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Pauline Lerner

Young People's Concerts. Adults Welcome

September 16, 2007 at 5:05 AM

Something special happened to me when I was 9 years old. It continued for several years, and its influence has lasted all my life. It was the first in a series of TV shows called Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. I looked forward to each show with great excitement, and I was thrilled each time I saw one. Some of these TV shows were released a few years ago as a special collector’s edition 9-DVD set. It costs way too much for me to buy, and my local library doesn’t carry it, so I thought I’d never get to see it. One day a few weeks ago, a friend told me that her husband had bought the DVD set. I got really excited and asked to borrow one or two DVDs. My friends were about to go on vacation, and they left me the whole set while they’re gone. My reaction was just like the one I experienced as a kid many years ago. I look forward to each show and feel thrilled each time I see one.

I knew that Leonard Bernstein was a gifted conductor and composer, and now I know that he was a gifted teacher. Even though he glanced at his notes occasionally, he spoke with his eyes on the audience most of the time. He spoke with the confidence of an expert and the passion of an artist. He never spoke down to his audience, most of whom were children, although he was careful to explain big words and sophisticated concepts. From time to time, the camera showed the audience, and the children were focused and rapt on Bernstein and the musicians. The kids appeared to hang on his every word, and Bernstein educated them well. I wonder how today’s kids would react to the videos. They are black and white with no cute, animated figures or high tech antics. The power of Bernstein’s insights and the playing of the orchestra are what it’s all about.

Seeing and hearing Bernstein conduct the New York Philharmonic was worth the price of the DVD set. Their music was simply fantastic. Seeing the videos as an adult with experience playing in community orchestras was very interesting. Bernstein appeared to become the music. His facial expressions and hand and body movements communicated the spirit of the music, as he felt it, very well. It would be very easy to follow him as a member of the orchestra.

The titles of Bernstein’s one hour shows show the range and sophistication of the topics he covered. A few of them are “What Makes Music Symphonic?”, “What Is Classical Music?”, “What Is a Concerto?”, “Who Is Gustav Mahler?”, “Folk Music in the Concert Hall”, “Happy Birthday Igor Stravinski,” “Musical Atoms: A Study of Intervals,” “Jazz in the Concert Hall,” and “What Is Sonata Form?”. Bernstein explains each topic by breaking it down into sections, discussing one idea and then illustrating it with live music. Sometimes Bernstein plays the piano and/or sings, but the NY Philharmonic plays the longer selections, sometimes with a vocalist. Bernstein’s breakdown of a complex subject to make it comprehensible and fun is illustrated by “What is Sonata Form?”:

A Hard Subject
What is a Sonata
Mozart – Symphony 41
What Makes Music Satisfying
Traditional – Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
Lennon and McCartney – And I Love Her
Bizet - Carmen: Micaela’s Aria
The Sonata Form
Tonality and Exposition
Lennon and McCartney – And I Love Her
Mozart – Sonata in C Major
Mozart – Sonata in C Major
Mozart – Sonata in C Major
Prokofiev – Classical Symphony
Prokofiev – Classical Symphony
Mozart - Jupiter Symphony
Mozart – Symphony No. 41

The “What Is Sonata Form?” is just one hour long. The DVD set has nine DVDs with three one-hour shows on each disc. There is a wealth of information and enjoyment here. Leonard Bernstein is a very gifted teacher, and I’m hooked on the series. I heartily recommend this set of DVDs – especially if you can get them on loan from a friend.

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