Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein
Product Code: 93442
Binding Information: Hardback
Ages: 9 - 12
Availability: In stock
“Life without music is unthinkable.”—Leonard Bernstein, Findings
When Lenny was two years old, his mother found that the only way to soothe her crying son was to turn on the Victrola. When his aunt passed on her piano to Lenny’s parents, the boy demanded lessons. When Lenny went to school, he had the most fun during “singing hours.”
But Lenny’s love of music was met with opposition from the start. Lenny’s father, a successful businessman, wanted Lenny to follow in his footsteps. Additionally, the classical music world of the 1930s and 1940s was dominated by Europeans—no American Jewish kid had a serious chance to make a name for himself in this field.
Beginning with Lenny’s childhood in Boston and ending with his triumphant conducting debut at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic when he was just twenty-five, Music Was IT draws readers into the energetic, passionate, challenging, music-filled life of young Leonard Bernstein.
Archival photographs, mostly from the Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress, illustrate this fascinating biography, which also includes a foreword by Bernstein’s daughter Jamie. Extensive back matter includes biographies of important people in Bernstein’s life, as well as a discography of his music.
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Kirkus Reviews - January 15, 2011An impeccably researched and told biography of Leonard Bernstein’s musical apprenticeship, from toddlerhood to his conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic at age 25. Rubin traces Lenny’s education, musical influences and enduring friendships. Lenny reveled in mounting elaborate musical productions in Sharon, Mass., his family’s summer community. As a student, he augmented support from his family by giving lessons, accompanying singers, transcribing music and more; the narrative sparkles with details that match its subject’s energy and verve. Especially crystalline are the links drawn between father Sam’s decades-long dismissal of his son’s musical gifts and the consequential importance of mentors and supportive teachers in the young man’s life. In exploring Lenny’s devout Jewish roots and coming of age during the persecution of Jews in Europe, the author reveals how dramatically Bernstein altered the landscape for conductors on the American scene. In an epilogue sketching Bernstein’s later life, she briefly mentions his bisexuality, marriage and children. Drawn from interviews, family memoirs and other print resources, quotations are well-integrated and assiduously attributed. Photos, concert programs, early doodles and letters, excerpts from musical scores and other primary documentation enhance the text. Excellent bookmaking—from type to trim size—complements a remarkable celebration of a uniquely American musical genius.
New York Journal of Books - February 11, 2011The world of music can be kind of clique-ish. It is a sad, but true, fact. Anybody who has any kind of name in music wants to be friends with everybody else who has any kind of a name in music. The bigger the name the better. Instead of being sad that we are left out in the dreary, silent cold, we music lovers can enjoy a vicarious musical existence through the stories of the lives of these famous few.
Luckily, these talented stars love to have their pictures taken and their stories told. In Susan Goldman Rubin’s latest release, Music was IT: Young Leonard Bernstein, the author tells the story of why and how little Lenny Bernstein, a Russian Jew from Massachusetts, came to love music, study music, and eventually make it his life.
At first glance, the title of the book, Music was IT, seems strange and maybe a little awkward. In this digital age of computers, IT has come to mean Information technology. But Rubin took her title from something Bernstein said after their family inherited a piano from Aunt Clara. “I remember touching this thing the day it arrived,” Lenny later recalled, “just stroking it and going mad. I knew from that moment to this, that music was ‘it’.” “It” meaning his raison d’etre—the driving force that made Lenny Bernstein into the great, world-renowned conductor and composer, the Leonard Bernstein who wrote well-known music such as West Side Story, On the Town, and Candide.
Ms. Rubin’s book is written specifically for 9–12 year olds, but anyone who is curious about Bernstein would do well to check out this book. The author’s writing style is simple and direct but not condescending, and she weaves a compelling story sure to capture the interest of Bernstein fans at any age. This reviewer could not put down the book once started. Ms. Rubin really pulls you into life in the Bernstein household.
In addition, the author has included some great photos of Bernstein’s family and friends, including the immortal Aaron Copland and Rudolf Serkin. As mentioned earlier, Bernstein was THE ANYONE that everyone wanted to meet, and the range of individuals included in photographs with Lenny is astonishing. Ms. Rubin’s book easily holds its own against any “academic” text written about Mr. Bernstein.
Leonard Bernstein has become synonymous with American music. It is almost impossible to have one without the other. Ms. Rubin’s book grabs on to this American legend and presents it to new generation of musicians just starting to explore their own version of the American dream.
