Happy Birthday Leonard Bernstein!

Sometimes it’s as simple as giving away a hand-me-down piano that inspires a child to live a lifelong dream of music. That’s what happened to Leonard Bernstein who is recognized today for celebrating his 105th birthday.

Bernstein is known for his many musicals, symphonies, choral works, musical direction, and others. And for his work, he has won Emmy Awards, Tony Awards, Grammy Awards and a Kennedy Center Honor. He was also nominated for an Oscar for his composition of “On the Waterfront“.

But let’s return to Bernstein as a child. He was ten years-old when he saw his first piano. And, this was after being exposed to music on the radio and at temple, thanks to his parents. Granted, while Bernstein’s parents did expose him to music, they didn’t initially support his interest. When Bernstein proved himself as a piano player by saving up for lessons and learning to play Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies by the age of 13, his father bought him a pricey Bar Mitzfah present a 5-foot Baby Grand piano.

Bernstein is mostly self taught in both piano and music theory; though he was privileged to study under Heinrich Gebhard’s assistant Helen Coates from the age of 14 to the age of 17 and under Heinrich Gebhard from age 17 through adulthood. From these experiences, Bernstein attended Harvard and majored in music and later, the Curtis Institute of Music, while at the same time creating his musical masterpieces.

Talk about having a favorite teacher! Yes, I do remember all of my music teachers quite fondly, but Bernstein did more than just remember his teachers. Helen Coates developed within Bernstein a strong sense of self and the music discipline that he would carry through the rest of his life. Coates became the expert organizer of Bernstein’s music in later years, and Bernstein wrote music for her: “Four Anniversaries”.

You can learn much more about Leonard Bernstein on his Wikipedia page that was very well-researched. But as to his k12 music education, I’ll leave you with this:

Never forget those who embraced your love of music, and if possible honor them in a musical way.

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