‘If I Were a Musician’

Volume 117, No. 8September, 2017

In our new series, we hear from elected officials about their musical tastes, the music in their district…and what instrument they wish they played!

NYC Council member Helen Rosenthal (Democrat: Upper West Side)


Helen Rosenthal was elected to the New York City Council in 2013 and quickly established herself as a strong and important labor supporter and housing advocate. She has been a strong partner with Local 802 and an advocate for artists and musicians, including her work to expand city funding for the arts and her support of MET Orchestra Musicians in 2014.

Do you have a favorite type or style of music? My music taste is really diverse and entirely depends on the mood I’m in and where I am. I love classical music and will listen to the Brandenberg Concerti every opportunity I get, but I also listen to folk music and have always loved a capella vocal music.

Do you have a favorite musician? Nope. Unfair. That’s just too hard. But I will say that I’m listening to a lot of Bob Dylan right now, and love Aretha Franklin, Rachmaninoff, Yo-Yo Ma, Steely Dan, Billie Holiday, the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell and Simon & Garfunkel. And that’s just a start.

If you could get dinner or drinks with any musician, living or dead, who would it be? I would want to go out with so many! Pete Seeger or Bob Dylan. Would you let Bob know for me?

Do you have a favorite film score? “Harold and Maude.” One of my favorite songs, and one that I think probably best describes my role as an advocate for my community on the City Council, is Cat Stevens’ “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out.”

Where is the best place to listen to music? I grew up in Detroit and my family frequently went to Cranbrook Park together to listen to music. Because of that, I’ve always had this strong association with music and the outdoors. There is no better place.

Describe the importance of the arts in your district. One of the most powerful moments as a council member was working with Lincoln Center to provide access and opportunity for children at P.S. 191 to experience the magic of live music and musical expression, many for the first time. I went to an open house and saw these children playing the violin and was overcome with the feeling that this is what is important in our society. It was clear that the arts and music are vital if these children were to spread their wings.

What are the biggest challenges facing musicians and performers in your district? Musicians, like many other New Yorkers, are struggling to afford to live in this city. We must expand access to affordable housing and ensure that people are able to make a fair living.

How do we ensure that musicians can stay in their communities? This starts with stable work and a living wage, and is closely followed by long-term affordable housing. Artists are often the key individuals who build communities from the ground up. Once settled in a neighborhood, they begin to draw attention to these communities, building its popularity and eventually pricing out those who made it so vibrant. This has been seen time and time again and we must find ways to break the cycle and provide artists the opportunity to remain in the communities they help build. My office offers housing clinics and on-site free legal services and we are working hard to ensure that everyone can afford to live in New York City.

If you could create a slogan to promote live music in NYC, what would it be? “New York streets have the beats!”

Lastly, if you were a musician, what would you play? I love the flute and guitar, but if I were a musician…I’d play the cello!

State Senator Brad Hoylman (Democrat: West Village, Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Flatiron, the Theatre District and Broadway, Hell’s Kitchen and portions of the Upper West Side)


Since his election in 2013, State Senator Brad Hoylman has firmly established himself as a progressive leader in Albany, standing at the forefront of many important issues, including water safety, environmental protection and the rights of the LGBTQ community. Representing a district that is home to thousands of musicians and some of the most storied clubs, performance spaces and ensembles in the world, Senator Hoylman has also been a steadfast advocate for musicians and performers in New York State, fundamentally understanding the important role that musicians play in our communities, our economy, and the health and vibrancy of our diverse society.

What is your favorite type of music? Honestly, that’s a pretty impossible question for me to answer because I listen to almost everything, but generally I suppose it’s jazz and pop.

Do you have a favorite musician? Ella Fitzgerald has to be on the list. So does Prince. And Michael Jackson.

What are you listening to right now? It absolutely depends on who has control of the playlist at my home. I was recently listening to the “Hamilton” soundtrack, but we’ve also been listening to Frank Ocean. When my daughter is in control, you know it’s going to be a Disney soundtrack.

Favorite film score and soundtrack? Tough one, but I have to say “La La Land.” I absolutely loved the score and it was played beautifully.

What was the first performance you ever attended? Ha! Well I grew up in West Virginia, so I’m sure it was a country music performance at the state fair. I think probably Conway Twitty.

What the first album you ever bought? The soundtrack to “Grease.”

Clearly you are a Broadway fan. Do you have a favorite? Not sure I can pick a favorite, but I just saw “Hello, Dolly!” and it was fantastic. And then there is “Hamilton,” which has fundamentally changed the way people see and interact with musical theatre. Sutton Foster in “Anything Goes” was memorable, too.

Where is the best place to listen to live music in your district? I am extremely fortunate to represent a district that is home to some of the most important performance spaces in the entire world, from Carnegie Hall to Jazz at Lincoln Center, to the Metropolitan Opera and Broadway. Even just exploring Washington Square Park is great. However, I will say that I love going to the Village Vanguard.

Describe the role music plays in your district. The music industry obviously plays an important role in our economy. It drives tourism and the city’s nightlife, and it’s an important source of jobs. But it goes deeper than that. Music and the arts make up our incredibly diverse heritage and our vibrant culture. It’s what makes my district and our city special.

How can we make sure that musicians are able to make a living and remain in NYC, in their communities? Like countless other people in NYC and across the country, musicians often struggle to get by and are under assault. Musicians are facing an affordability crises and are struggling to make a living. We must ensure that the National Labor Relations Board does its job and that the right to organize remains protected. We must ensure that musicians have access to fair pay. We must encourage our federal partners to address copyright issues and ensure that musicians can meet the challenges created by technology in the recording industry. In New York, we must ensure that musicians are not taken for granted. And we need to continue to work together to ensure that legislation is passed that preserves and adequately supports artists in this city.

If you were in a band, who among your colleagues would be in it and what would you be called? I’m thinking a jazz ensemble with some of my great Democratic colleagues from New York City. Naturally we’d be called The Reformers. Senator Liz Krueger on piano, Senator Brian Benjamin on bass, and Senator Jose Serrano on drums. We’d be awesome. Nah, we should keep our day jobs and leave it to the professionals.

Lastly, if you were a musician…? If I were a musician, I would play the trumpet. I had years of lessons!