Thursday, January 13, 2011
2011 PERSONS OF THE YEAR: Gary S. Greene
Los Angeles Lawyer Brings Harmony to Legal Community
n the two years since its debut performance at the MetNews Person of the Year dinner in 2008, the Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic Orchestra has gone from a fledgling collection of 28 musicians to a 75-member ensemble with more than 15 major concerts under the members cummerbunds.
The orchestra’s founder, Los Angeles attorney Gary S. Greene, remarks that the group is now “actually supporting the legal community” and has raised thousands of dollars for various bar associations and charities.
A portion of the proceeds from the ticket sales for the group’s July concert—$5,515—was given to the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Domestic Violence Clinic, Immigration Legal Assistance Project, and the AIDS Legal Services Project, Greene says. The orchestra has also donated its services for the Beverly Hills Bar Foundation to auction off as a fundraiser and performed at the Los Angeles Law Library in conjunction with its charity clothing drive.
Greene says his goal is “to get all the attorneys who are musicians to join, and those who aren’t to be in the audiences,” so that participation with the group is akin to being a member if a bar association and can “bring all these people together for what their passion is.”
Education law attorney Jack P. Lipton of Burke Williams & Sorenen LLP, a string bass player in the orchestra, remarks that joining the group has introduced him to “a whole new community of lawyers that [he] never knew about and never had any contact with” who are musicians like himself.
Rehearsing with the group each Monday is “a wonderful outlet from the everyday life of being a lawyer,” providing a welcome “break from what I do all the rest of the week,” Lipton says.
“When I’m in the rehearsal I’m thinking about nothing else except for the music,” Lipton explains.
Greene says it is not unusual for a member of the orchestra to come up to him after one of the Monday night rehearsals and say, “I needed that,” since “it is invigorating for me, and the members, after a tough day, to leave the office setting, or leave the courtroom, and come to rehearsal and play.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Helen I. Bendix, a violist with the orchestra, says she looks forward to the weekly rehearsals because she “enjoy[s] seeing lawyers in a very different context than seeing them in court.”
The jurist relates that she it often tired at the end of the workday and does not relish the long drive from the church where the group meets in the mid-Wilshire area to her home, but says Greene’s “sheer energy is the inspiration” for her, and other members, to “drag ourselves” to rehearsals each week.
“We have lawyers there who are very, very busy, who give up a lot of time to be in this orchestra,” she notes, opining that Greene “inspired us all to do it.”
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Aviva Bobb, a violinist with the group, says she is “grateful for the opportunity to be able to play in an orchestra that has very talented musicians who enjoy playing together and also understand each other’s hectic schedules.”
Concertmistress Natalia Minassian of Bruce A Hatkoff ALC opines that Greene, in forming the orchestra, has “in essence single handedly brought music back to the lives of many attorneys who may not otherwise have had such an opportunity.”
Civil appellate practitioner Janet Gusdorff of Pine & Pine, a trumpeter for the group and music conservatory graduate, says she had felt she had to “choose between being a lawyer and being a musician” after law school.
She recounts she had not planned to stop playing music, “but inevitably, the months passed by and I hadn’t picked up my horn.”
Had she not seen the announcement recruiting members for the Lawyers Philharmonic, Gusdorff says, “I'm not sure when, or if, I would have resumed performing.”
The orchestra’s biggest venue to date was Disney Concert Hall, where it performed in July, before an audience of about 1,500 persons.
In September, the orchestra performed at the State Bar Convention in Monterey along with singer-songwriter Paul Anka at a reception honoring retiring Chief Justice Ronald George and outgoing president Howard Miller.
Greene says Anka personalized the lyrics to “My Way” for this performance, crooning: “Talented lawyers swing this scene/ led by conductor Gary Greene/ They’ll send their bill, why sugar-coat/ I bet they’re charging by the note.”
Laughing, Greene boasts:
“Now I’ve been immortalized in a Paul Anka song.”
The orchestra also appeared at the Los Angeles Farmers Market on the Fourth of July, at the Radio and Television News Association’s Golden Mike Awards, and at the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s installation dinner.
In December, it played a holiday concert at the Wilshire Methodist Church, where it rehearses most Mondays.
