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July 1, 2021Stephen Laifer -
Flute player Reva Youngstein of Local 802 (New York City) was feeling the sense of helplessness affecting so many musicians around the world as a result of the pandemic. Rather than give in to the despair, she decided to do something about it. Musicians Cook!, the cookbook she compiled with the help of some 300 other musicians—many also members of Local 802—is a labor of love created to help New York City-area colleagues facing dire straits. But it’s just the latest philanthropic endeavor for Youngstein, who has always believed in the power of giving back.
“I’ve done many fundraiser concerts for various causes,” says Youngstein. “Before the pandemic, I organized several benefit concerts in Bergen County for area school music departments, and also two concerts in the city to raise money for environmental causes.” Just before COVID-19 shut down live music in New York, Youngstein joined friend and fellow Local 802 member Keith Bonner for a benefit concert. “That was at Riverside Church in Manhattan, to benefit their immigrant support group,” she adds.
It’s no surprise that Youngstein is drawn to the power of music to improve the lives of others: it had a profound effect on her own life. “Growing up, music is what saved me,” she says. “It gave me joy, escape, validation, and the confidence to express my emotions.” Youngstein started out—not even three years of age—on the violin. “My older sister was already a violinist, so I switched to the flute because it was different. Sibling rivalry creates a quest for self-identification.”
Bachelor of Music studies at the Manhattan School of Music and a master’s degree at Yale led to a busy freelance career in the city. She is a flute substitute for the New Jersey Symphony, and performs regularly at Carnegie Hall with various groups. A typical week, she says, involves “teaching two days a week, rehearsals and a performance at either Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center, and maybe a church gig on Sunday. All of this being pre-pandemic, of course.”
Youngstein was also subbing in the theater pit for the musical Wicked. That of course stopped when Broadway was shuttered. “The show is supposed to start again in mid-September,” she says, “so hopefully that will also come back.”
Teaching, another important aspect of Youngstein’s career, was similarly put mostly on pause over the last year. She has been on the faculty of the Brearley School in Manhattan for 20 years and is a woodwind coach for the New Jersey Symphony’s Academy Orchestra. With lots of time on her hands, she says she started to think about how she could help her colleagues.
“My first concern was with Local 802,” she recalls. “The union has provided my family with good quality health insurance. Bettina Covo at the local office helped me get on the plan, and it has been a massive benefit to our well-being. I could see things were headed in a difficult direction there because of the pandemic.” The tool that ultimately inspired the means to help turned out, appropriately, to be social media.
“Everyone I knew was out of work. Without in-person contact, the only way I could communicate with my colleagues was through Facebook or other sites,” she says. “It occurred to me that aside from posts about missing friends, community, and performing, their posts mostly seemed to be about food they were making at home.” Thus, Musicians Cook! was born. “My older sister Deb compiled a family recipe cookbook years ago, so the idea wasn’t completely new,” she says. “But with this project, I thought my colleagues and I could bond over food by sharing the recipes we were making,” she says. “Also, a musician cookbook would remind our audiences that we still exist and are talented in multiple ways.”
In the end, nearly 300 professional musicians submitted recipes to the book, which is 100% musician-created. “Most are from Local 802,” adds Youngstein. The book contains a single recipe from each. “One Local 802 member, clarinetist Dean LeBlanc, spent many hours making the book look beautiful,” she continues. “He helped with the design and layout of the recipes, and the artwork.” The cookbook also features illustrations by musician colleagues and an accompanying YouTube channel with videos of the contributors cooking their own dish, for which Dan Lipton of Local 802 composed an original jingle that was (no surprise) recorded by Local 802 musicians.
Proceeds from the book go to Save NYC Musicians relief fund. Youngstein was born and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and she says in the end Musicians Cook! gave her a great deal of hometown pride. “We’ve all been hit hard this past year, so it’s a wonderful feeling to not only be able to help New York-area colleagues in need, but also to get them involved.”
For more information about the Musicians Cook! cookbook, visit www.musicianscook.com.