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Musical Pawns: 5 Things To Know About The Show Before You Go (2012 FRIGID NEW YORK FESTIVAL)

by The Happiest Medium on February 17, 2012

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Five Questions. Five Answers. And One Big Decision: Rock, Paper, Or Scissors?


Musical Pawns

Company: Lost Music Productions

Musical Pawns mixes fact and fantasy, humor and pathos in attempting to explain why David Nowakowsky’s musical masterpieces have disappeared for almost 100 years. A musical treat by North America’s best singing actors.

Show Times:

  • Fri 2/24 @ 5:30pm
  • Sun 2/26 @ 4:00pm
  • Mon 2/27 @ 9:00pm
  • Tue 2/28 @ 6:00pm
  • Fri 3/2 @ 8:30pm
  • Sun 3/4 @ 2:30pm

Answers by Ron Graner


Karen Tortora-Lee’s Question
That’s some title. How did you come up with it – and what does it mean?
Ron: They were “Musical Pawns” in a deadly game of political chess.
There are many governments who still try to suppress the arts and especially music. In Turkey it is still dangerous to play Kurdish folk-tunes. The government fears the music may spur “Nationalist feelings” among the Kurds, who will try to separate from the country and form their own independent state. Cambodian music and dance found safe refuge in Canada and the United States and other Western democracies during the Kymer Rouge period, before being restored to its original home. . There are many, many examples where music, poetry and religion are considered dangerous. Think of what’s happening now in Tibet! Even Elvis Presley, and The Bare Naked Ladies have had their troubles with bureaucracy and they live(d) in a modern democracy!

In the case of David Nowakowsky (1848-1921) his music disappeared until 1989. Even his tomb-stone was destroyed!
I am trying to tell the story as political satire, and to have as much fun with the political absurdities as I can. The music is drop-dead gorgeous. The Dance numbers are insanely funny. I can say this in all modesty, because I only wrote the words. The music (for the most part) is Nowakowsky’s and the dances were created by Sean Hawk, one of our multi-talented singing-acting-dancing performers.

Diánna Martin’s Question
If you were going to invite five people, anyone from past and present, to see your FRIGID show – who would you invite and why?
Ron: I’d invite Catherine the Great, Emperess of Russia. She gets a “thumbs-up”, for allowing Catholics, Protestants, Greeks, Dukhabors, Freemasons and Jews to live in Odessa in relative freedom, and for trying to improve the educational level of her subjects. She gets a thumbs-down for not extending these same freedoms to the Ukrainian people.
Next on the list are Vannessa Redgrave, Eileen Atkins and Vannessa’s brother, Corin Redgrave, for inviting me to sing at Union Square Theater in New York, and then later to sing and tell my story in Hammersmith England. They were the first to recognize the importance of Nowakowsky’s music and of the story it conveys. Without their encouragement, I would have given up a long time ago.
Next I’d invite all my Cantorial colleagues who snicker every time I mention Nowakowsky’s name. (Oh, There he goes again with this Nowakowsky nonsense.)
And Finally, Cantor David Lefkowitz, who has done more to promote Nowakowsky’s music than anyone, save for Nowakowsky’s surviving family, who would have been a lot richer had they been resigned to let their Great-Great Grandfather’s music disappear, once again, into obscurity.

Antonio Minino’s Question
What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve ever made for your Art and was it worth it?
The only thing I’ve sacrificed for my art is money. I’ve seen plenty of super-rich people who are miserable; I’ve probably gone through my children’s inheritance ten times over, but they still love me, so I can’t say its a sacrifice at all!

Geoffrey Paddy Johnson’s Question
Was there any unexpected discovery made during the development of this production and, if so, can you share it?
This show has been “in development” for over 20 years, so there were lots of unexpected events.
The first surprise was when I phoned up 93-year-old Oscar Pichon, one of Nowakowsky’s Grandsons, who was living in Toronto. He had been bed-ridden for the last three years due to a serious heart ailment. I told him my name and he answered: “Graner! Graner! Did you know an Irwin Graner??
I said “Yes.” Irwin was my Father and he died 5-years ago in 1986.”
Oscar the told me that he first met my Father in 1930 as a young immigrant to Canada, and that they were best friends, -eating at each other’s homes, working in the same securities office. -in fact, they were inseparable.
Eventually Oscar got a job in Montreal and they lost touch. I was one of the last people to talk to Osacar before he died.
The next surprise was to discover that My paternal Grand-Mother’s maiden name was Geller, and that she came from a “musical” family in Odessa. Israel Geller was Nowakowsky’s assistant organist. Geller had walked out of Russia in 1921 with an armful of Nowakowsky manuscripts that had been left in the organ bench, scooping them up, just before the Bolsheviks seized the Synagogue. I have not yet been able to confirm whether-or-not I’m related to Israel Geller, who died in 1956.
It was the Geller collection of manuscripts that Cantor David Lefkowitz used to create the first Nowakowsky concert in 75 years. After the concert, faculty at Hebrew Union College, informed David Lefkowitz that there were another 5,300 pages of unpublished manuscripts stored in the basement of the college. It took Cantor Lefkwitz another 10 years to edit the manuscripts, which had been half-buried on Chosal’s farm in Archamps during the 2nd world war to save them from the Nazis.
When I went to “La Ferme Chosal” in 2010, no one in the community had ever heard about Nowakowsky, and had no idea what treasures had been buried in their midst.
One of my dreams is to give a concert of the music, in the very place where they had been saved!


Michelle Augello-Page’s Question
What do you hope the audience receives from the experience of seeing this show?
I hope they get a fuzzy-warm feeling in their hearts from listening to this very special and beautiful music.


Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament of DEAAAAATH

THM Bonus Question – We’re serious this year!
In the THM virtual Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament of DEAAAAATH which FRIGID Show do you take on? And what do you throw?

Ron: Scissors, because I like “cutting-edge” humor.
Afternoon Tea with Jane Austen - because I like tea, and I Like Jane Austen.

Ron!  How delightful that image is … you, sipping tea, reading Jane Austen and humming a Nowakowsky tune.  Only to have it shattered as the Rock Paper Scissors Tournament of Deaaaaath turns it all upside down and Afternoon Tea With Jane Austen pummels you with her ROCK.  Then in comes Love in the Time of Chlamydia who challenged everyone with ROCK … another DEAAAAATH.   I almost don’t want to look anymore.  But wait – it’s true.  Initium/Finisanother show who took on everyone - pummels you with ROCK.  That’s three Deaaaaaths.  So much for your afternoon tea.  It might have been better to pick one of those Nowakowsky papers and smother them all!  But, it’s too late now.  I am truly sorry about that, Ron.  I hope at least that the tea was good while it lasted.

Thanks Musical Pawns for participating in The Happiest Medium’s FRIGID New York Festival 2012 Q&A. And for playing our game! You’re officially SCISSORS in any and all challenges. You may win at some point, you may not – who knows! This is how it works in the crazy world of the Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament of DEAAAAATH!

For the rest of you don’t forget to check out Musical Pawns!


Musical Pawns
Company: Lost Music Productions
Feb 24, 5:30PM
Feb 26, 4:00PM
Feb 27, 9:00PM
Feb 28, 6:00PM
Mar 02, 8:30PM
Mar 04, 2:30PM
The Kraine Theater

The 2012 FRIGID NEW YORK FESTIVAL will run February 22-March 4 at The Kraine Theater & The Red Room (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Ave and Bowery) and UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Ave and Ave A). Tickets to all shows may be purchased online at or by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444.


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