absolutely right. I was already a professional musician. I played saxophone. That's a soprano sax. I play Klezmer music, which is Eastern European Yiddish music. We had the opportunity at the time to go to the Soviet Union to meet with a group of people called the Phantom Orchestra, which was a group of dissidents and people who were called refuseniks who had asked to leave the Soviet Union. 1985 was a really rough go of it for people who were human rights activists. So, dissidents, human rights activists, refuseniks, Helsinki monitors had formed in Tbilisi, Georgia, of all places, a group, a musical group to band together, literally, and people in the West were interested in that. I got asked, along with three other musicians from the Klezmer Conservatory Band, if we might go in and meet them and support them and find out what they were doing.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Okay. So, I'm a mom of two girls in my 20’s who are musical, and there's a situation in eastern Europe right now. Should I be concerned? How did you prepare yourself? How did your parents feel about this?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: We had to prepare pretty much in secret. But it took four months of learning more about the Soviet Union, about dissidents, about people, and also it required us to figure out a way to get in where we weren't being obvious. In other words, we couldn't write down the names of people or their addresses or things about them because it would put them in jeopardy if, at customs, they saw that, and it would put us in jeopardy as well. So, each of us had to think of a way to come up with a method, either scribbling in a check book or this or that. So, I came up with the code in music.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: In music. Excellent. Okay. You land in the Soviet Union. Here's a 1974 map. You'll notice it's a little bit shifty from a map, if you were to pull up a map of Russia now with where things are placed. You land in Moscow. What is your first 24 hours like?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. First 24 hours were crazy. We land in Moscow and somehow we were ‑‑ well, we had been tipped off, or somehow the people at customs had a sense there was something going on, that we weren't ordinary ‑‑

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: What’s these 20‑year‑olds, on vacation, the Soviet Union, in 1985.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Carrying a saxophone.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Carrying a saxophone. Or two. You had two, didn't you, because didn't you bring something in for someone to share?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. I ultimately gave my saxophone to a young boy, a 12-year-old, in Armenia.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Got it. Okay.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. I had a saxophone, Jeff had a guitar. Rosalie was singing, and Henkis had a keyboard. So, we land.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: You didn't go carry on.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Didn’t go carry on.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Didn’t go carry on there. Okay. Yeah.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: We were in the line and the customs agents went through every single thing. And I say this ‑‑ it's kind of crazy, but they even opened up Tampax containers. I mean, I couldn't believe how they searched us. And then, including ‑‑ this is the actual music that I brought. I had my music book. They went through every single page, and then they handed it back. I was like, whoa. Anyways, that was -- after they did all the searching, we actually were taken into a back room with a very ginormous person who had a very loud voice and banged on the table and started asking us many, many, many, many questions, and then we had another person who we nicknamed Kevin because Kevin comes back in the story. He reminded us of from someone from Summerville, if any of you are from Boston. Kevin was the good guy. You must be from Boston.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: He knows Kevin.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. And then the big guy screaming at us, and Kevin would translate, what he's asking you is, who are your parents, what are you doing, blah, blah, blah. We get through all of that. We arrive at the hotel. We're told to be good tourists. And we think, okay, we’d better keep it low key. The first thing that happens to us is some other tourists come running up to us, aren't you with the Klezmer Conservatory Band?

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Oh, no, no, no. Cover blown?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Cover blown, but it was still kind of fun.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. So, I want to explore this music. We're going to put some of the music up so that you can see it, the 53.5%, is that what I declared? You're going to recognize some things in the music that look familiar. You're going to recognize some things that maybe don't look quite as familiar.
   

So, I do want to establish going into this, when Merryl and I first met, she made very clear to me, I'm not a cryptographer. But you're a musician, a musician with a heart of gold, who created your own system of encryption. Just in case you wonder, we're not going to reveal any trade secrets from Merryl as to your encryption. You'll see some things in the code.
   

