A Film by Roger and Gerald Sindell

Director’s POV

I’m Gerald Sindell, and I was the co-writer and the director of Double-Stop.

Everyone who participates in the making of a motion picture has contributed their own truth to the production. In this column I will attempt to recreate my thinking that went into Double-Stop — why we made it, what we were trying to accomplish.

This is my P.O.V., script shorthand for point of view.

Throughout my high-school life in Cleveland I had been concerned with what it would take to end racism in the country. The civil rights movement in the late 50s and early 60s was just getting going. The Freedom Riders had revealed to the world how deep American racism ran. The only serious attempts to change the long patterns of segregation in the south and racial isolation in the north were in the form of school busing. The hope was that by integrating the schools our cities could finally provide equal rights and equal opportunity to all our citizens.

I had been active in the Youth Council on Human Relations, a city-wide organization that was devoted to building strong inter-race and inter-faith pathways through Cleveland, from eastside to westside and throughout the isolated suburbs.  I was elected president of the Shaker Heights Youth Council and then was elected to be president of the entire Cleveland Youth Council. (The late Representative Carolyn Warner Wilson was a president a few years later.) When I was president  we had some 18,000 members across the city. I was confident, in 1962, that within a few years racism would be a thing of the past.

I was also passionate about music when I was growing up. I studied organ with William Miller, the organist at several temples and churches in Cleveland, and I had free reign of the pipe organ at the Shaker Heights Episcopal Church. The dance band I was in, the Cruisers, played for a vast number of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, school dances, and other parties. I studied flute with Martin Heylman, a member of the Cleveland Orchestra and I spent many summers at what is now the Interlochen Arts Academy. I studied piano with Margaret Heller and later at the Cleveland Institue of Music with Leonard Kurzbaum and eventually with my cousin Betty Belkin. I attended an unforgettable series of master classes at the Cleveland Institute of Music given by the legendary Nadia Boulanger.

Best of all, my parents maintained a subscription to the Saturday concerts of the Cleveland Orchestra, then under George Szell’s perfectionist direction. Our box was #2, right in the center, next to Szell’s own box. During many concerts I sat only few inches from the quiet Ms. Szell. I was the compleat nurd, often bringing my own copy of the score to the concert, barely controlling my urge to conduct from the box. On occasion I would glance over to Ms. Szell and she would give me what I took to be a kind smile.

I felt that I had a close relationship with the orchestra. Many of the members’ kids were in my classes at Shaker Heights high school. My sister studied with Alice Chalifoux, the orchestra’s legendary harpist. A close friend and member of the Cruisers, Stuart Zetzer (now Dr. Stuart Zetzer) was the son of the orchestra’s bass clarinetist. My cousin Carol Sindell was a violin prodigy and studied with the great concertmaster of the orchestra Joseph Gingold who had become friends with all our family. The second chair for a time was Arnold Steinhardt, later of the Guarneri Quartet, who was a cousin of a cousin. The first assistant cellist from 1971-1973 would be Daniel Domb, who was married to Carol Sindell. Danny would record the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Sonatas for the Double-Stop soundtrack (and provide the fingers on the cello neck in the close-up shots!) And throughout the orchestra were others that I knew by name who were so used to seeing me around that they greeted me as well.

Finally, there was the thread of my own career. As I thought about making my first film at the ripe old age of 23, the subject that most perplexed me was what should I make of my own life that would satisfy seemingly contradictory desires. I wanted to be in the arts (film had won out over music) and I wanted to educate the world so that ignorance, war and racism would end. I also needed to make a living since I had been married at 19 and my first child, Joshua, would arrive in the middle of that year, 1967.

Oh, one more thing. The war in Vietnam was getting worse by the day. I had been deeply opposed to the war from its earliest days and I was angry at our government.

These are the issues and threads that led to the narrative of Double-Stop. A cellist in the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra lives a charmed and cloistered life. His wife, an artist, is more engaged than he with the causes of the hour, and persuades her husband that their son should be part of the school busing integration program. Other threads: the mother has a showing of her photos from the ghetto — almost too glibly turning the raw material of neglect into art. The cellist’s friend, the bassoonist Don Streggor, was raised in the older heart of the city and maintains his ties to his roots there. The film ends in ambiguity: the Westlakes haven’t decided whether they should send their son back to his inner-city school, and the hand of violence has reached into their lives and the lives of the Orchestra family when Streggor’s girlfriend is found murdered at the edge of the Wade Lagoon, close to Severance Hall. I was determined to pose questions for the audience, provide material for further thinking.

I didn’t pretend to know the answers, but I wanted to share my struggle with the questions.