recess radio program

Leonard Bernstein
    by John Cech


In 1958, the American composer and conductor, the late Leonard Bernstein, whose birthday it is today, gave the first two in a series of popular televised performances for young people about the nature of music. In many ways, these were revolutionary lectures, since they opened up the world of classical music for a mass audience, making it available to the millions of children who would otherwise never be able to attend a concert in Carnegie Hall. Bernstein tried to make the music that parents and grandparents listened to on the radio with hushed reverence exciting for youngsters, knowing that unless he got them interested in traditional music forms, they'd be heading for the land of Rock 'n' Roll which was beginning to appear on the horizon.

Bernstein was young, charismatic, articulate, telegenic, and a gifted teacher. he began at the beginning, with the meaning of music and with the simple fact that music, in and of itself, had a different meaning than that of words. Here he is explaining that part of that idea with the New York Philharmonic providing the examples:

Brief sound clip

Bernstein never condescended or dumbed his concerts down to his young audiences. He assumed that children would get the point; that they were capable of sustained, concentrated thinking and sophisticated responses. That they could and would sit still and listen -- to great music and compelling ideas -- as you'll see if you and your children sample the six of these programs that are currently available on video tape. The black and white videos are a little grainy, and the sound is a bit fuzzy, but whether he is defining classical music or the sonata form, leading his listeners through the sounds of the orchestra or explaining the nature of melody, Bernstein's presentations set a high note for quality that still rings true today. One only wishes there could be some encores.

Copyright 2004 John Cech

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."