May 28, 2013

The Bernstein Legacy

If 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.