School Library Journal - March 1, 2011Rubin's sparkling biography looks at one of the most influential and acclaimed composers/conductors in recent history and brings his story to vibrant, colorful life. Starting at age two and ending with his exalted New York Philharmonic conducting debut at age 25, the fascinating events of Bernstein's life are neatly organized into well-paced chapters. Rubin provides an unbiased, thoughtful, and well-researched account of how the virtuoso grew to become a musical icon, discussing his family life, musical education, and the trials and triumphs he encountered along the way. Photographs and primary documents such as sheet music, concert programs, and telegrams punctuate the presentation and enhance the lively narrative. Rubin's writing is clear and accessible enough for readers unfamiliar with Bernstein, but has enough information and anecdotes to satisfy the curiosities of even his most dedicated fans. There are few comparable biographies currently available for children or young adults. Jim Whiting's The Life and Times of Leonard Bernstein (Mitchell Lane, 2005) offers concise content, while Rubin's depiction has more heart and scope. Music Was It is an engrossing, warm, and comprehensive read, and should be considered an essential purchase for most libraries. All readers will appreciate Bernstein's story of proficiency, perseverance, and passion.
Booklist - February 15, 2011What do you do when you have a dream and your father is firmly against it? That's the frame story for this highly readable and inspiring biography of Leonard Bernstein, whose father, Sam, was insistent that music should be a hobby and that Leonard should take over the family beauty-parlor-equipment buiness. But what Rubin's involving book makes so clear is that music was Leonard's life, and even a carping father couldn't change that. From the moment young Leonard started banging around on a relative's cast-off piano, the boy wanted more; as the years went on, that meant working to pay for his own lessons, worrying about what avenue his talents should take, and enduring prejudice for his American Jewish heritage, which made conducting seem an unlikely career. The book ends with Bernstein's unexpected conducting debut at Carnegie Hall, his father in the audience. The determination, charm, and talent of Bernstein overcome the fact that few readers will know him or his music (except perhaps West Side Story). The wonderfully chosen photographs sometimes suffer from muddy reproduction, but the cover--showing a young Bernstein in a T-shirt conducting his heart out--is a sure draw. More about Bernstein comes in an expanded discography that includes videos and a bibliography of adult and youth books. Quotations are sourced, and thumbnail sketches of friends and colleagues mentioned in the book add dimension.
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books - April 1, 2011Lenny wants to bang on the piano; his father wants peace and quiet. Lenny wants a professional music career; his father wants him to join the family hair-care products business. Lenny knows musicians can be superstars; his father knows musicians are doomed to poverty.
Framing the story of famed conductor Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) in the context of the frustrated struggles between a loving father and son, Rubin spins his biography into a tale that reads as smoothly and compellingly as a novel. The focus is on Bernstein's musical development - not only his formal studies, but also the amateur theatrical productions he staged just for the fun of it, the friends he regularly jammed with, and the high-profile mentors and sheer lucky breaks that put him on track for his acclaimed debut with the New York Philharmonic at the age of twenty-five in 1943.
Report writers will find a treasure trove of back matter, from meticulous source notes, bibliography, and index, to a timeline, discography, and biographical portraits of persons influential in Bernstein's musical education. Most spreads include a photograph or document, although the black-and-white reproductions unfortunately appear dull and muddy against the matte, cream-colored stock. Young classical music fans who appreciate the passion and exuberance of Lang Lang or Gustavo Dudamel will be particularly delighted with this portrait of a star of yore on the rise.
Yellow Brick Road - April 1, 2011Lenny was destined for greatness from the beginning, but he was different - a musical child who would not follow his father into business. Lenny's passion for music and his creative genius overcame the family's objections as well as the popular notion that classical music was for Europeans, not American Jews. Archival photographs and a foreward by his older daughter expands the perspective in this fascinating biography.
Puget Sound Council Reviews - April 1, 2011An inspiring look at the early life of conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, following him from his early years and his father's disapproval of his love of music up to his triumphal conducting at Carnegie Hall at the young age of 25. A wonderful, almost unbelievably true story of a man's passion and talent for music and his determination to follow his dreams, despite anti-Semitism and his father's fear that a career in music would result in poverty and disappointment.
