WDAV Blog

Leonard Bernstein’s Musical Development

By Noah Batke

There are quite a few anecdotes that have arisen regarding how the great Leonard Bernstein first found his interest in music. One such story puts him as old as age 10, striking a chord on his Aunt Clara’s piano and experiencing a musical revelation. Another speculates that as a baby, he continually banged on the door to a room where a piano was being played, crying “Moynik, moynik,” or in English “Music, music!”

In reality, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where Bernstein’s prodigious talent came from, or when exactly he became interested in music itself. We do know that Leonard’s family and ethnicity at large is superbly musical. Bernstein’s mother claimed to always be thinking of a song, and his father was known to sing and dance passionately to the Hasidic music of his native Ukraine. In fact, it is very likely that much of Leonard’s early musical exposure was in the temple, listening to choral arrangements of Hasidic melodies, clearly influenced by the music of Arabia, Spain, and Southern Europe. Another source of early musical exposure for Bernstein was popular music, either from the radio or his father’s Victrola. In fact, when Aunt Clara finally gifted the Bernstein family her famous piano, the first song Leonard attempted to learn was “Goodnight Sweetheart”, which he heard on the radio.

From this strong musical foundation, Bernstein began taking formal lessons, all the while pursuing his own projects such as a jazz band and a comedic staging of Carmen. With the help of Helen Coates, Bernstein’s teacher and lifelong secretary, he was afforded many opportunities for public performance, honing the musical skills that would become crucial later on to both his composition and his conducting.

It is important to note, however, that Leonard Bernstein was not a musical prodigy in the classic sense. His musical training did not begin until well into his childhood, and his desired profession was actively discouraged by his father until he broke into the mainstream. Bernstein actually had to teach lessons and play in a jazz band in order to raise enough money to pay for his own lessons. It was this self-reliance and perseverance that likely impacted his musical development more than any single event or genre influence.

Noah Batke is a senior music and psychology double major at Davidson College from Bowling Green, Ohio. He’s also involved with WALT Student Radio, Davidson Outdoors, and Religious Life.

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.

Please consider also joining us for a production of Bernstein’s Mass at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts on Sunday, September 30th at 3 p.m. at the Stevens Center in Winston-Salem. A private reception for WDAV listeners will follow the performance. For more information, visit our webpage here.

From Bar-Mitzvah to Broadway: Leonard Bernstein And Judaism

By Isaac Mervis

A history of prejudice and persecution against the Jewish people, dating back to the 6th century BCE, scattered them throughout Europe and northern Africa. However, at the turn of the 20th century, the Russian empire held almost half of the world’s Jews, sequestered into an isolated area known as the Pale of Settlement.

PALE-OF-PERMANENT-JEWISH-SETTLEMENT-for-web

 

Throughout the second half of the Russian Empire, violent destruction and murders known as pogroms targeted this area and slaughtered thousands of innocent Jews. This string of violence forced the Jews to flee once again, with the majority traveling to the United States. Waves of Jewish refugees arrived at Ellis Island, as many as 50,000 each year, with nothing but the hope of a new beginning. These refugees settled in the commercial, industrial, and cultural centers of the United States, namely New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore.

 

Russian-Jewish section of Philadelphia

Scene in the Russian-Jewish section of Philadelphia, 1890. Courtesy American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio/Library of Congress.

 

While these destinations were havens for the Jewish people, the massive influx gave way to a wave of prejudice and persecution, resulting in violence and immigration quotas in 1925.

1921 political cartoon portrays America’s new immigration quotas with large funnel crossing the ocean to the U.S.A.

A 1921 political cartoon portrays America’s new immigration quotas, influenced by popular anti-immigrant and nativist sentiment stemming from World War I conflict. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

 

This was the world that produced Leonard Bernstein’s parents and molded Leonard’s childhood. From an early age, he was told by society that his identity was a “problem.” Throughout the duration of his life, his work and activism are evidence of his affirmation of his identity and a celebration of what it means to be a Jewish immigrant in the United States.

