It’s Leonard Bernstein’s birthday

Today is Leonard Bernstein’s birthday! Of course we’ve been featuring his works all day today on KMFA.

Most folks remember Leonard Bernstein’s credits in all things musical, from ballet, opera, and musicals, to orchestral, chamber, and piano pieces. He was truly an artist belonging  to America’s Golden Age of popular culture. But he was also a renowned educator; in particular, consider his Young People’s Concerts….

I was recently talking to friend of mine who grew up in New Jersey, and we were talking about how, as kids, we would do things on a dare that we would never have the courage to do otherwise. And, quite randomly, she described how she attended a concert in NYC with her elementary school class, and her classmates dared her to ask for the conductor’s autograph — so she marched right up to the podium and asked Leonard Bernstein for his signature on the program! She said he looked startled, but willingly signed it. He was just guest-hosting at that point, so it was a rare appearance. And she still saved it after all these years, although she was basically unaware of his stature in the classical music canon. (See the image at left.)

Here’s a quote from his son, from the official Leonard Bernstein website:

In 1957 Bernstein had convinced CBS to put his Young People’s Concerts on the air. To think that for a while there, Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic were on CBS primetime television!! All over America, families gathered in their living rooms in front of their big, bulky black & white TV sets, and watched Leonard Bernstein tell them all about classical music. I can’t tell you how many people come up to me now, everywhere I go in the States, and they say something like: “Oh, I used to watch your father’s Young People’s Concerts on TV, and I’ve been a music lover ever since!” And an equally large number of orchestra musicians come up to me and say, “I watched the Young People’s Concerts when I was a kid, and that’s why I’m a musician today!”

Bernstein’s great gift was his ability to convey his own excitement about music. Watching him explain sonata form or the difference between a tonic and a dominant, you had the sense that he was letting you in on a wonderful secret, rather than drumming facts into you that might prove useful later. It doesn’t matter what your subject is; a teacher’s own passion is going to improve the student’s ability to absorb and process the information. Excitement is contagious.

Here’s a partial video of one of his earlier Young People’s Concerts, about the origins of Folk Music. I love how he compares language dialect to musical dialect:

Well, here’s to you, Maestro Bernstein. Your birthday is really an opportunity to reflect on all you have done for classical music in your lifetime, and ours!

~posted by Alison @ KMFA 🙂

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