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October 14, 2010

A tribute to Leonard Bernstein from his son

For the 20th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s death, his son wrote this tribute to his father for dot429, which offered me the text to reprint here:

By Alexander Bernstein

It seems impossible that twenty years have passed since my father 
(Leonard Bernstein) died. Or perhaps, I should write, I haven’t seen
 my father for twenty years! Sometimes I feel as though he is on tour 
again and will be back at any time now…

My father traveled a great deal. When he was home, though, he was 
really home. As a composer, he didn’t have an office to go to like 
the other dads. He would stay up very late working and then wake up 
very late. He would always be there when we came home from school, 
ready to play (or at least not minding if we played quietly in his
 studio while he worked). In the summertime we had him all day long for 
swimming, tennis, sailing, or just eating six ears of corn apiece.
 Sometimes he would play something for us as soon as he finished
 writing it and would ask our opinions. Undoubtedly, it was always 
“terrific” because he had such faith in his work and played with such
 joy and energy.

When he was conducting (which was most of the time), he would be home
 studying the scores or out at rehearsals. Occasionally he would take 
us kids along to the rehearsals. We would spend all day at the making 
of his televised “Young People’s Concerts,” running around Carnegie 
Hall or the Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) as if we owned 
the place. It was sort of like “Eloise at the Plaza.”

Evenings were often festive times with relatives and friends from the 
New York arts world. I remember much laughter, noise and

a lot of word 
games. My mother was a wonderful hostess, making everyone feel 
comfortable. She would always add her own sense of fun and silliness
 to the occasion. 

Once in a while we got to travel with our father, and it was such a
 treat! Everything was first class with lots of attention. We would
 see all the sights, meet all the mucky-mucks, and stay up late
 ordering room service. Heaven.

We learned the music as we sat (and ran around) during rehearsals. We 
never really knew that we were getting an education in “Classical”
 music, but my father was a great teacher. Whether it be music, poetry, 
philosophy, or politics, my father’s greatest passion was to share and 
to communicate. My sister has said that his real ambition was to 
connect, in one way or another, with every person on the planet. For 
having lived only 72 years, he didn’t do a bad job of it. My father loved
 people and made love with multitudes. He never stopped learning. His 
appetite for knowledge and life was insatiable. Not only did he read
 constantly, but he would stay up all night with a group of students 
talking about music, love, and religion. He would drink them under the
 table and still be ready to rehearse at 10 a.m. 

I was a very bad music student. I rarely practiced piano and dreaded 
my lessons (given by a series of game, but ultimately frustrated 
teachers). I did listen to the music. I listened to my father talk
 about art, humanity, social justice and education. Eventually, not 
long before his death, I was a teacher with a Master’s Degree. My 
father was increasingly interested in education. We talked a lot about
 what exactly it was that made an engaged, life-long learner. The more 
and more we talked, it became clear that art and its processes could 
be the great connectors between disciplines. Learning itself is a 
creative act. Only by truly making knowledge one’s own can one deeply
 understand it and connect it with other knowledge. 

After his death, our family started The Leonard Bernstein Center for
 Learning. We developed The Artful Learning Model (tm), now being 
implemented in schools all over the country
. Teachers and students 
come to see themselves as creators as well as scholars. Not at all
 to diminish his composing and conducting, but it is Leonard
 Bernstein’s legacy as an educator that I hope will have the most

I guess he’s staying on tour after all – he is still communicating!


Posted by Tim Smith at 2:59 PM | | Comments (3)


How touching,I had no idea it was 20 years-I saw the new Chicago production of Candide this afternoon [it was fabulous!] what a perfect day to remember an amazing man!

Thanks for writing. I'd love to see 'Candide' again. It has been a long while for me. TIM

Thank you for this wonderful post. It is quite timely that I happened on your blog today. Last night as I was returning from a walk I was listening to Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, second movement, adagio assai. And when I reached home I discovered a wonderful clip on youtube of Bernstein playing AND conducting it. So exquisitely heartbreaking.

I'm glad you liked that Bernstien/Ravel performance as much as I do. Thanks for commenting. TIM

Recently I've been swept in a tide of 'Bernstein music' which can only be described as 'immortal.' Reading Alex's comments on his dad reiterates the immortality of such a genius. Leonard B. would be touching all parts of what normal people would recognise as the dangerous untouchable spectrum of the world in order to trigger an inner flow of creativity which would derive from all and every point of contact Leonard would have made. Yet,he tried to maintain a normal father figurhead for his children who must have adored their dad. This great teacher musician and friend still stretches his hand and he still touches hearts. His music cannot ever be ever denied, and his total fusion with this world is indeed one great inspiration to us all.
If Alex sees this, can he email me Nigel H Seymour

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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