The story is solid, well written, and interesting. The book also provides an index, sources, discography, mini biographies, and a bibliography (with denotations of books good for young readers). Along with the solid binding and pages, the book is an excellent addition in a school library, particularly one with a focus on the arts.
PaulaMorrow.com - May 23, 2011Music Was It traces the early life of a man who changed American music in many ways. Young Leonard Bernstein clung to his childhood dream of becoming a musician in spite of his father’s strong disapproval. In the 1930s the field of classical music was dominated by old European men. Leonard was a young Jew from Massachusetts. Yet a fierce combination of hard work, determination, and luck brought him an amazing career as a composer and conductor. Leonard’s daughter Jamie has written a touching foreword to Music Was It. The main text reads like an adventure story and features quotes from Leonard and people who knew him. Numerous photos are included in every chapter. The book ends with Leonard’s triumphant debut conducting the New York Philharmonic at the age of 25, but an appendix offers further pleasures. A timeline of his life, thumbnail biographies of important people mentioned in the book, and a discography of his many recordings will lure readers to learn more of Leonard's fascinating story. Two gifted young men: one fictional, one real. Their stories show the possibilities for someone with a musician’s soul. As Leonard Bernstein once said, “Life without music is unthinkable.”
Richie's Picks - May 31, 2011"When you're a Jet you're a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette to your last dying day."
-- from "West Side Story"
After reading the first few chapters of MUSIC WAS IT: YOUNG LEONARD BERNSTEIN, I was dying to see Leonard Bernstein in action.
I watched some great scenes on YouTube from Bernstein's Young People's Concert at Carnegie Hall in 1964, when he was 46. Then, I found a bunch of amazing video segments from the 1984 documentary "Leonard Bernstein Conducts 'West Side Story.'"
This guy had such an infectious enthusiasm for music, so obviously loved what he was doing and, unquestionably, had such a wonderful influence on young people -- for generations -- that it causes me, once again, to ponder how so many grownups and their elected representatives can be so clueless as to the necessity of supporting arts and culture, in general, and, specifically, the necessity for including music in the curriculum.
In MUSIC WAS IT, which follows young Lenny Bernstein's life until he "makes it" at age 25, Susan Goldman Rubin reveals how Bernstein was obsessed with the piano throughout his childhood, adolescence, and college years. We see how his father Sam, an immigrant from the Ukraine, was repeatedly reluctant to support his oldest child in this endeavor because musicians in the old country were seen as little more than beggars. Sam, who founded a successful hair products supply company, saw his eldest son's piano playing as a fine diversion but expected Lenny to work in and eventually take over his business.
Instead, we see how Lenny stuck to his passion and dreams, and how he performed and taught piano from a young age in order to earn the money necessary for his own lessons from teachers who could help the budding musical genius. We see how Lenny strove to be an outstanding student in all subjects, yet was moved by nothing else to the degree that he was moved by music.
Lenny's talent and dedication led him to Harvard and to being mentored by a who's who of famous conductors and composers of the day. It also helped him slice through the long odds he faced as a young Jew in an often anti-Semitic America.
While some fortuitous circumstances came into play as Bernstein -- with but a morning's notice -- made his improbable and triumphant debut at age 25, conducting the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, the reality is that a young lifetime of dedication and hard work put him in that unlikely place to have the opportunity and to wildly succeed.
My life is certainly richer for his having done so.
The Horn Book Magazine - June 15, 2011Classical music during the early twentieth century was dominated by Europeans, but at a young age the Jewish-American Leonard Bernstein discovered a talent for piano that would, with the encouragement of various mentors, lead to a brilliant career as a conductor and composer. He pursued this career against the wishes of his father, who thought his son would always struggle as a musician (klezmers in his native Russia were little more than beggars); he wanted Lenny to take up the family business. Most orchestras were conducted by men in their forties, at least, but through a lot of perseverance and a little bit of luck, Bernstein made his triumphant conducting debut at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic at the age of twenty-five--with his father sitting proudly in the audience. A biography that focuses on the youth and early adulthood of its subject risks missing the point of a biography altogether (i.e., the fame and accomplishments are what drive our interest in the person), but Rubin, with her engaging style and infectious passion, succeeds here. A timeline, biographical sketches, bibliography and discography, source notes, and index are appended; numerous black-and-white photographs appear throughout.
