World Musical Heritage in the Heart of Eurasia

This article was initially published in the 31st issue of OCA Magazine: http://www.ocamagazine.com/


Text: Vladislav Yermachenko

Photos: Vladislav Yermachenko, Nicholas Brigham and from the archive of the Shafer's house-museum


'Don't divide music into the serious and frivolous.

Music can only be good or bad.

You can compose a magnificent simple song and trashy opera.'

Naum Shafer

There is a city located in the center of Eurasia, on the territory of Kazakhstan. The city is named Pavlodar. It was founded in 1721 in the epoch of the Russian Empire as an outpost for the protection of salt-mining industries. The city became the center of the region with highly developed industry and cultural life in the Soviet period. These days the world's largest collection of gramophone records (not to be confused with vinyl ones) is situated in this city. The collection consists of more than 14,000 discs. Some of them exist as the only one saved copy in the whole world. This collection was put together by a professor, musicologist, literary critic, writer, composer Naum Grigorievich Shafer.

This story began even before the birth of Naum Grigorievich, in 1930, when a gramophone and 30 records were presented to his parents as a gift for their wedding. That time the family have been living in Bessarabia occupied by Romania (nowadays Chisinau, Moldova). Already since his earliest years, little Naum showed much more interest for the gramophone and the records than for the toys. In 1940, Soviet troops entered Bessarabia. In 1941, 8 days before the the war against fascist Germany, the Shafers were deported to Kazakhstan together with many people of various nationalities. Representatives of the new government allowed each family to take no more than 100 kilograms of luggage.

The gramophone and the discs were included in the load of the Shafers. The NKVD employees (NKVD means Committee of internal affairs – the name of KGB in the early years of the Soviet Union) who came to evict the family tried to forbid them to take this property away. Apparently, they liked 'miracle of technology' (rare fort that time) so much. Little Naum who was in love with music, realized already in his childhood he could eventually find the same gramophone, but perhaps he would never find the same records. And he used the most powerful children's weapon — crying and tearful requests to allow him to save his favorite things. Seeing this, one of the police officers urged his colleagues to follow the instructions and to allow the Shafers to take 100 kilograms of any luggage. Naum Grigorievich is still grateful to this man a lot. So, in June 1941, the Shafers family arrived in Kazakhstan with their gramophone and 30 records. They were settled in a village near Akmola (now Astana). Those 30 records became the basis of the collection of Naum Shafer. And, as it turned out, Shafers and other deportees were very lucky with this deportation, because when Bessarabia passed to the Germans, many local residents, mostly Jewish, were killed. Including all relatives of the Shafers who stayed in the place where they lived before the war.

The gramophone and the discs were included in the load of the Shafer family. The NKVD employees (NKVD means Committee of internal affairs – the name of KGB in the early years of the0 Soviet Union) who came to evict the family tried to forbid them to take this property away. Apparently, they liked 'miracle of technology' (rare for that time) so much. Little Naum who was in love with music, even in his childhood has realized he could eventually find the same gramophone, but perhaps he would never find the same records. And he used the most powerful children's weapon — tearful requests to allow him to save his favorite things. Seeing this, one of the police officers urged his colleagues to follow the instructions and to allow the Shafers to take 100 kilograms of any luggage. Naum Grigorievich is grateful to this man a lot the entire life. So, in June 1941, the Shafer family arrived in Kazakhstan with their gramophone and 30 records. They were settled in a village near Akmola (now Astana). Those 30 records became the basis of the collection of Naum Shafer. And, as it turned out, the Shafers and other deportees were very lucky with this relocation, because when Bessarabia passed to the Germans, many local residents, mostly Jewish, were killed. Including all relatives of the Shafers who stayed in the place where they lived before the war.

