Reinventing the American Orchestra

Anthony Tommasini wrote an article in The New York Times this week ( on how orchestras need to reinvent themselves in our nation’s new environment. Scant mention was made of female composers, living and dead, being part of the solution – with only one mention of the New York Philharmonic’s Project 19, which commissioned works from 19 female composers, many of color.

It is no secret that under 3% (or 2% I’ve also heard) of music played by symphony orchestras in this country are written by women. The same is true worldwide. A huge percentage is by Beethoven, Mozart and Bach. A modern composer can mean Rachmaninoff who died in 1943. Commendable efforts are sputtering along to find African-American composers to play. The go-to African-American female composer last season has been Florence Price, who died in 1953.

As always, smaller ensembles, and venues like National Sawdust, are way ahead in this regard and didn’t need our national reckoning with race to spur their efforts at diversifying whose music gets played and who plays it. Why doesn’t every orchestra (and opera company) have a smaller ensemble that plays new music in different venues? The New York Phil Bandwagon was a great start, giving concerts in New York neighborhoods, including new commissioned works. Co-commissioning new works by living composers, male and female, of all ethnicities, can be a bridge to building community and understanding and new audiences. And it can spread the costs of a commission among several orchestras, while giving greater exposure to a new work that too often get a premier and die.

Orchestras need, like baseball teams, to build the farm system. They need to sponsor younger composers right out of conservatory, provide composer-in-residencies that would pair a young untried composer with a more experienced one and do repeated readings of their works so that the composer can get feedback and refine their compositions. And make recordings so that the new works can get greater exposure.

All it takes is vision, and will, and, yes, money. But the payoff can be multiples of the investment.

Glimmers of Hope

The newspapers reported last week that some Republicans are resigning from their party out of disgust with Trump and Trumpism. This is a mistake. It leaves the party in the hands of the fanatics. The sensible Republicans should stay and fight for their party.

Reproductive rights are in the ascendancy in the Western Hemisphere. The momentum in Argentina, where abortion up to 14 weeks was decriminalized at the end of December, is spreading to Chile, where advocates are working to get sexual and reproductive rights in the new constitution and to Colombia, where efforts are underway to take abortion out of the criminal code. These coupled with the repeal of the Global Gag Rule signals that progress is not impossible if the will and activism are there.

At some point, Republicans who believe that the government should not be in the business of regulating, controlling and subjugating women will take back control of their party. Polls show that about half of Republicans support Roe v. Wade. It will take these sensible Republican women and men showing the fortitude that women and men in Argentina showed. Politicians will cave once they realize they won’t be re-elected. These women should not be resigning from the Republican Party in disgust; rather than should recruit others to take it back from Trump and his misogny.


Excerpted from The Guardian

Argentina has become the largest Latin American country to legalise abortion after its senate approved the historic law change by 38 votes in favour to 29 against, with one abstention.

The bill, which legalises terminations in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, was approved by Argentina’s lower house earlier this month after being put to congress by the country’s leftwing president, Alberto Fernández.

“Safe, legal and free abortion is now law … Today we are a better society,” Fernández celebrated on Twitter after the result was confirmed.

Fernández has previously said that more than 3,000 women had died as a result of unsafe, underground abortions in Argentina since the return of democracy in 1983.

The landmark decision means Argentina becomes only the third South American country to permit elective abortions, alongside Uruguay, which decriminalised the practice in 2012, and Guyana, where it has been legal since 1995.

Cuba legalised the practice in 1965 while Mexico City and the Mexican state of Oaxaca also allow terminations.

Giselle Carino, an Argentinian feminist activist, said she believed the achievement in the home country of Pope Francis would reverberate across a region that is home to powerful Catholic and evangelical churches and some of the harshest abortion laws in the world.

In most countries, such as Brazil, abortions are only permitted in extremely limited circumstances such as rape or risk to the mother’s life, while in some, such as the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, they are banned altogether.

“I feel incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to achieve. This is a historic moment for the country, without a doubt,” said Carino, head of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region.

“It shows how, in spite of all the obstacles, change and progress are possible. Argentinian women and what’s happening right now will have an enormous impact on the region and the world,” Carino added, pointing to parallel struggles in Brazil, Chile and Colombia.

Colombian activists recently petitioned the constitutional court to remove abortion from the country’s criminal code while campaigners in Chile hope a new constitution might lead to expanded women’s rights.

In the region’s most populous nation, Brazil, activists are waiting for the supreme court to rule on a 2018 legal challenge that would decriminalise abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy.

Mariela Belski, Amnesty International’s executive director in Argentina, called the result “an inspiration to the Americas”.

“Argentina has sent a strong message of hope to our entire continent: that we can change course against the criminalisation of abortion and against clandestine abortions, which pose serious risks to the health and lives of millions of people.”

Carino said the leftward political shift that brought Fernández to power had undoubtedly boosted the pro-choice campaign after the previous year’s setback. Among those who helped Fernández win office were many young women who took part in the #NiUnaMenos protests and were voting for the first time.

Carino said the real credit lay with Argentina’s indefatigable women “who never stopped occupying the streets and the social networks – not even against the backdrop of the pandemic – and kept up their struggle, without haste but without rest”.

“If anything made the difference, it was this.”

A Tribute to Mary Lindsay

By Alexander Sanger

Mary Lindsay, former board chair of Planned Parenthood of New York City and hence my one-time boss, died on October 4, 2020 at age 100.

