The Bernstein Legacy

May 28, 2013 you were born before 1975 in the United States, chances are you may have seen one or, hopefully, many more of Leonard Bernstein’s televised Young People’s Concerts. For those of us who did not live in New York City, these programs were our windows into the wonderful world of Leonard Bernstein. And they were not broadcast on public television when they first appeared – but on one of the three commercial networks, CBS!

For children who were the offspring of classical music devotees, and hence already primed for the experience, watching these shows did not require a hard sell. We were drawn to them like thirsty creatures to water. But the beauty of Maestro Bernstein’s televised educational concerts was that they appealed to everyone!

And what did he do in these concerts? He gave us specific things to listen for – details to notice in music as he shared his insights on some musical composition or aspect of music he found fascinating. Was there really any aspect of music he did not find fascinating?

Ever since Leonard Bernstein brought music appreciation to the televised media, whenever any conductor since then has presented an interesting recorded or live educational concert, there are always those ready to say: “Shades of Leonard Bernstein or the ‘next Bernstein’ or just like Bernstein.” As flattering as these accolades might be for those who receive them, the combination of formidable musical and intellectual gifts and accomplishments embodied in Leonard Bernstein are infrequently distributed in this life to one individual.

Perhaps one of the most important things Maestro Bernstein gave to us, beyond his infectious enthusiasm for teaching musical concepts to all people, was a standard by which those of us inclined to teach music appreciation could model our presentations and gauge our success. His very life also presented us with an implied ‘great commission’ “Do this…continue this work!” Truth be known, if there were thousands of people at this very moment effectively teaching the world how to listen to music, that would not be too many.

And regarding successors to his legacy, there is one very important person who bears his name…Maestro Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie Bernstein. One of Jamie Bernstein’s most passionate endeavors is presenting her own educational concerts that she narrates to audiences worldwide with conductor Michael Barrett. She is also in the forefront of the movement to internationally expand the reach and social benefit of Venezuela’s El Sistema educational music program.

Addressing the 2013 graduating class of the Longy School of Music this May in Boston, Jamie Bernstein channeled her father as she spoke saying: “What new ways will you find to help young people discover the deep joys in this music that we all love so much? And what devices will you come up with to ensure that you’ll always have a large and enthusiastic audience in front of you when you perform – not just next year, but in twenty and even fifty years? I think part of the answer lies in keeping your circle of learning and teaching ever lively.”

Yes, there is a genuine Bernstein legacy. His legacy lives on not only in the spirit of but also in the genetic makeup of Jamie Bernstein. I encourage you to visit her website.





{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

tmana May 29, 2013 at 3:09 am

Just saw the “Discovering Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony” on NJT. Very much reminded me of those Bernstein concerts, which had been recorded and were also used in our Junior High (general) music classes in the 1970s. It’s the sort of education that many adults are lacking, especially in these days of educational cutbacks in the arts, and the search for “relevancy” that leads music teachers to reach for more contemporary compositions. The show had me looking for my Norton’s Guide, which (unfortunately) appears to be have been packed away somewhere. (I’m one of those folk who “listens” better with the score in front of me.)
For what it’s worth, I wondered why the audience didn’t react to the start of the Fourth Movement as anything other than “the wrong music”… I’d’ve thought the audience-participation by theme would have been transitive across the rest of the symphony!


George Marriner Maull May 29, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Glad you enjoyed the presentation! Sadly, with only one expensive hour of television to record that night, we had to restrict ourselves to examining just the first movement of the symphony. There were of course many people in the audience who did realize the excerpt you referenced was the opening of the last movement. But we played it in jest at that moment only to make certain the audience was actually paying attention, and to give me an excuse to talk about the difference between listening and hearing.

That evening we did play the entire symphony after exploring some of the details of the first movement. If you’d like to download our listening guide for the entire symphony, you can do so with the link found under the TV Shows tab, selecting the Beethoven.

Thanks for commenting!


John Patten May 29, 2013 at 7:22 pm

How I loved those broadcasts! Bernstein’s ability to connect with the audience was phenomenal—and a chance to watch one of the world’s great orchestras and conductors made it the real “can’t miss TV.”
What surprises me is that more orchestras aren’t doing something along these lines—thank goodness for The Discovery Orchestra, which is continuing in the tradition of not only Bernstein, but one that goes through the history of music.


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