Naum Shafer graduated from school at his new motherland and enrolled to the faculty of phylology of Kazakh State University in Almaty. He continued to collect gramophone records. He also discovered the talent of the composer inside himself. He performed his work 'Evening Waltz' at the amateur art contest in his student years. The jury was attended by the famous Soviet Russian composer Yevgeniy Brusilovskiy, who worked in Kazakhstan at that time and was very fond of Kazakh music. Brusilovskiy became the founder of the Kazakh professional music, the Kazakh national opera and he was the author of its best examples. He appreciated the composer's abilities of Naum Shafer and after it began to teach him music individually and absolutely for free. Brusilovskiy even advised Shafer to quit philology and to enter conservatory. Mr. Shafer (at that time — comrade) didn't want to enter conservatory, but he continued to create as a composer, taking the pseudonym Nami Gitin.

When Brusilovsky found out that Naum Shafer collects gramophone records, he was delighted, saying 'You have no idea what you are doing!'. Brusilovskiy repeatedly appealed to the USSR Ministry of Culture with the request to create music libraries all over the state in addition to many book libraries already created (this is positive fact of the Soviet power). The answer always followed — 'Well, we print music notes'. Yevgeniy Brusilovskiy tried to explain to the officials only the sound recording could convey the style of performance. These arguments had no effect. Therefore, having learned about the enthusiasm of his student, Brusilovskiy instructed him to continue to replenish the collection of the records, assuring this is very important thing for the entire human civilization.

So, Naum Shafer continued. He collected more than 14,000 gramophone records during 50 years. He has been buying them in stores, corresponding with collectors from many foreing countries and exchanging discs with them. Naum Shafer's wife Natalia Mikhailovna Kapustina has always provided tremendous support to her spouse. Naum Grigorievich calls her a heroic woman. The couple had negotiated — always to spend Naum Grigoryevich's salary for the records and books, to spend Natalya Mikhailovna's salary for everything else. Nowadays the collection contains records issued on all the continents of the Earth (except Antarctica, of course) in the time interval from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th centuries. The music of almost all nations of the world is recorded on them — from folk music to classical symphonies.

The collection includes the archive of the 1930's Kazakh music recorded on gramophone discs which is the largest in Kazakhstan. Also there are more than 10,000 vinyl records, more than 1,500 tape reels and compact cassettes in the collection. The owner of all this cultural treasure personally made more than half a million (!) cards — each one for each song. It was made so to find a necessary record easily. In 2002, with the help of local authorities, the Shafer house-museum was opened in Pavlodar. The house-museum also has a library consists of more than 17,000 books and more than 64,000 newspapers and magazines (since the 1930's). Over 100 issues of Russian writers and poets, printed in the 19th century, are the most valuable among books. Naum Grigoryevich and Natalia Mikhailovna live literally behind the wall.

Naum Shafer has always been an admirer of Isaac Dunaevsky's work (famous Soviet composer). In 1988 he officially published unique compilation named 'Isaac Dunaevsky visiting Mikhail Bulgakov'. The compilation was issued on vinyl at the Soviet label 'Melody'. It includes works that Dunaevskiy has been performing at his friend Mikhail Bulgakov's home (famous Russian Soviet writer, author of “The Master and Margarita'), and which were not published during the composer's life. Naum Shafer has been collected these records for 15 years. Dunaevsky's son, Yevgeniy, was so shook up by this act and gave to Naum Grigorievich a few dozen gramophone records from his father's personal collection. There are the rarest copies among them which were secretly brought to Isaac Dunaevskiy from abroad by his friends among diplomats (many kinds of music foreign music were forbidden in the Soviet Union that time). In 1995, Naum Shafer published a compilation named 'Little bricks' on vinyl too. This is an anthology of urban Russian song for 100 years (1850s - 1950s). The songs were performed by talented Pavlodar musicians currently working in Russia and the USA. It was the last vinyl record published on the label 'Melody'. Also, for the long creative biography of Naum Grigorievich many of his books, musical scores and CDs with his musical works were published in Kazakhstan, Russia and Israel.

