“Every genius had a handicap. Beethoven was deaf. Chopin had tuberculosis. Well, someday the books will say, “Leonard Bernstein had a father”.” – Samuel Joseph Bernstein, 1958
The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art hosts the second part of the Leonard Bernstein at 100 exhibit and focuses on the spiritual side of Leonard Bernstein. The first of this two-part exhibit is presented by the Woody Guthrie Center and explores his political and social activism. At the beginning of this exhibit at the Sherwin Miller, Bernstein’s baton greets the visitor. “The baton itself must be a living thing, charged with a kind of electricity, which makes it an instrument of meaning in its tiniest movement,” according to Bernstein. The baton is contextualized with a powerful photo of Bernstein expressing pure joy as he conducts with the same baton.
Throughout the exhibit, Bernstein is lionized as one of the most significant figures in classical music and as a towering inspiration of American music. Bernstein, the music man, was also a prolific letter writer to family and friends between 1932 -1959. He wrote as a form of self-therapy and to organize his thoughts and feelings.
Bernstein grew up in a household rich with Jewish tradition where he heard traditional religious music that he carried into his symphonies. Through his music, he sought spiritual clarity.
Leonard Bernstein and Woody Guthrie shared a commonality of faith. Exiting the Bernstein exhibit, visitors encounter a section on Woody Guthrie and see that he was married to Marjorie Mazia, a Jewish woman who led Woody into exploring the Jewish faith.
Leonard Bernstein at 100 provides important insights into this complicated and accomplished man. Learn more about Bernstein’s spirituality and his social activism by seeing two aspects of the man at the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art and the Woody Guthrie Center.
Museum Science and Management student Brooke Dillon