How did you develop it? So, on this slide ‑‑ well, we'll let them decide, side A or side B, if it's real music. Should we do a poll? Who thinks -- who thinks ‑‑ side A, who of you thinks that that is real music? Okay. Side B, who of you thinks that’s the real music? We have a 50/50 split. You’re going to have to break out here for us. So, we’ve got some music in front of us. Tell us what’s here.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Both are real music. You can play both of them. But the piece that's on the left is an actual tune. Yup-ba-ba. Ya-da-da. Ya-da-da. Ya-da-da. I have it in my notebook, my music manuscript book. And the other, though, is coded. That one, what I did ‑‑ without giving away the whole code -- is I just assigned certain notes to certain letters, and then I played around with some decoy stuff in terms of the clefs, if you know any of that. The way I came up with it was, I remember my dad when I was a little kid, I wanted to take bread out to feed ducks from a restaurant, and I thought, oh, that's stealing. You can't do that. And my dad, who was a real street urchin, he grew up in Chelsea, Massachusetts, if any of you know that, said, oh, the way you do it is you just make believe nothing is wrong. It’s like this is an everyday thing you do. And I thought to myself, I’m bringing in music, music is in everything I do, the music would be a great way. I kind of intellectually had fun coming up with the code. And like any code, I think -- and again, I am not an expert in this -- but once you can read the code and you practice it, it becomes kind of easy.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: It's yours. It’s your language. So, your book, you scattered the actual music with not actual music with Merryl music with messages throughout. So, when you're being searched, they're looking through all of this. Are they judging your music? Are they asking you any questions about your music? How did you -- how did you sneak it in?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. Not at all. They went through, looked at it, and handed it right back.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Got it.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Hidden in plain sight. Hidden in plain sight.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Exactly. Exactly.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Okay. So, you fourth grade recorder homes, this one's for you. This is a Merryl original piece. We could choose grand piano setting, base setting, vibe setting, choir setting. How did you visualize this music when you wrote it?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: I think piano.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Piano? Excellent. Okay. Cool. So, this is it. It's tricky because it's not 4/4. There's 4/4. There's 2/4. There’s 3/4. It kind of all finds it's way through. See if this sounds familiar, fourth grade parents.

 

(Music).

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Voila.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: A Merryl original song. You all heard it here first. So, someone that knows music, if they're looking at it, going through your stuff, might have questioned your musical choice there?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Maybe. It sounds a lot like ‑‑ if you study music, like modern music, you would hear music like this, perhaps. You might not like it. It's a little bit more fun to play than to listen to. But one of the cool things about music and coding, or what I did is people invent notation anyways, and they write crazy things. Again, like you said, in plain sight. There was nothing really, except when you look ‑‑ if someone knew, and they looked very closely, because we'll show you, there are certain clues in my manuscript that tell you.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Little cookie crumbs scattered throughout there to help you out. Excellent. Okay. You arrived in Moscow, and then you made your way to Georgia, which, again, a little bit of a distorted map here, but it's quite a distance. You weren't just walking down there. You didn't hop in a pre‑Uber Uber to get there. How did you know who you were looking for, who you were meeting, where you were meeting? How was that communicated?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: So, we had studied beforehand, and we knew the addresses of the people in the Phantom Orchestra and the lead people were ‑‑ names were Esau Goldstein, the Goldstein family. In order to get there, we had to just follow directions, which meant we had to get on a subway, then we had to walk, and we had to find the right building, and all of that, which, in hindsight, I think about it now, it's like, oh, my God, how did we do that? It worked. We actually found them along the way because we were a little bit, I guess we stood out a little bit.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Just a little.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Just a little. Some people came up to us while we were trying to find the apartment, and we didn't know if we should trust them or not. Ultimately, we had a couple of things we said, and it indicated to us that we could trust them. And we ultimately found this first contact, the Goldstein family.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Okay. So, Phantom Orchestra, you've mentioned them several times. Who, again, is part of that? What's the lineage of that? How do people become involved with that?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. So, this is so interesting. So, back in 1985, there was a lot of crackdowns in the Soviet Union. People were trying to leave. People were trying ‑‑ human rights activists. There were people who just wanted freedom, religious freedom, regular freedom, democracy. In order to feel empowered, this group of people got together, and they got together by playing music. So, for the Soviets, this was a real threat, because, normally, Jewish refuseniks would stay together, Catholic refuseniks would stay together, Helsinki monitors would stay together, poets would stay together, but the fact that they were mingling together was something really special, and folks in the West knew that. And so, that's why they wanted us to go in, meet them, support them. And I will say that an amazing amount of bravery, not on our part ‑‑

