The memories I have of Sholom Secunda are many. My first recollection of him goes back to the time when I was appearing with my parents, Irving Grossman and Diana Goldberg, in the Yiddish-American musical, "It's A Funny World," at the National Theatre at the age of ten. Secunda was the composer of the show and wrote a beautiful duet for my character and the character's mother, who was played by the glorious Miriam Kressyn. Secunda worked diligently with me on it and actually taught me how to hold a harmony part. I would always look forward to the Saturday evening and Sunday matinee performances, when he would be in the pit conducting, as his assistant conductor, Manny Fleischman, would do the others. Secunda brought forth a remarkable energy in waving that baton, and the musicians were always more focused than ever when the Maestro was at the helm. A year or so later my relationship with him took on a whole new dimension, at The Concord Hotel in the Catskills, and I have to go back to some of the origins from which that came.
For many years Alexander Olshanetsky had been the Concord's orchestra leader and symphony director. My dad had become friends with the hotel's founder and owner, Arthur Winarick, from performing there and Winarick's frequenting the Yiddish Theatre. Upon Olshanetsky's untimely death the hotel needed to find a replacement of sorts, and my dad suggested Secunda to Arthur. Secunda then became the Concord's Symphony director, where he would mount concerts each Thursday night during July/August with a 30+ piece orchestra, and have different guest stars from the concert and opera world each week, in addition to leading the choir there for the High Holy Days. During these summer months the Secunda family, Sholom, Betty, Eugene and Shelly, would spent a great deal of time at The Concord. By then my older sister, Gloria, had married Arthur Winarick's nephew, Gordon, who was an executive of the hotel, and they had a home on the grounds. Sholom and Betty became very close friends of Gordon's parents, Nat and Frances Winarick, and I have distinct memories of their conversations about literature, the arts, and politics sitting on my sister's lawn. Along with Gene and Shelly, we were like one big family. By the age of eleven I was immersed in music, mostly the popular hits of the day, till one day when Sholom invited me to come to a dress rehearsal of the symphony concert to be performed later that night. Watching him conduct the "1812 Overture" and seeing his musicians respond to his energy and fortitude, sent a bolt through me that I will never forget and made me aware of classical music, that I would go on to play in school orchestras. Away from the podium he was the softest, kindest, sweetest human being one could find, but when standing in front of thirty musicians he could be a tough taskmaster who required the best and perfection from his ensembles. I would continue to attend these rehearsals on a regular basis, and immediately after that Sholom would take me to "the shvitz" (baths) in the men's health club. He introduced me to the world of the Turkish Baths, the needle shower, and a "playtza." After a brief rest we would then head to the tea room for a little nosh. I was blessed to share these experiences with him for several years, and in particular at the age of twelve when I lost my grandfather, leaving me without one. Sholom Secunda became my surrogate grandfather then. He showed me kindness, goodness and love that I will cherish forever. He and Betty were honored guests at my Bar Mitzvah, and we shared a special bond up to the day he died. Yes, the world knows Sholom Secunda as one of the great musical talents of the Yiddish Theatre, and all would know his melody of the renown hit, "Bei Mir Bistu Schoen," but I was so fortunate to know him as "my second grandfather." In his honor, when my son and his wife, Ian and Pauline, were married in 2002, among the first song they danced to as husband and wife was "Bei Mir Bistu Schoen"; which had my sister and I in tears because for us, Sholom was still with us. Forever in my heart!
This exhibition had been curated by the Museum Director Steven Lasky.
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