Teaching Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein

In addition to composing and conducting, Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was one of the greatest music educators of all time. Starting in the late 1950’s, Bernstein educated and inspired a national television audience with his New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts. Later, in 1976 came The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at HarvardHis message was consistent: classical music isn’t stuffy or hard to understand. It’s fun and it’s something everyone can enjoy.

In Teachers and Teaching, Bernstein talks about his own education from Serge Koussevitzky, Dimitri Mitropoulos and Fritz Reiner to Aaron Copland. The documentary, made in the final years of Bernstein’s life, is filled with interesting and thought-provoking anecdotes. Bernstein discusses the contrast between the warmth of Koussevitzky’s approach to conducting and the more cerebral Reiner. As a student, he was able to combine the best of both worlds.

For Bernstein, teaching and learning were closely linked:


[quote]Music…can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.[/quote]

-Leonard Bernstein

2 thoughts on “Teaching Bernstein”

  1. When I was in junior high school (now a middle school), The Boston Symphony Orchestra offered a series of youth concerts on Friday afternoons. At the time my primary interest may have been early release from school and the camaraderie, However, the experience fostered a life long appreciation of the BSO as well as all the performing arts. Unfortunately, very few students took advantage of the opportunity. We were considered the nerds.

    Additionally, Arthur Fiedler was the longtime illustrious conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, a symphony orchestra specializing in popular and light classical music. During the summer he offered free outdoor concerts on the beautiful Boston Esplanade, a tradition that continues today.

    • I never had the chance to see Bernstein “in person”, but thanks to PBS I’ve been able to enjoy him. He seemed to have a wonderful joy of music.

      I grew up in a working-class family in N.E. Ohio. When I was in junior high school I joined the RCA record club and started ordering performances by the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler. Looking back it seems really strange that I would do that, since my family never listened to classical music, but it was a great introduction. Can’t hear The Ride of the Valkyries without thinking of the BPO.


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