In 2008, Paul Brammel, the British Ambassador to Kazakhstan, visited the Shafer's house-museum. Mr. Brummel was pleasantly surprised by the presence of English records in the collection of Naum Grigorievich, which he had never seen in his life even in the United Kingdom. He listened with pleasure the songs on the gramophone his grandmother sang him in his childhood. At the initiative of Paul Brummell, the British Council in Kazakhstan published a booklet about Shafer's house-museum in English. Information about the house-museum was included in the encyclopedia of museums in Kazakhstan, also published by the British Council.

In 2010 the museum was visited by the Greek ambassador Evangelos Denaksas. The wife of Mr. Denaksas is a musicologist. Mr. Denaksas was impressed so much by the fact that any old Greek song he called immediately materialized as a record on a gramophone disk. After that, the museum staff began to joke: they have everything - like in Greece (popular Soviet joke at the times of commodity deficit).

In 2016, another citizen of the British Crown, a former DJ, and now an engineer, Nicholas Brigham, who has been working in Kazakhstan, granted a visit to the Shafer's house-museum. Nicholas, like his compatriot Mr. Brummell, also enjoyed listening to English gramophone records of the songs well-known to him from his grandmother since his childhood. He presented a 1963 vinyl record of The Beatles to Naum Grigorievich. Naum Grigorievich presented his vinyl compilation 'Little Bricks' and a compilation of the songs by jazz singer Bing Crosby to Nicholas.

The Shafer house-museum is very popular among guests from abroad. Naum Grigoryevich is always glad to every guest who is in love with music. He is ready to personally conduct a tour of his museum and play the records his visitors have interest to. This is despite the fact that he is already 88 years old, and he almost lost his eyesight. Besides, the gramophone stylus is designed to play only three records. After it stylus must be changed. When the gramophone styluses in the Shafer's house-museum were almost over, Kazakhstan-famous journalist and writer Yury Pominov, with his son Dmitry, made a gift to Naum Grigorievich. According to their order, 700 styluses were made at the plant in Azerbaijan using preserved old patterns.

Shafer's house-museum has a concert hall. Weekly, on Fridays, literary and musical evenings, presentations of museum projects, meetings with poets, composers, musicians, and artists take place in this concert hall. There is a unique object — a rare gramophone, which is more than 120 years old. Museum's attenders listen gramophone records on it. This is great opportunity to hear echoes of the history.

Collectors from around the world have repeatedly appealed to Naum Shafer asking to sell their collection, offering a lot of money for it. Highest level representatives of many Russian cities offer all the best conditions for moving the museum. Each of them is ready to allocate a large building for the museum of records, to make it the pearl of the cultural life of their city. The State Museum of Mikhail Glinka from Moscow wants to get about 300 records that are not in the museum of the composer in Moscow, but which are in the Shafer's museum in Pavlodar. Museums of many countries all over the world want to get at least part of this collection. But Naum Grigoryevich loves Pavlodar, and still wants to save his entire collection in this city for the next generations. Despite the fact that relations with the often changing local authorities are not always good.

Recently, Naum Shafer even had to appeal to the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Bakhytzhan Sagintayev with a request to save the museum from another so-called “optimization" (a word popular among Kazakhstani officials to explain liquidation of an enterprise). Bakhytzhan Sagintayev, when he was a governor of Pavlodar region, always appreciated the work of Naum Grigorievich, and now he has helped the house-museum to preserve its status. But, as mentioned above, professor Shafer almost completely lost his eyesight because of nervous experiences related to the protection of the house-museum from the attacks of local officials.

These days the heads of Pavlodar region set the task to develop tourism in the region and attracting foreign tourists. It will be good if officials understand the significance of Naum Shafers's unique collection and will do everything to help the Shafer's house-museum, because this is the only collection of this kind in the world — I'm not afraid to say it is part of world cultural heritage. By the example of the above-mentioned foreign citizens, including high-ranking ones, it is shown that it can make Pavlodar the center of attraction for true connoisseurs of music from around the world.

Created at : 31.05.2019, 17:15, Updated at : 31.05.2019, 17:15