Editor’s Note: On the 20th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s passing, his son writes a tribute to his father for dot429.
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 ™, 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”¨ impact.”¨
I guess he’s staying on tour after all – he is still communicating!