Monthly Archives: January 2012

Leonard Bernstein’s The Joy of Music

I have made it my goal to update this blog every Monday, so, in order to give myself something to write about, I will periodically write my thoughts about books that I have recently finished reading.

When our church recently had Dr. Kevin Bauder in to speak at our Bible conference, I had the opportunity to ask him to recommend some books that might teach me how to think about and listen to music. One of the books he recommended to me was The Joy of Music by Leonard Bernstein. In looking for the book, I was able to find an excerpt on google books, which, after I began reading, made me want to continue. In order to continue reading I obtained the book from my local public library and finished it fairly quickly.

I found the way that Bernstein wrote to be rather entertaining as he displays his sense of humor and clever thinking throughout several imaginary conversations in the first few chapters. These conversations cover Bernstein’s thoughts on music and music appreciation as a whole. While I did find these conversations entertaining, I am not sure that I completely understood the nuances of everything Bernstein wrote seeing as how I am not musically adept. From there Bernstein includes seven television scripts that featured his giving “lectures” on music on a show called Omnibus. I read through two of them, but I have also found them available free to watch online. I must confess that I haven’t finished watching them all, but the episodes I have watched, I have found interesting and compelling. I commend them to you.

Regarding Bernstein’s point in the book, I believe that perhaps his most important statement was that “Beethoven, more than any other composer before or after him, I think, had the ability to find exactly the right notes that had to follow his themes.” This seemed to be Bernstein’s goal in composing his own music and the standard by which he judged other music. The finding of the exact right note that had to follow another note. He says in another place that Beethoven’s ability to do this gave him “the real goods, the stuff from Heaven, the power to make you feel at the finish: something is right in the world. There is something that checks throughout, that follows its own law consistently: something we can trust, that will never let us down.” He then states that he meant that statement to sound like a definition of God. In other words, Bernstein felt that music that was right not only pictured God, but in a sense made us more acutely aware of His presence.

Bernstein’s point is definitely an interesting one, but it creates another problem for me: How do I know what notes are the right ones to follow another? I believe that the answer to this question will come as I continue to listen to music and read widely on the subject. That said, I have come to this conclusion: I don’t think that even if I am able some day to “know” in my mind what Bernstein means by this statement, I probably won’t be able to articulate it very well for anyone to agree with me completely. Music is a complicated and difficult art, but if you have any desire to think deeply about music, I commend to you The Joy of Music by Leonard Bernstein.