Bernstein at 100: A Retrospective

On November 10, the Nazareth Music Department celebrated the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth. Along with more than 4,500 events around the world, music fans and professors alike gathered together to celebrate and recognize the timeless accomplishments of the man and his music.

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Leonard Bernstein, born in 1918, is most well-known for his compositional efforts. He is responsible for the music of Peter Pan, On the Town, and, most notably, West Side Story. West Side Story’s score prominently features loud, brash pieces that jump between several different time signatures frequently, which is a quirk that has become a staple of Bernstein’s work. His work has a significant range, from jazzy, American pieces to more traditional compositions and arrangements. Several of his symphonies also pay tribute to his Jewish roots, such as his Symphony No. 1: “Jeremiah”.

bernstein 2Nazareth College chose to recognize the impact of Bernstein’s work through a series of lectures on November 10th, followed by a 90-minute concert. Each lecture focused on a specific aspect of Bernstein’s music and featured lecturers from many other schools, including the University of Kansas, the University of Virginia, Rutgers University, and the Indiana Southwest University. Kristen Shiner McGuire from Nazareth College also hosted a lecture, focusing on the role of the percussionist in the pit band for West Side Story. In it, she explained the difficulties in playing a part written for five percussionists when there is only one percussionist in the pit band. She also provided a live demonstration of her method, which consisted of delicately placed and layered percussive instruments surrounding her, requiring her to rapidly shift and adjust her position as the music soars.

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The concert at the end of the evening was presented by a wide range of wonderful performers from Nazareth’s various ensembles. The Symphonic Orchestra began the event with a West Side Story medley. The piece ran for a startling 20 minutes, but it was so vivid and saturated with a wide variety of individual songs that it remained captivating for its entire duration. The Chamber Singers regaled the crowd with Chichester Psalms, one of Bernstein’s Hebrew hymns. The interweaving of the different vocal parts created very unique chord progressions that balanced with the dynamic solo and quartet portions. The concert culminated in a performance of the Symphonic Suite from On The Waterfront, as played by the Wind Symphony. The band worked in collaboration with the Theater and Dance departments, which provided a beautiful interpretative scene of gang war, misbegotten love, and renewal – all told through dance and music.

The concert made for a wonderful conclusion of the day’s events. And while the informative and inspiring celebration of Bernstein’s achievements is over, the impact of his work will last, influencing generations of musicians to come.

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