“What does music mean?”
That was the premise of the very first Leonard Bernstein “Young People’s Concert” televised live on CBS-TV, January 18th, 1958 – exactly one week after my second birthday.
For all I know, my parents sat with all five of us little kids in front of the TV that night. Both my parents were fans of classical music and always encouraged arts appreciation.
In all, Leonard Bernstein, arguably the greatest American music man…conductor-composer-teacher-pianist, hosted a total of 53 Young People’s Concerts on live TV between 1958 and 1972, first from Carnegie Hall and later (from 1962 on), from the Philharmonic Hall in the glistening new Lincoln Center. These performances inspired generations of music lovers and musicians the world over, and continue to do so now that the entire series is available on DVD.
So…what does music mean? Well, as the Maestro would say, music can mean different things to different people. Music can make one feel uplifted and inspired or even sad and melancholy. Different people can feel different emotions from the same piece of music. And just because someone may feel differently about a piece of music than you do, that does not make what the other person is feeling wrong. The power of music is subjective and every individual listener is entitled to his or her own perspective about the music.
As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein, it is difficult to underestimate the impact that Bernstein had in the world of music in his 50-year career. Whether he was composing concert music, chamber music, ballet, opera, or Broadway musicals; conducting the New York Philharmonic or the Vienna Philharmonic or other orchestras around the world; or teaching and lecturing, Leonard Bernstein’s over-sized personality and passion for people and music is an example that comes along only once in anybody’s lifetime. And as great as his talent was, it was able to shine bright despite the challenges of his own common human frailties and insecurities. He smoked one hundred cigarettes a day and drank his first scotch of the day during breakfast, whether that be in the morning or afternoon. He was a terribly flawed human being who also happened to be a musical and intellectual genius beloved by millions around the world. But, it was about eight years before he died that Bernstein lamented to his assistant one lonely night, “People love me for what I do, not for what I am.” Perhaps the Maestro was asking himself, “What does life mean?”