Leonard Bernstein playing piano on stage with orchestra in front of large audience.

Bernstein playing Beethoven’s 1st Piano Concerto with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at a concert for the armed forces during the Israeli War of Independence. Beersheba, November 1948. Photographer unidentified. (Music Division)

Isaac Mervis is a senior music and education double major at Davidson College from Indianapolis, IN.

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.

Please consider also joining us for a production of Bernstein’s Mass at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts on Sunday, September 30th at 3 p.m. at the Stevens Center in Winston-Salem. A private reception for WDAV listeners will follow the performance. For more information, visit our webpage here.

Remembering Leonard Bernstein: Exploring Bernstein’s Family

By Casey Margerum

Leonard Bernstein is the son of immigrants Samuel Bernstein and Jennie Resnick, both of whom came to the United States to escape anti-Semitism and a life of hardship in the Jewish ghettos of the Ukraine. Though their villages were only about a day’s walk from each other, Sam and Jennie didn’t meet until they were both living in the US.

Jennie was born Charna Resnick in 1898. Her parents, Simcha and Perel Resnick, were devout Jews and lovers of music. Simcha came to America ahead of the rest of his family. After arriving in the States, Jennie, though intelligent and imaginative, had to give up her dreams of teaching to work in a textile mill and help provide for her family.

Sam, who was born Shmuel Yosef Bernstein in 1892, came to America at only 16 years old and against his family’s wishes. His uncle Harry, already living in the US, helped him find a job, first at a fish market and then at Harry’s own barber shop. From there, Sam got a job at Frankel & Smith, and he would later start his own business. He was a fervent believer in the American Dream and rose to a position of wealth by monopolizing the sale of the extremely popular permanent wave machine in New England. He was also an extremely religious man and a Talmud scholar.

Sam and Jennie were married in 1917, and they had their first child (Leonard) the next year. Two siblings, Shirley Anne and Burton, followed in 1923 and 1932, respectively. Unfortunately, Sam and Jennie were not well-matched, and Sam disliked Jennie’s family. Leonard also had a turbulent relationship with his father, who, remembering of the impoverished klezmer musicians in the Ukraine, did not want his son to become a musician.

Casey Margerum is a senior English and music double major at Davidson College. She sings with the Davidson College Chorale and Collegium Musicum, and she intends to pursue graduate studies in vocal performance next year. 

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. Be sure to check WDAV: Of Note for additional blog posts highlighting a different aspect of Leonard Bernstein’s experience.

Please consider also joining us for a production of Bernstein’s Mass at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts on Sunday, September 30th at 3pm at the Stevens Center in Winston-Salem. A private reception for WDAV listeners will follow the performance. For more information, visit our webpage here.

Clarinetist Gene Kavadlo Retires after 50 year career

After 43 years as the principal clarinetist with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Gene Kavadlo is retiring. He began his career as a music educator in the Manhasset Public Schools on Long Island before taking a gamble to become a symphony musician. In addition to his symphony activities, Kavadlo is an active recitalist and educator on Klezmer music. He reflects on his musical journey, living in Charlotte and what comes next as he turns the page on an incredible career.

 

 

Q & A with WDAV’s Summer Interns

WDAV is dedicated to providing opportunities for young people to learn about the work we do here at the station, and allow students to gain experience and work collaboratively with our professional staff.

Each year, WDAV employs several Davidson College students throughout the school year in a variety of roles. They work on our website, offer creative ideas for social media, take donations during our fundraising campaigns, write innovative blog posts, and help us produce events.

During the summer, we hire two interns to work with us for ten weeks. These students get the chance to work with many departments and contribute meaningfully to WDAV during their tenure. Learn more about our two great interns for the summer below!

 

Grace MatthewsMeet Grace Matthews

I love music, books, history, and cooking. A fun fact is that I share a birthday with Leonard Bernstein.