Greene says another concert at a large music center is slated for this year, as well as a performance at Loyola Law School and the law offices of Levitt & Quinn.
Lipton remarks that “lawyers are always coming up to us” after performances “and they’re just so enthusiastic about having a lawyers orchestra, it’s like you’ve made them proud to be lawyers, even if they’re not musicians themselves.” He says this leaves him “feeling that we’ve done something really beneficial for the legal community.”
Lipton opines that the orchestra has also “uplifted the public perception of attorneys, both within the legal community and the public at large” since it “allows people to see attorneys in a different light,…as more complete human beings that have an artistic side to them.”
Bendix posits that the orchestra has “made people have a lot of respect for the talent of those that work with them and around them,” and that is offers a “real outreach opportunity” to the general public.
“People don’t normally see lawyers for the generous, multiatalented people that they are,” Bendix says, remarking that “this orchestra is a good messenger for a more complete view of who lawyers are.”
Bendix proposes that “music is a great equalizer, in all senses of the word,” while Greene insists “the harmony on stage helps create harmony off stage,” quoting the Roman philosopher Cicero’s proposition that “songs of musicians are able to change the feelings and conditions of a state.”
Word about the group has spread to the point where they are asked to give more concerts than they are able to perform, and they are known “literally, around the world,” Greene says.
Greene relates that he was contacted by a jurist in Australia who had “read about us and was really enthralled that we are lawyers and we are musicians and that we have a symphony.”
Justice George Palmer, a member of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in Sydney, is also a composer, and the Lawyers Philharmonic gave the premiere performance of his work, entitled “The Ruritanian Dances,” at its December concert.
The Chicago Bar Association has contacted him for help developing its orchestra, while attorneys as far away as Washington D.C. and Miami have consulted him about forming similar groups in their communities, Greene says.
Lipton remarks that the orchestra “has gotten so much publicity” that “lawyers are just coming out of the woodwork” to join. “For some instruments there are more people that want to be in the orchestra than we can accommodate,” he says.
While the group has the novelty factor of being comprised entirely of members of the legal community, Lipton says it is also “musically excellent.”
Bobb praises her fellow orchestra members as “very talented musicians,” remarking that “for me, it’s just a huge pleasure to be able to play with them.”
Greene discloses that several orchestra members are graduates of music conservatories with fine arts degrees in their instruments.
“A lot of them planned on becoming professional musicians, and somewhere along the way, they realized they had to make a living, and that’s when they went to law school,” he says.
Musicians, Greene opines, make good lawyers, and vice versa, since “the training that you need, and the discipline that you need to succeed in law are the same fundamentals you learn in music.”
Greene was born in 1949 to Walter and Silvia Greene, and raised in what he describes as a “musical family.”
While growing up in Los Angeles, Greene says, music was “part of the daily routine” for him and his siblings, and it was “just a natural thing” for each of them to play an instrument. His brother, Terry Greene, plays the cello and their sister, Lori Greene Gordon, plays the harp. Their mother, now deceased, played the accordion professionally for many years.
Greene studied piano and violin under his uncle, Ernst Katz, a former concert pianist, conductor and composer who founded the Los Angeles Jr. Philharmonic Orchestra in 1937. More than 10,000 young musicians have passed through the orchestra’s seats, including Greene.
He joined the orchestra at the age of 13, and says he “never left.” Greene succeeded his uncle as conductor in 2006, and serves as the orchestra’s director, manager and producer.
Katz, who died in 2009, “wanted to give youth a chance to be heard,” and this “idealism made a tremendous impression on me,” Greene says.
“If I can get on my soap box here,” he continues, “I believe music is an integral part of life and a civilized society, without question.”
Greene suggests that “it would take away from the crime scene that we have if we get young people motivated in music” because “if kids are given instruments, they have something they can adapt to, that they can work towards, and gives them something of importance.”
He describes a rehearsal for a concert he organized in 2000, which brought together over 1,500 high school students to perform at the Shrine Auditorium, where “you could hear a pin drop” once he raised his baton.
“I attribute that to the one thing everyone had in common in that room,” Greene says, “They were all musicians.”
