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MUSIC WAS IT: YOUNG LEONARD BERNSTEIN

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 13 years, 1 month ago

31 May 2011 MUSIC WAS IT: YOUNG LEONARD BERNSTEIN by Susan Goldman Rubin, Charlesbridge, February 2011, 178p., ISBN: 978-1-58089-344-2

 

 

"When you're a Jet you're a Jet all the way

From your first cigarette to your last dying day."

-- from "West Side Story" 

 

After reading the first few chapters of MUSIC WAS IT: YOUNG LEONARD BERNSTEIN, I was dying to see Leonard Bernstein in action. 

  

I watched some great scenes on YouTube from Bernstein's Young People's Concert at Carnegie Hall in 1964, when he was 46.  Then, I found a bunch of amazing video segments from the 1984 documentary "Leonard Bernstein Conducts 'West Side Story.'" 

 

This guy had such an infectious enthusiasm for music, so obviously loved what he was doing and, unquestionably, had such a wonderful influence on young people -- for generations -- that it causes me, once again, to ponder how so many grownups and their elected representatives can be so clueless as to the necessity of supporting arts and culture, in general, and, specifically, the necessity for including music in the curriculum. 

 

In MUSIC WAS IT, which follows young Lenny Bernstein's life until he "makes it" at age 25, Susan Goldman Rubin reveals how Bernstein was obsessed with the piano throughout his childhood, adolescence, and college years.  We see how his father Sam, an immigrant from the Ukraine, was repeatedly reluctant to support his oldest child in this endeavor because musicians in the old country were seen as little more than beggars.  Sam, who founded a successful hair products supply company, saw his eldest son's piano playing as a fine diversion but expected Lenny to work in and eventually take over his business. 

 

Instead, we see how Lenny stuck to his passion and dreams, and how he performed and taught piano from a young age in order to earn the money necessary for his own lessons from teachers who could help the budding musical genius.  We see how Lenny strove to be an outstanding student in all subjects, yet was moved by nothing else to the degree that he was moved by music. 

 

Lenny's talent and dedication led him to Harvard and to being mentored by a who's who of famous conductors and composers of the day.  It also helped him slice through the long odds he faced as a young Jew in an often anti-Semitic America. 

 

While some fortuitous circumstances came into play as Bernstein -- with but a morning's notice -- made his improbable and triumphant debut at age 25, conducting the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, the reality is that a young lifetime of dedication and hard work put him in that unlikely place to have the opportunity and to wildly succeed.

 

My life is certainly richer for his having done so.

 

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
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