Happy 100th birthday Leonard Bernstein!


Long-time Jenny Clarinet readers know that Leonard Bernstein is my musical role model and one of my greatest sources of inspiration (even before it became in vogue to share the Lenny love for his 100th birthday). Fun fact: In 2010, I contacted the Norton A History of Western Music textbook because they had listed his birth year as 1916 instead of 1918. They fixed it in their next edition!

A musical multi-hyphenate, Bernstein used art to spread joy, share knowledge, and remove barriers during his entire career. His tireless enthusiasm for music is refreshing, and I hope that these quotes inspire you as much as they do me!

(Most quotes can be found in Humphrey Burton’s biography of Leonard Bernstein, which I highly recommend to all my readers!)

I have no more energy than anybody else but I will say this – whatever I do is with my whole heart, for the love of it.

I like to do everything once, just to see what it feels like.

Give it all you’ve got then crescendo!

Where did the difference lie? In music: in the exchange of the deepest feelings and revelations of which man is capable – those of art.

I feel completely exhausted and completely happy.

…and life goes on; we dance, play boogie-woogie, walk by the Mediterranean, and we hope for the best.

We ate and drank and dreamed music, always under the aegis of a standard that knew no compromise, that tolerated no mediocrity.

To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.

I saved the best for last! Here is my favorite Bernstein quote from a speech he gave at Tanglewood in 1970:

It’s the artists of the world, the feelers and thinkers, who will ultimately save us, who can articulate, educate, defy, insist, sing and shout the big dreams. Only the artists can turn the “Not-Yet” into reality. All right, how do you do it? Like this: find out what you can do well, uniquely well – that’s what studying is for, to find out what you can do particularly well. You. Unique. Then do it for all you’re worth. And I don’t mean “Do your own thing,” in the hip sense. That’s passivity, that’s dropping out, that’s not doing anything. I’m talking about doing, which means (another old-fashioned phrase) serving your community, whether that community is a tiny town or six continents. And there’s no time to lose, which makes your position twice as difficult, because you’re caught in a paradox. You see, you’ve got to work fast, but not be in a hurry. You’ve got to be patient, but not passive. You’ve got to recognize the hope that exists in you, but not let impatience turn into despair. Does that sound like double-talk? Well, it is, because the paradox exists. We’ll help you as much as we can – that’s why we’re here – but it is you who must produce it, with your new atomic minds, your flaming, angry hope, and your secret weapon of art.


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