Not just indominable, she was unfailingly kind, thoughtful and gracious. As a leader at PPNYC, she was universally respected by her colleagues on the board and the staff. Being a nurse, she cared deeply about how we treated our clients and would walk through the clinics with an eagle eye open and her mouth shut, saving her comments for when we were alone. She knew the role of the board and that of the staff and would behave and lead accordingly. But for term limits, she would have been PPNYC’s board chair for decades.

Generous to PPNYC, she inspired her fellow board members and friends to be as generous as they could, again leading led by example. She chaired at least two capital campaigns, made the lead gifts and then solicited her friends to join her. She was inspiring for our common vision, and friends could not resist Mary’s call to be a part of building something larger than themselves. “I have learned it is a wonderful thing to have people give their money to something they believe in,” she once said. “I have also learned that if you do not ask for it, someone else is going to, and so you had better get there first.”

And coming from Republican stock, though she had become a Democrat, she was invaluable in lobbying and cajoling politicians and donors from the Republican side of the aisle and insured that the staff be nonpartisan in our communications, when it was so tempting to be otherwise. She joined with P.L. Harrison, Barbara Mosbacher and Barbara Gimbel, of the New York State Republican Family Committee, to lobby in Albany for family planning and abortion rights.

She came to PPNYC from the board of the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau, where she had first volunteered as a nurse and then became board chair after my father stepped down, and where she helped that organization merge into PPNYC. She and my father worked closely together and had immense respect for each other. She worked with PPNYC to incorporate the training of doctors and nurses from around the world in family planning into our clinical practice. This program, called the Margaret Sanger Center, brought the best in family planning training to practitioners serving the most needy women and men in the Third World. Mary loved to travel with PPNYC’s education staff, Peter Purdy, Shirley Oliver and Errol Alexis, to view and evaluate our far flung programs around the world.

Below is the list of the board and advisors of the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau before Mary became chair. 

The MSRB board was a distinguished and powerful group: women like Charlton Phelps, Helen Edey, Emily Workum and Jane Canfield worked alongside the equally powerful men: Alan Guttmacher, M.D., Henry Clay Frick, M.D., Christopher Tietze, M.D. and George Zeidenstein. Mary led them all as board chair, a tribute to her leadership and diplomatic skills, as physicians were not especially known at that time for their high opinion of nurses.
Mary and I travelled to Cairo in 1994 for the UN International Conference on Population and Development where, among other things, we appeared on a panel together on how to advocate for reproductive rights in different cultures. With us on the panel were the Health Minister of the Philippines, Juan Flavier, and from Egypt, Aziza Hussein, a leading women’s rights advocate. I spoke about PPNYC’s subway advertising campaign and Mary spoke about how she lobbied Republicans and Democrats in Albany and Washington. We stunned our fellow panelists with our forthrightness about sex – Juan Flavier had been condemned from the pulpit by Cardinal Sin of the Philippines for his advocacy of condom use to prevent HIV transmission, and Aziza Hussein spoke of how she had to avoid mentioning sex when advocating for family planning in Egypt, instead advocating for child spacing. 

Juan Flavier, Mary, Aziza Hussein, Alex Sanger
Mary speaking in Cairo

On the day after our panel, at Mary’s instigation, she and I, accompanied by Peter Purdy, the PPNYC Vice President for International Affairs and his wife, Susan, along with Peggy Kerry, a PPNYC advisor and sister of Senator John Kerry who was at the Conference, took a dawn horseback ride to the Sphinx and Pyramids. We had the desert to ourselves. No one of the other 20,000 delegates had the imagination or gumption to organize this mad venture. We rode across the desert in a gallop and saw the sun rise over the Pyramids as the day warmed. It was an experience we never forgot. 

Mary is second from left

Mary was most interested in, as she said, “the rights of women and men to make the decision of when and whether to have a child.” She dedicated so much to make that a reality.

She said: “I cannot separate freedom of choice from family planning and abortion. It seems to me that you have got to be able to make your own decision about having a child, or not having a child.  And, if for whatever reason, you become pregnant and you do not want to be, the option to have an abortion should be available.  The same is true of contraception. From the time someone is fertile, that someone should be able to manage their fertility. I think it is as simple as that. That is not only an issue about women, but about the children that are brought into the world that is so important to me.” 


Fred Sai 1924-2019

Fred Sai, though diminutive in size, was a giant at International Planned Parenthood Federation and globally for women’s rights and health.

We met far too infrequently, most memorably at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994, where Fred was the chair, and at an IPPF meeting in New Delhi in 2002 where Fred gave a rousing speech to the delegates. He had experience chairing various international conferences, experience which stood him in good stead in the contentious plenary meetings in Cairo, where there was sharp dissent to making women and women’s rights the center of family planning programs and development. After days of a small but contentious band of opponents having their say, Fred Sai declared, “Consensus has been reached” and banged his gavel, signaling the adoption of the Program of Action. It was a historic moment for women’s rights.


I had the honor to nominate him for Lasker Award but unfortunately the Lasker Committee did not see the giant that the rest of the world saw.

I was honored when Fred presented to me the IPPF Individual Volunteer Award in 2011. I will never forget his eloquence, dedication and passion for our great cause.



Memorial Day, North Haven, Maine – 2017

It is 46 degrees, with a brisk east wind and misty as a dozen veterans gather inside American Legion Post 33 on North Haven, Maine, an island 12 miles offshore and proud of its history of sending young men and women to fight for their country. It is a curious thing – this island often seems independent of the continental United States, yet in every war, starting with the Revolutionary, the islanders responded to the call for service to defend freedom, democracy and our way of life.

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