By Ken Daegeon Lee
Leonard Bernstein was a large advocate for harmony. He continuously traveled to prominent parts of the world to share his music in joy and peace. His previous visits to Israel are a large example of his dedication to his morals and beliefs. Even in the later years of his life, he continued to share music in moments of historical importance.
In 1985, Bernstein traveled back to Japan to appear in the Hiroshima War Memorial event as part of his Journey of Peace, a series of concerts promoting its title. The Hiroshima city park was packed with 55,000 people commemorating the 40th anniversary of the atomic bomb detonation.
At exactly 8:15am on August 6th, the memorial was started; Bernstein performed his own Kaddish. Locals applauded it for 10 minutes after its conclusion. It was originally dedicated to John F. Kennedy after his assassination and named after a Jewish prayer chanted at every synagogue service, and despite the gap in cultural and historical understanding the Japanese audience was extremely moved.
In his opening speech, Bernstein said, “I hope it does some good to grant us the wisdom that war is obsolete and that we should stop all this nonsense once and for all.”
Furthermore, in 1989, Bernstein spent Christmas in Berlin. He performed in both West and East Berlin until the wall was fully abolished on Christmas Day. The piece he chose was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. In the Ode to Joy, he changed the words from Freude (joy) to Freiheit (freedom) in accordance with the symbolic event.
This choice was extremely well received; “this Christmas Day concert was the highest point in Leonard Bernstein’s public life as a citizen of the world.” Bernstein himself chipped a brick off of the wall that had finally been brought down.
As such, Leonard Bernstein was constantly involved in spreading his message of peace across the world through performing music, positively influencing many individuals, and left a great legacy behind him.
Ken Daegeon Lee is a Psychology and Music double major at Davidson College. He also composes electronic music and plays alto sax in the jazz ensemble.
In 2018, music lovers everywhere are celebrating the centennial of legendary artist Leonard Bernstein. To help give our listeners a deeper dive into Bernstein’s life and musical genius, we have partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Bill Lawing’s seminar on Leonard Bernstein to produce a blog series sharing details about Bernstein’s family, career, friendships and more. This intimate look at Bernstein’s personal life is a part of that series.
Click here for additional blog posts highlighting different aspects of Leonard Bernstein’s experience.