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Very much on your part. Very much on your part. But yes.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: But for them, because to be able to stand up for human rights in a situation where you're going to be arrested, you're going to be imprisoned, you're going to be beaten, which all of these people had already happen to them, it takes such courage, but the music is something that bonded them together. We'll talk a little bit more about that.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Which I definitely want to explore that. Yeah. Let me share with you some pictures of some of these people so that you have an image in your mind. If you can kind of share with us who these people are, how you came to be with them. I see a beautiful, smiling, radiant person right in the middle. Tell us about these people.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. So, on the right, your right, is Henkis and Jeff. Those are the two musicians that I went with. Rosalie is not in this picture. The rest are the Goldstein family. Moka is the old woman down on the left, and then the two brothers, the Goldstein brothers, and another ‑‑ a friend of theirs and a wife. They were the first people that we met when we were there. You can see they put out this amazing spread for us as well.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: It’s amazing.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: And I should say, like the Goldsteins -- and you’re going to see the Gadavas in another picture -- were engineers, doctors, but relegated to running elevators or working from midnight to 8:00 in a factory because of their outspoken activism.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Got it. Okay. This next one I love.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. That’s one of the Gadava brothers and his girlfriend. So, this is part -- and Phantom Orchestra, I should say, it wasn’t really an orchestra. It was more like a ragtag group of people playing guitars and violin and singing and piano.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: So, whatever instrument you showed up with, your recorder, your harmonica, I’m going to play percussion, you’re allowed.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Exactly.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Okay. Excellent. Okay. Tell me about these people.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. This is maestro Sinmin. He was a lead violinist, in fact, from the Ukraine but living in Georgia. And his wife and his kids. And he was an amazing, amazing musician. By the way, you can see a line through these. I shouldn't have had these photos when I came back.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: So, how did you have these photos when you came back? You didn’t -- we won't jump to the end of the story yet, but you didn't leave on great terms.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: That's true. When we left, all of our film was confiscated but then handed back to us, and we assumed it was all erased, but it wasn't. It's kind of ‑‑

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: It's a gift.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: It’s a gift to have this with us. Okay. So, I do want to explore music. I do want to explore the power of music as a bonding thread of humanity that we all have, and that was something you and I as we talked music and we talked music and we talked music, and it was there's a universal language. You did not speak the same tongue as all of these people. I don't even know if all of them spoke the same tongue. What is it about music that is such a unifying universal language?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. So, A, we did communicate with some English, some people knew English, but music was our main communication. I would say we also had a fair amount of vodka. So, I would say those three. Here's the thing that's most important to me is before I met the people in the Phantom Orchestra, I understood the power of music, right, because I'm a musician, I play. When I play, I get into a different space, and you would never, ever know. If you play music, you get it. When we played with the Phantom Orchestra, the power of our playing together and the freedom in our brains was something that I'll never forget. It has become a part of me.