The Hickory Ridge Reader - July 6, 2011"Music Was It," written for upper middle-grade readers, is a marvelously well-researched biography of the composer, concert pianist, arranger, and conductor Leonard Bernstein. Fathers suffer in both of these juvenile biographies because, much like Bob Dylan's father, Lenny Bernstein's father was vehemently opposed to his son's plans to make classical music a career. When asked about his opposition, Bernstein replied, "How could I know my son was going to grow up to be Leonard Bernstein?" This well-written biography covers the life of Bernstein through his growing up years until his "discovery" when he made his debut with the New York Philharmonic, substituting for an ill conductor and the official understudy who was detained by a snow storm.
David "Doc" Kirkby, Book Bit for WTBF-AM/FM - August 25, 2011August 25th is the birth anniversary of one of the greatest American composers, conductors, pianists and educators of the 20th century. Even though young Leonard desperately wanted to become a musician, his father wasn't excited about it.
Lenny Bernstein's dad was Sam, who built a successful business and remembered musicians back in his native Ukraine as poor, indigent men. He wanted Leonard to become a rabbi (which might have happened) or take over the family business. "Something with security."
But Leonard was hooked on music from the time he was two years old. When he was ten, his aunt Clara moved from NYC to Boston and brought her sofa and old piano for them! He "felt safe at the piano, at the center of a universe" he could control. He picked out songs from the radio and from synagogue, and played loudly. He demanded and got piano lessons, growing as a musician and needing better and better teachers.
When Lenny was 14, Sam took him to his first public concert at Symphony Hall to hear the Boston pops, conducted by Arthur Fiedler. He was enchanted, and encouraged when he learned that Fiedler was also Jewish and lived in Boston. Perhaps the doors weren't closed to Leonard after all. Lenny started teaching piano to his friends and his sister, Shirley. He earned money for lessons by playing at weddings and bar mitzvahs with a small jazz group he formed.
In the summers as a teen, Leonard went with the family to Sharon, where he began performing and producing shows with the other kids. In the fall of 1935 Lenny was 17 and a new freshman music major at Harvard. (He couldn't perform in their musical revues, however, because he was Jewish!) In 1937 he met Dimitri Mitropoulos, a Greek-born musician who studied in Berlin, who invited him to play the piano for him, and afterward told Lenny that he could be a successful composer and conductor!
Leonard became friends with many people who would also become legendary: Adolph Green & Betty Comden (the playwrights), dancer/choreographer Jerome Robbins, and composer Aaron Copland. He studied conducting with Dr. Fritz Reiner and Serge Koussevitzky. WWII began but his asthma gave him a 4F draft status, so he went to work as a music copyist, arranger and performer. Arthur Rodzinski asked him to become his new assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. He was 25. On Nov. 14, 1943, he was told that the guest conductor and the regular conductor were unavailable: he would conduct the orchestra that afternoon! It was a great triumph, and Leonard Bernstein had begun a legendary musical career.
Curled Up With A Good Kids Book - February 1, 2011An inspiring biography, Readers will find Music Was It focuses on the early life of composer, conductor, and pianist Leonard Bernstein.
Bernstein grew up in the 1930s and ‘40s, eldest son of Sam Bernstein, a Jewish immigrant and successful businessman. Leonard was enraptured by music as a young child, listening to music over and over again on the family’s Victrola. He learned to play piano at an early age and showed much promise; from the beginning, Leonard knew that his passion in life would always center on music.
His father, however, discouraged his interest from the beginning. Music was a fine hobby, but certainly not an acceptable career. The conflict between father and son continued for many years.
Nevertheless, Leonard persisted with his musical career, taking piano lessons from the best teachers in Brooklyn, teaching others to pay for his own lessons. In his teenage years, when Bernstein’s family stayed at a cottage near a lake, Leonard discovered his talent for performing when his sister Shirley, their friends and he created musical spoofs to entertain the community.
Leonard and his father both agreed that a college education was critical before beginning any career. An excellent student, Leonard was accepted into Harvard University. Leonard’s musical genius shone, despite the fact that he was barred from many music programs because he was Jewish. At this time he began making professional music connections and collaborating with others, including Aaron Copland, Adolph Green and more. He also developed a keen interest in conducting, inspired by conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos.
After college, Leonard struggled to make a living, taking on a variety of short-term musical jobs – playing piano, transcribing music, etc. He finally got his big break when he was offered a job as an assistant conductor for the New York Philharmonic, substituted for the conductor 1943, and became an overnight success.
