Leonard Bernstein


Leonard Bernstein was born in Lawrenceville, Massachusettes on
August 25, 1918. He was the first born child of Samuel and Jennie Bernstein,
who lived in Boston, but had gone to Lawrenceville to visit some relatives.
Bernstein\'s parents had little knowledge of, or interest in
classical music. The only records Leonard remembers hearing on his family
phonograph when he was a child were the popular hit songs of the day, such as “
Barney Google” and “Oh by Jingo.”
For the most part, Leonard Bernstein was an unhappy child. He said, “
I was a miserable, terrified little child” (Musicians p.64). His family moved
from town to town, during Bernstein\'s school days, not giving him a chance to
make close friends or feel at home. Sadly, Bernstein\'s peers would make fun of
and tease Bernstein. He was a very sickly child as he suffered from chronic
asthma, rose fever, and hay fever. This pathetic child grew to be a very shy
person.
Leonard always had a heart for music, even as a young boy. As
an eight year old, one morning, when he was sitting in the synagogue, the
religious music of the choir and organ overwhelmed him by it\'s beauty and caused
him to burst into tears. When Leonard and his family would visit their friends,
Leonard would sneak over to the piano and experiment. When he was eleven, his
aunt sent her piano to his house for his family to keep for storage. “I made
love to it right away” he recalled (Musicians p. 65). He could escape from all
his frustrations and sadness by playing the piano. His parents didn\'t like the
fact that he was always at the piano, they wanted him to concentrate on his
school work. They thought of piano playing as a waste of time because it stood
in the way of Leonard\'s learning his father\'s business, which they planned for
him to eventually take over.
At the age of ten, Leonard found a piano teacher who would give
him lessons for a dollar a lesson. But that teacher soon moved away and Leonard
found himself paying another piano teacher three dollars a lesson out of his
allowance. After more than a year of piano lessons that just weren\'t teaching
him much, Leonard found a new, and this time excellent piano teacher named Helen
Coates. She was sensitive to Leonard\'s shyness and knew what it took to teach
him. She had him study symphonies and operas from the printed page and
encouraged him to compose. She also encouraged him to go to concerts. After
watching Stravinsky\'s The Rite of Spring and Prokofiev\'s Classical Symphony, he
became aware not only of symphonic music, but specifically of twentieth century
music. Until then, he never realized that music had a future. He had always
thought of it as something that had already been written. Bernsteins desire for
music became greater and greater. He began attending the public concerts of the
Boston Symphony.

\'He was frighteningly gifted,\' Miss Coates recalled in later years. ‘He could
read, sing and memorize anything. He absorbed in one lesson an arrangement that
took most of my pupils five or six lessons to learn.\'1

As an eleven year old, he entered The Boston Latin School and
graduated with honors in 1935. He was an outstanding student- in the top ten
percent of his class, but didn\'t seem to exist without music. It was, by now, a
part of him.
Soon, after he turned thirteen, he and his dad went on a cruise
through the Panama Canal. He entertained everyone on the cruise with his piano
playing. Everyone loved him so much that the ship\'s director offered him a
permanent job with the ships staff.
Music really changed Leonard\'s shy personality for the better,
along with his poor health.
From Boston Latin School Bernstein went on to Harvard College.
He wrote for and performed in college productions, played the piano for the glee
club and provided the background music for silent motion pictures.
In 1939 Bernstein graduated from Harvard with the degree of
Bachelor of Arts and a cum laude in music. By this time Dimitri Mitropoulos,
the director, had become interested in him. He encouraged Bernstein to join him
at the Boston Symphony\'s rehearsals. He also encouraged him to consider
becoming a conductor. Bernstein felt he must get away from his fathers
persistent nagging to join his business, so he left home and found a place for
himself in music in New York City.
Bernstein attended the Curtis Institute for two years, where his
main interest was in conducting. For the summers of 1940 and 1941