 

So, the music is absolutely going along with your theme, transformative, you know, and going with last year's theme, such resilience in people. But while we're playing, I understood you can be imprisoned, you can be put wherever, and ultimately we were interrogated many more times and put under arrest. In your brain, you can still feel free. And I hadn't understood that power of music until then. That was really remarkable, and just a grounding for everybody. And so, I really understood that, and that was something that, really, I think, I take forward with me as well.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Yeah. So, you shared that many of these people had been subjected to physical abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse. There's -- all of them brought baggage into this -- into this situation. You all sit down together, you play some music, you're transported to a different place.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Absolutely, 100%.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: There are some parallels between other moments in history with where music has taken people, with what music has -- how music has healed people. Within our industry, it's tough. There's some hard times. Cybersecurity, we're constantly getting pounded, pounded, pounded. Something -- you're under attack for this. This is happening here. We need to be taken, transformed, put in a place. What does music offer us?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. I was thinking about that. I think a couple of things. Music is used in many situations. So, like during the Civil Rights era, people would sing as they were put in the back in paddy wagons in order to take the space. Music is used as a way to center and ground yourself. The act and the discipline of practicing music enables you to listen better. Chuck and I were talking last night. A lot of what you do, from my understanding, is really dealing with people and understanding people and how they make decisions they do, problem solving, right, and the arts, music, but also visual arts teach you how to solve problems, how to work well with each other. In music, listen better. Medical doctors, like almost every medical school at this point requires their doctor, pre-doctors, to take art classes because it hones in their ability to see better.
   

