Bernstein Legacy Persists in Music-Education Video

By Karen Campbell, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 25, 1993 | Go to article overview

Bernstein Legacy Persists in Music-Education Video


Karen Campbell, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


LENNY would have loved all the hoopla. Beginning Aug. 25, which would have been Leonard Bernstein's 75th birthday, one of the 20th century's most beloved musicians is being posthumously feted with concerts and celebrations around the world. In fact, this mammoth birthday party has been going on for most of the summer and continues on into the fall, with a spate of festivals; recording, video, and publication releases; a couple of street renamings; and a stamp (in Grenada). Though Bernstein died more than 2-1/2 years ago, the unprecedented media blitz is perhaps greater now than had he still been alive.

One of the most exciting, and potentially influential, events to come out of this flurry of activity is the release on VHS cassette of 25 of Bernstein's landmark Young People's Concerts with the New York Philharmonic. From 1958 to 1972, CBS broadcast 53 one-hour programs covering such topics as "What is Orchestral Music?" and "Who is Gustav Mahler?" These programs were the most appealing and informative music lessons ever presented to the American public, and they cast Bernstein as one of the most charismatic and knowledgeable musical evangelists of all time.

Rather than sanctifying "great music" in the Young People's Concerts, Bernstein took it apart, analyzing its basic building blocks, illuminating its intricacies. He did so with deftness and a persistent reference to popular culture, championing contemporary and American music within his diverse and eclectic curriculum.

In "What is Classical Music?" there was the marvelous delight of hearing Bernstein play and sing "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" in imitation of Louis Armstrong to illustrate the flexibility of jazz and popular stylings in contrast to the exactness of classical music. In other programs he enthusiastically sang Elvis Presley and The Beatles, using "And I Love Her" to illustrate sonata form.

He was unpatronizing, assuming a degree of sophistication on the part of his young audiences and disarming them with his confidence in their knowledge. "You've all heard the prelude to {Wagner's} great opera 'Tristan and Isolde,' I'm sure," he would remark casually, immediately drawing them into his circle.

Bernstein chose the topics and scripted the programs himself. During the show's first 10 years, it garnered five Emmy awards. At the peak of its popularity, the show was carried in nine European countries as well as in Argentina, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

The programs, which were produced and directed by Roger Englander, were recorded live at Carnegie or Avery Fisher Halls with no post-production editing (except minimal editing when the format switched from kinescope to videotape). By today's high-tech standards, they are rough.

The sound quality is flattened, cameras often shift focus or angles abruptly. The written script and music are accompanied by every grunt, groan, and hum picked up by Bernstein's microphone. …

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