Lenny at 100 and a day

Today is the day after Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday. I didn’t write about it yesterday because everyone else was. I thought it would be nice to wait a day and help give the man a entire birthday weekend.

Like many people, I have been heavily influenced by the musical legacy of Mr. Bernstein. But I also have a memory of a more personal nature.

When I was still a small child, we would be given Scholastic Readers to read in school. The real purpose of these books was to help us improve our reading skills, and the way that was accomplished was quite clever.

Readings were organized into little stories on various topics that would be of interest to a kid. I always looked forward to the next one, but one story in particular has always stayed with me.

It had been written many years earlier by a piano teacher. She talked about a little boy who would come to lessons fresh from baseball practice. He’d show up at the lesson wearing his baseball uniform, carrying his bat and baseball mitt.

Then he would sit down and play, like nobody she had ever heard. That little boy was, of course, a young Leonard Bernstein.

I remember as a ten year old reading that, thinking about the famous musical legend. Before then I had only known of him as a gray haired man, the composer of the music for West Side Story (which I already loved by age ten).

But after reading that, I could also see him as that little boy Lenny, showing up for his piano lesson with dirt still on his pants from sliding into first base. And that change in perspective fundamentally changed my view about a number of things.

I thought to myself “that kid could be anybody, he could be me.” Reading about Leonard Bernstein as a boy dissolved the imaginary wall in my head between “famous person” and “real person”. We can’t all grow up to be Leonard Bernstein, but we can each grow up to do something unique and wonderful, something the world has never before seen.

It was a pretty good lesson.

Leave a Reply