So, I think the arts, as a grounding mechanism, as a flexibility mechanism, as a way to find space when you're dealing with bad guys and bad things gives you that energy inside your brain. I think maybe those are some things that could apply.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Excellent. I know you're currently a professor of music out of UC. What are you trying to instill within your students who are taking and using music, using the arts to transform throughout society?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: I think one of the biggest things that I care about is empathy, and that music and the arts give us a direct road into being empathetic and understanding each other.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Do you think some of that was formed through your experience in the Soviet Union through the experience that you had with these humans -- these humans that were going through really difficult, hard situations, and you were able to leave, ultimately. It wasn't -- you left earlier than what your original plan had been. But you were able to leave. You came back to a place that you recognized, where you had freedoms. Do you think that that core base of empathy was formed when you were there?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: You know, I probably had this much. But after being there, I would say it became something that was absolutely fundamental to who I am and how I think about the arts and with people in general.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Yeah. Transformative to your development at the time. So, let's go back to Georgia. You're communicating with people via music. Let's actually jump in. Let's jump into some of your coding. Musicians in the room, and non-musicians alike, I think you’re going to see some things in here. There is some regular –- and when I practice with my girls, when they're singing songs, I scribble all over, slow down, speed up. There’s notations to make. I do not write in orange stop end, cross, walking left, or a little trash can. What am I seeing here?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: It might have been me being a little bit lazy and not writing everything out. But you're seeing directions to get to one of the apartments. So, we knew we had to go on the orange line and stop at the end. We had to cross the street. That's the name of the street.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: And then you needed to F sharp, G, F sharp, E, E, g, half note, half note. Something important happened in that second measure down there. So, okay.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Exactly. And then on the bottom line, I couldn't figure out a way to write it out, so I actually drew where the apartment was in the building. That's what that is. There's a little tiny square in the top square, and that was where the apartment was.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: So, it's on the second floor. You had to go through some bars across a door it looks like. Okay. So, clearly, some of your music came with you written in a book. Some of your music was composed during your course of the time there. How much of the music was there in place? How much furious composition were you creating as you went? Were those in your group sharing this musical book back and forth, or did you each have your own musical book?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: I was the only one that had the manuscript. However, I taught everybody the code. So, when we were there, there were things that people asked us to bring out. So, in order to leave the Soviet Union in 1985, you had to be invited to go to another country. But in order to be invited, you had to have a relative, you had to have lots of paperwork, including a name, your birth, all of that. So, there were a couple of people that wanted to be invited, and so we coded their ‑‑ all of their information in order to bring that out so that they could receive an invitation. In a couple of instances, we also coded some stories of people.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Got it.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: That they wanted to get out as well.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: So, those beautiful people that we were seeing pictures of earlier, you're getting their stories, you're taking their information, you cross left, went in a building, created a song about them. This song actually, I think, was called Mono Man, right? No. [indiscernible00:29:30]. That’s the name of the song that you’re seeing right here. Is that a person?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. That was actually a new person in Moscow who happened to be kosher.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Okay. New person. Got it. Okay. So, that was the inspiration for the title of your song there.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Excellent. Okay. So, we're now going to go on another journey. We're continuing on to Armenia as a tourist. What happened when you hit the ground?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. So, in Georgia, after we had played with the Phantom Orchestra quite a lot ‑‑ well, meaning three days, we were interrogated again and again. So, we had that. At that point, they told us they couldn't guarantee our safety. Okay. But I will also say that members of the Phantom Orchestra took us ‑‑ we had one last little excursion with them. And it was raining. And I just remember like running with them and singing Singing in the Rain, and there's this beautiful sense of humanity.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Oh, that’s awesome. Were there puddles? Could you jump in it with your yellow slicker? Okay. I can see it.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Then we get on the plane in Georgia, and who's in the backseat of the airplane? Kevin from our interrogations in Moscow. We know we're in a little bit more trouble now. We land in Yerevan, and we think, you know, we’re going to be -- we didn't know what to think. In fact, they put us from the plane into two different cars. Rosalee and I were in one car and Henkis and Jeff were in another car. And they didn’t tell us anything.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: You didn't know if you were going to the place. At least you’ve got a buddy, but you don't know if both cars are heading to the same destination.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: They put us in the cars, they start driving us. We have no idea where we're gong. Kevin isn't with us.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Is Kevin in the other car, or Kevin’s in a third car?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: In a third car.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Oh, dear. Kevin is in the -- okay, Kevin is in the vicinity.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: They just took us to the hotel, which was crazy. At which point -- so, you know, there's a lot of mind kind of games going on here that we had to deal with in the moment. But we all thought, what the heck? They brought us to the hotel. We want to meet people.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: It’s a free ride, free ride to our hotel. You're going to go meet people now, even though Kevin is still following along.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Exactly.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Okay. Excellent.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: So, we go, and we make contact with people in Yerevan. We go to an apartment, and we say we play Klezmer music. These people were so excited. They came into -- they said we know Klezmer music. And they had a tape, you know, like cassette tape.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Uh-huh, I remember those.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yes. And it was of my band.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Oh, wow.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: So, we were like we know Klezmer music. Look, we have this tape. The four of us said that is us. So, we had an amazing time playing in Yerevan. We met with people. Get back to the hotel, we’re told we’re under arrest, but the people -- the hotel people in Yerevan had no love lost for the KGB, so they essentially looked the other way. We go out, we play. Now, in the meantime -- and I know we’re getting to this question as well -- the people in the Phantom Orchestra knew that we were in a little bit more trouble than we probably knew ourselves. And they contacted Reuters to let them know.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Okay. Let's go there.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: There it is.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: I wish I had a big New York Times banner here. Don’t have that. But the big takeaway is four Americans expelled after Soviet meeting. What happened?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. So, in Yerevan, ultimately, after we had played, poor Kevin, who ended up being drunk, as I remember, meets us in the hotel lobby, gives us each a little baggy -- I don't think I told you this -- with a tea bag, a hard-boiled egg, a piece of salami.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: So, it’s your party favor.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah, our party favor. And tells us we're going to be expelled to Beirut. We weren’t expelled to Beirut. But you can imagine, four young Jewish people thinking you're going to be expelled to Beirut. Ultimately, they brought us back up to Moscow. By the way ‑‑