“Just think what it could be like if all the kids in all the [school] districts had the opportunity to learn music from a young age.”
When Greene was in college at UCLA, he played in the school’s symphony orchestra, but he says he wanted to be in the marching band and play in the Rose Parade. “So I bought a trumpet, took three lessons, and went to the band director and said ‘I’d like to audition,’ ” Greene recalls, remarking:
“Shows I had a lot of nerve at the time.”
After his audition, Greene says, the band director took the trumpet away and handed him a drum. “So I did march in the UCLA band, but unfortunately, I never made it to the Rose Bowl because there was a fellow at USC at the time by the name of O.J. Simpson who happened to run a touchdown at the USC-UCLA game and I lost my chance to march in the Rose Parade,” he says.
Greene graduated from UCLA summa cum laude in 1971, then attended Loyola Law School. He was admitted to the State Bar in 1975 and immediately set up his own practice in Century City.
He says he was one of the first tenants of 1 Century Plaza, where he kept his office for 18 years.
Century City was “a potentially beautiful area,” he recalls, “but back then it was concrete, steel and glass structures with very little art…[and] very little in the way of culture.” Greene says that he had heard of a doctor’s symphony and was thinking of forming a lawyer’s orchestra at that time, “but before I could launch the idea, somebody actually did it.”
He says he thinks that orchestra was in existence for about a year before it disbanded or merged with another group and he kept the idea of trying to get a second lawyer orchestra together “on the back burner for the next 30 years.”
In 2008, Greene says he was introduced to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brett Klein, since retired, who is a trumpet player. “The judge and I immediately started speaking about music,” and after discovering they both knew several other members of the legal profession who were musicians, Greene decided to revive his idea of forming a lawyers orchestra.
“The rest is history,” Greene remarks.
Los Angeles attorney Perry Hirsch, counsel for the orchestra, opines that “the wealth of musical talent among local lawyers, and the love of music in the legal and larger communities, made this a perfect idea at a perfect time in a perfect place, and it just took off.”
Area of Practice
For the first few years he was practicing, Greene says, he focused primarily on family law cases, but over time has shifted his focus to general civil litigation. He also serves as counsel to his family’s hat business.
The Golden Gate Hat Company was established by Greene’s grandfather in 1923, and named for a section of Los Angeles, not the famed suspension bridge which was built in San Francisco 14 years later.
Many of the company’s hats are used in movies, television programs and stage productions, Greene says. The fedora worn by Michael Jackson in the cover photograph of his best-selling “Thriller” album, several hats from the movie “Titanic,” and the hats worn by the U.S. Olympic team in the Salt Lake City games during the opening ceremony were by Golden Gate, he notes.
Its offices and distribution center are on the first floor of the building which houses Greene’s current law office on Fairfax Avenue, virtually across the street from the Farmer’s Market. Greene also conducts auditions for the Jr. Philharmonic in the building.
“In between my appointments in my law office, I have auditions, which is a nice little break,” he says. “Instead of going for a coffee break…I’ll go downstairs and listen for five to 10 minutes to a young person play.”
As the conductor of two orchestras and a lawyer with an active practice, Greene says, “every day I have something interest and different, and no matter what I have planned, something new always comes up.”
He notes that he frequently works until one or two in the morning, but insists that he enjoys juggling multiple projects. “I’m always doing something,” he remarks, and no matter how many things he is working on at once, “if there’s something I find interesting, I’m going to find a way to do it.”
“I’ve told Gary that he works too hard practicing law and conducting two orchestras, and should cut back on his legal work and enjoy the music that he creates, but he loves it all and continues to work around the clock, almost 24/7, to do it all.”
Gusdorff remarks that “running an orchestra is a full-time job, from scheduling rehearsals, scoping locations to rehearse and perform, to obtaining music to perform and publicizing performances,” but “you’d never guess what an exhausting effort is required because Greene executes his multiple-hats with seeming ease and enthusiasm.”
Lipton praises Greene for having “done a great job” bringing the orchestra to life. “I don’t know anyone else that could have pulled this off,” Lipton says.
Greene says he is not done yet, disclosing plans to “bring more members on board” the orchestra and form a lawyer’s choir to perform with it.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company