 

When did you first get into classical music? / What’s your music background?
When I was young, my parents used to turn on classical music while I played, so I grew up with an affinity for the genre. When I was in elementary school, my father drove me to the bus stop each morning. We normally listened to the news or music on the radio, but one day, he turned on a CD of Puccini hits and told me that he thought I would like it. That was my first taste of opera – Luciano Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma” in a recording I have only heard once off that CD. The music drew out such strong emotion, and does to this day. My father took me to my first opera a few years later when I was eight – a screening of Maria Stuarda from La Scala. Someday I’d love to become an opera singer.

What sort of things do you do at WDAV?
All sorts of things! Each week I work on WDAV’s weekly eNews; update the Biscuits and Bach, Minute with Miles, and Concierto pages on the website; and do various administrative tasks like answering the phone, filing, and mailing membership benefits. I really enjoy working here.

 

Why did you want to work at the station?
The simplest answer is that I love WDAV. I think that it is an amazing service- 24 hour a day classical music for everyone with access to a radio or computer. In a world that is often very complicated, that is not. I wanted to learn more about how the station works, and to do whatever I could to help out.

What’s your favorite piece of music?
My favorite composers are Mozart, Donizetti, Rossini, and Handel, but recently I’ve been listening to a good bit of Bach and Jake Heggie. Some of my favorite pieces are Handel’s “Hallelujah, Amen,” Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus,” and the finale of Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony. My all-time favorite opera aria is “Tanti Affetti in tal Momento” from Rossini’s La Donna del Lago sung by Joyce Didonato. It is a wonderful piece for all occasions- as a confidence bolster before exams, as a way to celebrate, and everything in between.
 

What’s next? What’ll you be up to in the fall?
I’ll be attending Princeton University in the fall with an eye towards studying vocal performance and European history. Ultimately, I’d love to become a singer, professor of European history, or perhaps a curator. At this point I’m keeping my options relatively open.

 

 

Noah ClineMeet Noah Cline

I’m a recent college grad who grew up in Vale, NC. I went to UNC Greensboro where I studied music performance (flute) and communication studies. When I’m not at the station or practicing my instrument, I’m probably drinking coffee or heading to an amusement park for the day.

When did you first get into classical music? / What’s your music background?
I started piano lessons in fourth grade (inspired by Arthur, the cartoon aardvark on TV) but mostly played for fun. I picked up the flute in middle school band class, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

What sort of things do you do at WDAV?
A little bit of everything! From updating the website, taking listener phone calls, and hosting the Sunday church broadcasts, I’m getting an idea of what it takes to keep the station running from all angles.

Why did you want to work at the station?
Classical radio seemed like the perfect place to put both of my degrees to use. I grew up listening to WDAV, so when I saw an open internship, I applied right away.

What’s your favorite piece of music?
Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is one of my favorites – it has a prominent flute solo, so I’m biased.

What’s next? What’ll you be up to in the fall?
In the fall I’ll be starting a Master’s degree in flute performance at Northwestern University. Chicago is one of my favorite cities, so I’m looking forward to making the move and building a life there!

Weekend Host Tom Burge says “Adieu”

After eight years of hosting Sunday evenings at WDAV, Thomas “Tom” Burge will host his final show on June 24, 2018.

Upon reflecting on his time working with the station, Burge shared the following message:

Thomas "Tom" Burge

Tom Burge

Sunday, June 24 is my final show. I can’t believe it. WDAV took a chance eight years ago, and we’ve been going strong since then, and loving it. But unlike Leonard Bernstein who seemed to fit many professional lives into one, the time has come for me to hang up the mic and focus on my performance and teaching career.

Thank you so much for the opportunity, for the fun, for the good friends I have made at WDAV and in the community, and through this true wonder of classical music.

It’s not really a goodbye, though! Please come and find me at performances! I’ll still be around the cultural circles and sharing music – it’s what I do!

Please keep the love of classical music alive, and support this wonderful station, and all the live music organizations in this region!

And so, as Beethoven said so beautifully in his 25th Piano Sonata,

“Adieu.”

Thomas Burge