Music: 10 Bernstein on What Makes American Music American

Adventures in Music

Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein was an accomplished composer and conductor, but if you want my opinion, he really stood out as being one of the world’s greatest educators. He began a series of televised educational concerts in 1958 called “Young People’s Concerts”, and systematically educated America’s youth about great music for the next 15 years. Bernstein didn’t talk down to the kids. Looking at these lectures today as an adult, there’s still plenty for me to learn. It distresses me that there’s nothing even remotely like this available to kids on television today. It’s a crime in fact. Thankfully, the entire series of Young People’s Concerts is available on DVD.

Aaron Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man, Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts

In this clip, Bernstein sums up how America’s melting pot of cultures distilled many different kinds of music into quintessentially “American” music. Too often we try to ignore cultural differences and pretend they don’t exist. Pointing out the things that are particular to a group of people is seen as “impolite”. I prefer to celebrate all of the ethnic cultures around me here in Hollywood- Hispanic, Asian, Black, Middle Eastern- even the plain old white bread people I grew up around are unique in their own way. As a cartoonist, the differences between all of us are much more interesting than the similarities. Viva la difference!

Stephen Worth
Animation Resources

Adventures in MusicAdventures in Music

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit entitled Adventures in Music.

2 Responses to “Music: 10 Bernstein on What Makes American Music American”

  1. Eric Noble says:

    The key word you use is “celebrate”. The problem is that people point out differences in different groups of people with a sense of scorn. People are trying to combat that. Unfortunately, they’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Let us rejoice in our differences, but still remember our similarities as human beings. The basic structure of all civilizations is the same, but we must marvel at how different the outcomes and outgrowths have been.

  2. Nate Whilk says:

    Before the Young People’s Concerts, Bernstein did some shows explaining classical music on Omnibus, the Sunday A.M. program then hosted by Alistair Cooke. One December they needed an idea and Cooke proposed the obvious one–a show on Handel’s “Messiah”. Bernstein said, “You know something? I don’t know it.” !!! But Bernstein took it up and pronounced it “a sublime work”.

    Cooke recounted this in December 2001 in one of his “Letters from America”. A book of them is in Google Books, but only snippets of this letter are present–fortunately, the ones relating this.

    Transcripts of 7 of Bernstein’s Omnibus shows are in the book, “The Joy of Music”.

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