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Did Kevin come with you?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yes.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Okay.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Kevin says to us, I’m sorry, but one of you has to sit next to me.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Rock, scissors, paper.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yes.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Okay.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: I lost. So, I sat next to Kevin, who turned out to be quite a sympathetic character and told me he learned his English from watching confiscated videotapes, including Porky's, believe it or not. And if it was up to him, he would let everybody go.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Okay. So, maybe Kevin is how your film made it back with you. But if there had been words to it, you might not have gotten it back because Kevin would have learned English from it. I don’t know.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: You know, I never thought of it, but that might be the thing. So, they bring us back up to Moscow. By that time, we didn't know it, but the U.S. embassy people were trying to find us, the State department, because of the --

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: We're seven days into a trip, a vacation, at this point, ten days, what timespan had transpired?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah, about seven days.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Okay.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: So, when we get back to Moscow, they put us in cars again, separate us, and start driving us around for hours and hours and hours. Ultimately, landing in a dormitory kind of situation with armed guards. This is where ‑‑

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: You did something kind of naughty at this point. There's a theme going on here. So, what happened at this point, Merryl?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: We took the advice of the Phantom Orchestra folks that said if you were put under arrest, and clearly, they thought we would be, think about all the people who have been before you, play music together, and somehow retain a sense ‑‑

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Create that human bond again.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. And then we decided -- this was so awful, in a way.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: In retrospect.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: In retrospect. We played ‑‑ because we had guards, we played a beloved Russian folk tune.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Like I played your song over there?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Out of tune.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Oh, excellent. Fourth grade recorder parents, here we go. Okay. And did they appreciate that?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: They never told us.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Okay. So, amazing people you helped along the way. There was one person in particular that I wanted to -- because this changed the course of history, arguably, a single individual that you helped.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Right. So, the person there in the middle ‑‑ so second to the right, third to the left, his name is Zviad Gamsakhurdia. He was the first Democratically elected president of Georgia. Of course, we had no idea back at the time the extent to which he was an activist and politician. He was a poet and a writer. So, here you go. These people were really enormously courageous and brave and willing to fight for democracy.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: For an extended period of time.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yes.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: I'm going to ask you a final question, and then I'm going to invite additional questions from the audience. We have got a little bit of time for Q&A, and then we’re going to leave you with something special. As you look at what's happening in the Ukraine right now, there's a long shadow of the Cold War that is maybe bringing some different emotions, some different things to mind. What's in your heart and your head?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. I really admire the musicians and the activists who are in Ukraine who stay, you know, like Denise, who's the cellist you've seen.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: The little girl singing in the subway.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yes. They are absolutely doing what feels right for them. And I understand it. Whereas, I think a lot of people would say, why aren't they just leaving? I understand why they're staying. I understand it 100%. I also think about Brittany Griner in a prison in Russia. Sports, for me, are very much like the arts.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Absolutely. They're performers.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. In fact, I have ten years of boxing under my -- believe it or not.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Part two of the keynote.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. Maybe that would have been good way back in 1985. But I think about her, and I think I hope that she -- and I suspect she does -- have the skills to keep her brain free, even though she's not, because that makes such a difference. It really does. And that skill is so important to have. So, I really think about what's going on and how people are coping.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Yeah. Yeah. Excellent. Okay. Any questions that you all have for Dr. Goldberg?

 

>> SPEAKER: (Off Microphone).

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: They're awesome stories, aren’t they? You want to hear something else naughty that she's done that’s going to come out, or do you want to go to the final moment where we're going to leave you with some music. You already heard the walk on music. You're famous across the Soviet Union. Everyone had your tape. Everyone had your everything. Let's go there. Okay.
   

So, I did want to say ‑‑ I want to say thank you to all of you for being here. I know for me, personally, when I was growing up, my mom called the piano the Britta barometer. She knew -- oh, we have a question. Excellent. We're going to you in a minute. The Britta barometer. My mom could tell what kind of day that I had had by what I was playing, how I was playing it, how long I was playing it. Music and that outlet is such an important thing to have in our lives. So, we're going to test the Britta barometer in a moment.

 

But thank you, sir. Question?

