CLICK BELOW to hear our assembly song of the week.
Featured Musician of the Week:
U.S.A1918 - 1990
Featured Music of the Week:
Listening Example: "America"
Our musician this week is Leonard Bernstein, a 20th-century American music-culture hero. He was a brilliant pianist and orchestra conductor, and a leading composer of classical music. Bernstein accomplished the difficult feat of combining the genre of “serious” music with popular music.
Bernstein wrote a famous American musical called West Side Story. It is set in the 1950’s in New York City. West Side Story marked an important turning point in musical theater. Previous musicals were lighthearted comedies with mostly romantic themes. Bernstein’s musical contained a dark, serious theme, longer dance scenes, and a focus on social problems. This week we will be studying some of the songs and dance numbers from this musical.
The storyline is similar to Gnomeo andJuliet. The musical was inspired by William Shakespeare’s play called Romeo and Juliet and deals with youthful love and a conflict between gang rivalry. The rivalry is between two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. The members of the Sharks are from Puerto Rico, and they are taunted by the Jets, a white gang.
The young couple who meet and fall in love are Tony, a former leader of the Jets, and Maria, who is engaged to a member of the Sharks. Tony and Maria’s families don’t want them to have anything to do with each other because of their cultural differences.
LISTEN FOR . . . Our listening example today is a song and dance number called “America”. In it, the Puerto Rican ladies are telling the guys all the reasons they like living in America. However, the irony of this supposedly pro-American number is its vibrant, Hispanic music style, with Latin percussion, complex cross-rhythm and Spanish guitar. The song employs a mixed meter, with one measure of 6/8 time followed by a measure of ¾ time. This gives an usual feel to the rhythm. Bernstein’s works are often characterized by syncopated rhythms, irregular, changing time signatures, and jazz and dance rhythms.
MUSIC LISTENING LINK
Click below to watch today's listening example, "America".
Click below to listen to "Jets" song.
Listening Example: "Maria"
Bernstein conducts the New York City Symphony in 1945.
Leonard Bernstein was one of the most talented and successful musicians in American history. He had an unusual beginning to his career. At the age of 25, he became the assistant-conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. His fame as a conductor began when a guest conductor suddenly became ill and Bernstein had to step in and lead the orchestra on just a few hours notice with no time for rehearsal. The Carnegie Hall concert was broadcasted on nationwide radio and was declared a great success! He conducted the New York Philharmonic for many years as well as some of the world’s leading orchestras.
Bernstein was the first orchestra conductor to give television lectures on classical music, starting in 1954 and continuing until his death in 1990.
Bernstein's TV lecture on Beethoven's 5th Symphony
Bernstein was a highly skilled pianist, and often conducted piano concertos from the piano.
LISTEN FOR . . . Our listening video from West Side Story is the song “Maria”, sung by Tony, a former leader of the Jets who is now trying to improve his life. He meets Maria at a community dance, and it is “love at first sight”. In the song, the word Maria is spoken or sung 27 times! This became a well-known popular song during the 50’s. The song is widely known for its use of an unusual sounding melodic interval called a tritone, which is four whole steps in the scale. It’s like singing from DO to FA, with FA raised a half-step higher. You will hear this in the first two syllables of Maria’s name.
#FA MI RE DO
Maria and Tony see each other for the first time across the dance floor.
MUSIC LISTENING LINK
Click below to watch Tony sing "Maria".
Click below to hear "One Hand, One Heart", where Tony and Maria pledge their love to each other.
Click below to listen to "Somewhere".
Listening Example: "Mambo" Dance at the Gym
Leonard Bernstein - The Conductor
Leonard Bernstein was highly respected as a conductor. A conductor is the person who rehearses the orchestra, helps them interpret the spirit of the music, and provides cues to the players regarding the speed, volume, phrasing, and other aspects of artistic performance.
Studying a music score showing all the instrument and vocal parts.
A conductor does more than just wave the arms with a baton in his or her hand. Specific conducting cues, body language, facial gestures, and emotion must all be communicated to the players in order for the music to reach out to the hearts of the audience and provide them with a listening experience they will remember. By looking at these photos of Bernstein conducting, can you imagine the message or mood he is trying to convey to his orchestra?
