Reading Bernstein, Researching Bernstein

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His residency at Harvard coincided exactly with my junior and senior years there, and my brother's freshman year. You could say that the Young People's Concerts turned into college lectures when his own kids became college age. Interactivity is one area of teaching that has seen enormous expansion since the days of my father's Young People's Concerts. Back then, there was only so much you could do with a TV audience. Now that we're firmly in the age of interactive technology, we're in a sort of double bind. On the one hand, it's thrilling that a kid can have such an interactive relationship with his or her computer or video game or telephone.

On the other hand, that kid's expectations in a classroom have been transformed. Kids have never been too good at sitting still, but now they really won't sit still for a simple, passive absorption of information. That will seem more deadly than ever before. So we teachers have to work twice as hard to make our lessons engaging.

Actualité de Basil Bernstein

In the process of trying too hard to seem modern and trendy, we can all wind up looking just as foolish as our own math teacher did back in the 's, when he grew his hair over his ears and wore bell-bottoms. Come to think of it, my own father did exactly that! But everybody loved him anyway.

But to get back to this business of interactivity.

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In spite of the limitations of television, Leonard Bernstein found plenty of ways to engage his audience directly. The easiest way was to engage the live audience, and he found wonderful ways to get them to participate — everything from singing "Frere Jacques" in a four-part round, to singing different intervals on the syllables "New York," to taking part in a musical quiz. You could feel the fizz of excitement when my father asked the concert audience to do something — and you can clearly see it on the DVD's of the televised Young People's Concerts, in director Roger Englander's delightful cutaway shots of the kids in Philharmonic Hall.

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One thing I always loved about my father was how unafraid he was to be silly. In our family, goofiness was next to godliness. I wish you all could have seen him and his sister singing a song called "Toujours Glamour," with different gestures for each of the letters in "glamour. But the good news is, you can see him acting pretty silly on his Young People's Concerts. The very fact that he came out in his nice suit and tie made any unusual behavior that much funnier.

Without a doubt, his best trick was singing the pop songs of the day to illustrate his points about the music of long ago. That reflects a deep generosity of spirit — and everyone could sense it. While talking to my brother about our dad's sense of humor, he pointed out that plenty of great teachers have been humorless. He reminded me that one of our dad's greatest conducting teachers, Fritz Reiner, was on the grim, dry side.

Das Bernstein Teleskop

But everyone at Curtis Institute adored Reiner and considered him a master. So maybe humor isn't a prerequisite. But with a young audience, it definitely helps — a LOT. Are any of you familiar with the ideas in the book "Flow," by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi? The subtitle is "The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Leonard Bernstein was one of the luckiest people in the world, because so much of his work put him in that enviable state.

Maybe as a result of being in flow so much of the time, he had a very heightened sense of the meaning of the word FUN. Fun was a serious thing to Leonard Bernstein — because he loved his work so much. And he was able to impart this sense of serious fun to everyone around him: his colleagues, his audiences, his students and his family. So when my father talks in one Young People's Concert about the overture to "Marriage of Figaro" as "a roller coaster ride," he's not kidding!

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Conducting Mozart's music was every bit as thrilling to him as riding the Cyclone at Coney Island - and take it from me: he brought the same heightened level of engagement to both activities. It may have been delightfully silly to hear my father squawk his way through those pop songs, but it also signaled to the audience that Leonard Bernstein listened to contemporary pop music — and liked it. That meant a lot in those days, when parents were turning up their noses at Elvis, Motown and the Beatles, and so-called experts would criticize popular music as brainless and even harmful.

But hey: Leonard Bernstein thought the Beatles were great!

ALL of it. And he gave a clear signal to his audiences that it was OK to love all music — and not to put a value judgment on one genre over another. He was the unsnobbiest person you could ever hope to meet.

Reading Bernstein, Researching Bernstein

He loved people and was curious about everything. Those are good traits in a teacher.

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In his own compositions, my father lived by the same creed. He wrote jazzy music for the concert hall and symphonic music for the Broadway stage. And of course, everybody thoroughly benefited from the cross-pollination — with the possible exception of Bernstein himself. In his lifetime, Bernstein's reputation as a composer suffered as a result of his refusal to be or do just one thing.

In the mid- 20th Century, a composer who wished to be taken seriously by the academic musical community absolutely positively had to forfeit tonality in favor of tone music. This content was uploaded by our users and we assume good faith they have the permission to share this book. If you own the copyright to this book and it is wrongfully on our website, we offer a simple DMCA procedure to remove your content from our site. Start by pressing the button below!

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Reading Bernstein, Researching Bernstein Reading Bernstein, Researching Bernstein
Reading Bernstein, Researching Bernstein Reading Bernstein, Researching Bernstein
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