SARA TOTH – EDITOR
During the first months of the pandemic, stages and studios were silent, musicians locked down at home. Like everyone else in lockdown, they developed or returned to beloved hobbies. Knitting, gardening, home improvement projects or playing music (of course).
And cooking and baking. Lots of cooking and baking.
Reva Youngstein, a flutist and instructor at The Brearley School in New York City, was among those musicians who found herself spending a lot of time in her kitchen. Youngstein, who earned her bachelor’s at the Manhattan School of Music and her master’s at the Yale University School of Music, will be giving a Porch Talk for the Chautauqua Women’s Club at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 9 at the CWC House.
Her talk, titled “Musicians Cook! How I Got 300 New York Musicians to Come Together and Make a Cookbook to Save Our Union,” will explore what went into compiling the 288-page Musicians Cook! From the performance hall to the kitchen, quarantined NYC musicians share their artistry.
Filled with 283 recipes and stories from quarantining musicians in the New York City area, the book’s proceeds go toward the Save NYC Musicians campaign.
“There was a real worry over health insurance that my family and I had secured through our Local 802 AFM (union),” Youngstein said. “We were so worried that we were going to lose our insurance — many did, after all. The book came from, not just wanting and needing to connect, but with the hope of fundraising to help the health funds for New York City musicians.”
Youngstein said the book is performing well in online sales, and has already sold out at the Chautauqua Bookstore (she will have copies available at her talk).
In any given week before the pandemic, Youngstein — a freelance flutist in addition to her teaching work — might play in some churches, a Broadway show, or a concert at Carnegie Hall. For much of 2020 and 2021 so far, she’s been teaching online and picking up odd jobs, or participating in some video projects. But by and large, she said, she’s had much more time on her hands. So, she cooked.
And she wasn’t alone.
“The idea for the book came to me simply because I was seeing so many wonderful food posts from my colleagues,” she said. “Everyone was so anxious, and had so much time on their hands. You would see people thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to learn how to bake bread,’ or, ‘Whatever happened to my grandmother’s turkey recipe?’ The photos were just breathtaking, as far as how delicious the food looked.”
She found that musicians in her network were actually using their social media posts — and their recipes — to connect with one another.
“We were never seeing each other; we were isolated, and so used to playing together, but we realized we could connect over food,” Youngstein said. “When you try someone else’s recipe, you’re getting to know that person.”
Last fall, Youngstein put out a call: Send in your recipes, and your talents. Hundreds of recipes poured in, including some from members of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra — the same CSO members who will help Youngstein cap her talk with a brief performance at the CWC House.
Bruce Adolphe, of NPR’s “Piano Puzzler” fame, submitted his grandmother’s fruit torte recipe, and a story to go with it. A pastry chef, Adolphe’s grandmother was fleeing Nazi-invaded Europe, Youngstein said, and every place she sought refuge, she would make this torte, selling it as a way “to make money while she was in danger.” Conductor and flutist Ransom Wilson sent in a pasta recipe he developed himself. But more than recipes, Youngstein said, the musicians tapped into their latent talents to get the book published. A clarinetist friend, for example, provided graphic design. Others proofread, or provided sketch drawings. Every single one had a story to share.
“I love seeing people’s surprise — you think, all we do is play music, but we’re real people with a multitude of talents we drew on,” Youngstein said. “The title (Musicians Cook!) is telling. We might cook at home in our kitchens, and in a way, we cook onstage. … We wanted to remind our audience that we’re still here and just as creative as ever, putting our energies into another craft and excelling in it.”