SUZANNE ORNSTEIN

Suzanne Ornstein.jpg

I am running for Trial Board because I am interested in serving our community of musicians. I grew up with parents who were second generation immigrants and identified as socialist democrats. Taking an interest in others’ wellbeing and taking a stand when necessary were core family values, along with being ethical and forthright.

My earliest experience of community activism was picketing grocery stores my junior year in high school. We were exhorting stores and customers to boycott grapes that were being sold by companies that were exploiting migrant workers, paying them poorly and subjecting them to inhumane working and living conditions (alas, those practices still persist). I remember feeling self-conscious, often standing alone with a big sign. But it was a mostly good experience, with one exception. A shopper came out one time with a large bag of newly purchased grapes and proceeded to pelt me with them. So, the early lesson was that just because you think you are on the side of the angels, not everyone is going to see it that way.

 

During my senior year, my dad would drive me to Vietnam war protests, but also dropped me off every week at a VA hospital where I was a volunteer.  I brought water and a little friendly company to soldiers, most of them barely older than I was, who had sustained injuries, many of them devastating.  So, while I may have thought the war was a terrible mistake, it was also important to recognize how others had fought and sacrificed so much for it.

 

I’ve served as a trustee on a board that oversaw the conversion of a private library to a public one (see if I ever take public libraries for granted again) and served as an advisor trustee on the board of a chamber music society. I was treated respectfully, but some of the vitriol I witnessed made me think fondly of those grapes. I also wish I had served on such a board during the years my piano trio was under management; I would have had so much more sympathy for our managers, knowing some of what they were up against.

 

I’ve been on the negotiating committee for the Encores orchestra for a very long time and have learned a lot from the process and from the other committee members. I also was a rep on the theater committee for a while some years ago, and again, learned a lot from being there and from the other reps. I’ve often thought I benefited more than I contributed by participating.

Much of my work life took place during a very rich time for the arts in the city. I played in a lot of ensembles, big and small, because they actually existed and had seasons, along with large and small dance companies, multiple new music ensembles, choral societies, little opera companies, and plenty more. There were lots of recordings (many under better contracts, too). I led a number of crossover albums, for example, because there was a market for them and great singers like Dawn Upshaw and Thomas Hampson wanted to make them. There were live concerts at Carnegie Hall featuring full orchestras and major Broadway stars, and they were often simultaneously recorded. There were more films being recorded here back then and yes, young’uns, there were jingles, so many that there were people who made their living from them.

Many Broadway shows had real orchestras with string sections and they sounded like something. Now so many shows are just loud, with synths augmenting or flat out replacing other instruments, cheapening the art form to enrich the bottom line, and insidiously inuring audiences to this type of sound. We’ve lost a lot of work that used to be here, and there has been a general race to the bottom with many different kinds of contracts. With whatever time I remain in the community, I want to invest in working to improve opportunities and conditions for the younger colleagues I will leave behind.  And as a trial board member, I will do my best to consider any matter evenly and with empathy.

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