Conducting at a benefit performance two years before his death.
Quote: You have to have knowledge, you have to have taste . . . but above all that, the main thing that counts is the natural instinct that comes from the spirit. Leonard Bernstein
Our video today is the “Mambo” dance scene that occurs when the Jets and the Sharks meet at a community dance while trying to suppress their hostility towards each other. Each group displays their own cultural style of dancing.
LISTEN FOR . . . Bernstein does an excellent job of shifting the mood and style of the music from Latin American to American jazz as the two groups of dancers take turns on the dance floor. He injects a high energy level into the music, and the brass players display their virtuoso skills. At the end, the “Mambo” fades into a “Cha-Cha” as Tony and Maria notice each other for the first time and dance together, transfixed.
Click below to watch "Gee Officer Krupke!" Viewer discretion advised!
Listening Example:"Tonight" Ensemble
Leonard Bernstein had a great team of musical-theater artists to work with for West Side Story. The idea for the musical was first conceived in 1949 by the famous dance choreographer Jerome Robbins. The song lyrics were co-written with Bernstein by Stephen Sondheim, another big name in musical-theater.
Jerome Robbins demonstrates a dance move on the set of West Side Story.
Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein work on a song.
The original stage musical was produced in 1957, and the music videos you’ve been seeing this week are from the 1961 film version, with big name stars such as Natalie Wood as Maria, Rita Moreno as Anita, George Chakiris as Bernardo, and Russ Tamblyn as Riff.
Natalie Wood as Maria
Rita Moreno as Anita
George Chakiris as Bernardo
Russ Tamblyn as Riff (in yellow coat)
Our music example is the “Tonight” Ensemble which involves several performers. In the ensemble, many people sing at the same time, but they’re singing different words about different topics. In live stage productions, the audience must shift their attention back and forth across the stage between the singers. The film version is easier to follow because the cameras can record the different scenes.
Live stage production of the "Tonight" ensemble
LISTEN FOR . . . In this scene, Bernstein achieved a new level of creative genius. He projects several different emotions at the same time. Riff, Bernardo and their gangs excitedly plan for an upcoming fight. Anita looks forward to the “kicks”, or fun she will have with Bernardo. Tony and Maria anticipate the joy of being together. Riff, Bernardo and Anita sing quick, short tones in a narrow pitch range, whereas Tony and Maria sing a smooth, soaring melody representing love. The whole scene captures the attention of the audience.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
Click below to watch the 3:19 minute scene. This has the best clarity of sound and picture.
The following scene contains lyrics, but the clarity and picture are not as good as the one above.
Click below to listen to "Cool". Viewer discretion advised!
Listening Example: Young People's Concert Series:
"What Is a Melody?" - Part 1
BERNSTEIN THE EDUCATOR As a composer, Bernstein wrote in many styles including orchestral music, ballet, film and theatre music, choral works, opera, and pieces for the piano. Many of his works are regularly performed around the world, although none has matched the success of West SideStory. As a conductor, Bernstein led many orchestras around the world with great success, and his skill as a pianist equaled that of virtuosos.
Although Bernstein was a man of many accomplishments, he was proudest of his achievements as a teacher. Just two years after he became the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, he began a long-running series of concerts for young people to introduce them to the world of music. He felt a need to talk about music and to try and explain what made it tick, what made it good, and what made it affect us in all the ways that music does.
It was good luck that this happened in the early 1950’s when TV was invented. By 1957 Bernstein convinced CBS to put his Young People’s Concerts on the air. All over America, families gathered in their living rooms in front of their big, bulky black and white TV sets, and watched Bernstein tell them all about classical music. He created a legacy that inspired others to become musicians themselves, or at least, music lovers. Bernstein’s great gift was his ability to convey his own excitement about music, as if he was letting you in on a wonderful secret. His passion for music helped his audiences to absorb and process the information. Excitement is contagious.
Bernstein’s quote conveys his philosophy on music education: “Only a society prepared by education can ever be truly a cultured society . . . Children must receive musical instruction naturally as food, and with as much pleasure as they derive from a ball game.”
MUSIC LISTENING LINK
Click below to hear Bernstein's lesson on "What Is a Melody?"
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