 

>> SPEAKER: Thank you for the presentation. It was fascinating. The question I have is, you said you were going there to support them. Were you taking information, or was the point to get the information out so that you could create the invitation for them to leave their country? Can you share a little bit about kind of what the mission actually was other than just meeting them?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. Back at that time, if people were coming in to visit with refuseniks and dissidents and Helsinki monitors, it provided them some protection. It was harder for the Soviets to crack down on them if people in the West knew about them. A group called Action for Soviet Jury, but also Amnesty International, some activist groups had heard about this Phantom Orchestra, but not many people had gone in. I think Tbilisi is slightly off the beaten track. And so, that's when some people in Boston had the idea maybe we should go in and support them, but also find out if there was information that should come out as well.
   

One of the hardest things for us in this whole story was, we knew going in that people would be in jeopardy from our visit. And we would say to them, they already know about us. We're being followed. So many people followed us, by the way, that we would call them Carols for the Carol King song, You’ve Got a Friend. I've got a Carol. You've got a Carol. There’s a Carol. There's another Carol. We would have lots of Carols.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Are those Kevin Carols, or Carol Carols? Those are admirers of you?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: No, people following us.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Okay. So, these are Kevins and Carols together.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yes, exactly. We also knew that people -- that our rooms were bugged. At one point, our sink didn't work, and we said out loud, our sink doesn’t work, and someone came right up and fixed it. We had ways of communicating by doing different things.
   
     But the point was is that we would tell people that we're being followed. We don't want you to be in jeopardy. And at every juncture, they would say to us, no. It's more important that you're here and that people know about us. This is what is important. It was a really tough pill to take afterwards when we were deported, and we knew people had been arrested and beaten up. Living with that was really rough. But it also ultimately, most of the folks ended up emigrating, which is really good. What they had to put up with in order to emigrate was really something.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: One more question.

 

>> SPEAKER: Do you think it would be possible to make sort of a musical encryption device, like maybe a player piano with a keyboard and mouse?

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: I think anything's possible. I really do. I don't know if this answers that question, but there are scientists at MIT, and I find this fascinating, they use music as a way to understand spider silk, so they code like the spider silk, and then they play it back orally, which is not what we did. We used it -- I used it as an alphabet, really. But they can hear in the music how the silk is made. So, I think there's like a lot of possibilities for music and coding or lots of different kinds of ways to understand other things in addition to the human part.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Awesome. Okay. So, I've got another song for you to take you out, but I want you to join me.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: I think I can do that.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Awesome. Okay. I've got a song for you.

 

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: When's the last time did RSA had a soprano sax?

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: You guys have earned this. Three days in. It’s the best.

 

(Applause).

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: We're going to riff a little. We’re going to follow some music. I'm starting in D.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. So, Britta doesn't know what I'm going to play at first.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: I just follow her eye. Her eye tells me where to go, and it takes me along. I'm transformed along with you. We're starting in D.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Yeah. And Britta is just going to kind of go like this. I'm going to play what’s called a Doyna, which is completely improvised, so I don’t know what I’m going to play either.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: I don't know what I'm doing either, so there we go.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: And then we're going to go into a tune called Broiges Tanz, which means angry dance.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: You can get up and dance along if you’d like. Is that where you’re taking us? Okay.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Get up and dance.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Don’t throw anything.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Correct. Especially at us.

 

(Laughter).

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Okay.

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: All right. Here we go. Give me a little.

 

(Music).

 

(Applause).

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Thank you all so much for joining. One more time for Dr. Merryl Goldberg.

 

(Applause).

 

>> MERRYL GOLDBERG: Thank you. Way to go, Britta.

 

>> BRITTA GLADE: Enjoy the rest of RSA Conference. Thank you again for being here with us this week.

 

(Music).


Participants
Britta Glade

Speaker

Senior Director, Content & Curation, RSA Conference

Merryl Goldberg

Speaker

Professor, Music, California State University San Marcos

Human Element

case studies cryptography innovation


Topic

Subtopic


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