Engaging from the very beginning, Music Was It is a fascinating look at an inspiring young man. His life example is a message to young people: that following your dreams, working hard, getting an education, and making connections is a recipe for personal success in almost any field. Numerous photographs bring Leonard and the people closest to him to life. The book concludes with a timeline, short biographies of the key people in his life, a discography of many of his musical recordings, bibliography, sources and an index.
Students with a passion for music, especially young piano students, will be inspired by Bernstein’s life. Highly recommended for students in grades 5-10.
BayViews - August 1, 2011From early childhood through his college and early adulthood, this engaging biography chronicles the life of Leonard Bernstein up to his triumphant debut at age twenty-five as conductor of the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. Sifting through a multitude of sources including personal interviews, author Rubin presents a well-balanced view of the young Leonard Bernstein who pursued music despite persistent opposition from his father. The chronicle introduces key figures and influences in both Bernstein’s personal and musical worlds, making generous use of quotations and occasionally citing more than one version of the same incident. The emphasis on people and personalities make this an engaging biography for a broad audience not limited to music students. Well-organized, with plentiful b&w photographs and ample back matter, this is an exemplary biography.
Library Media Connection - September 1, 2011Rubin thoroughly documents critical events in Leonard Bernstein's life, from early childhood to his first of many triumphs as an accomplished pianist and as conductor with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Although Bernstein demonstrated a sincere love of music even as a toddler, his father never accepted a child who did not intend to follow in his footsteps. This conflict continued until, at the age of twenty-five, Leonard achieved recognition. This touching tribute to Bernstein is supported with musical scores, letters, and photographs, depicting his relationships with other artists who mentored and/or collaborated with him and who bolstered his resolve. The biography concludes with brief sketches of Bernstein's peers and associates, a timeline of pertinent events in his life, a discography, bibliography, list of quotation sources, and photo credits. Music Was IT is a valuable resourcefor students looking for a well-written biography, especially those interested in music.
Jewish Book World - September 1, 2011"Life without music is unthinkable." With that Leonard Bernstein quotation, Susan Goldman Rubin opens her remarkable biography of the legendary composer and conductor. For young readers wrestling with self-identity, Bernstein's life provides a near inspirational message: whatever your life's passion, pursue it to the best of your ability. (Of course, it doesn't hurt if you are naturally gifted and driven to succeed.) As a child of Jewish immigrants, whose business oriented father didn't always understand his son's obsession with music, Bernstein nonetheless was the recipient of an outstanding education, first at Boston Latin School and then at Harvard. Growing up in a religious Conservative home and temple left an indelible mark on the young musician which later influenced compositions with biblical and Jewish themes. This is a well-researched and elegantly written biography with an in-depth focus on Bernstein's childhood through family anecdotes and memories which enrich the book. The photographs, particularly of his childhood and family, are especially poignant and well-selected. Also included are reproductions of musical scores, announcements and notes. Ms. Rubin's fluid writing makes Lenny and his achievements come alive, especially with the inclusion of supportive quotes sprinkled throughout the text. In addition to a timeline, discography, bibliography, and quotation sources, the book contains helpful short biographies of individuals mentioned in the book who would be unfamiliar to young readers.
Kutztown Fall Book Review - November 10, 2011This biography about Leonard Bernstein, Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein, is written at a level that students as young as middle school would fin it easy to use and is informative enough that it would also aide high school students in their research needs. The book includes many black and white photographs from Bernein's childhood and offer insight into his musical beginnings. The author, susan Goldman Rubin, has set the book up to be both informative and interesting for both pleasure reaind and informational readin at the middle school grade level. The book includes a timeline of Berstein's life, biographies of influential people in Bernstein's life, information about Lenny's music, a discography, bibliography, sources of quotations that appear throughout the book, and an index. I would highly recommend this book for a middle and high school libraries.
Tablet - December 15, 2011I opened this with a sigh, expecting the usual dense, hyper-sincere, spinach-y, plodding Jewish biography. I was wrong. This book reads like a juicy novel, and Rubin’s copious research is seamlessly integrated into the story. Kids with singular passions will relate to young Lenny’s love of music and determination to make it his career despite his unsupportive father’s constant demands that he go into the family perm-equipment business. The book follows Lenny from childhood through his triumphant conducting debut at Carnegie Hall. It’s an effortless read, and even I, who cares not a whit about classical music, was swept up.