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Museum Musings

4.6.18 Philadelphia Exhibits Bernstein’s Faith through “The Power of Music”

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These days, it is a special occasion when Jamie, Nina, and I are in the same place at the same time. On March 14, we gathered in Philadelphia at the National Museum of American Jewish History for the opening of their exhibit entitled “Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music.” A special occasion, indeed!

Curated by the inestimable Ivy Weingram, this extraordinary exhibit manages to synthesize Leonard Bernstein’s legacy as composer, conductor, educator and social activist through the lens of the 20th Century’s (and his) crisis of faith.


The artifacts are thoughtfully arranged – among them: his parents’ scrapbook of photos and newspaper clippings, a copy of Romeo and Juliet with many marginal notes during the creation of West Side Story, his FBI file of 800 pages, and the piano given to him by his teacher (and later, secretary) Helen Coates.

It is, at turns, moving, fun, and funny – and always interesting.

In a viewing room, one can watch songs from the film of West Side Story synced brilliantly next to popular versions of them (e.g. Maria by Will Ferrell, I Feel Pretty with Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer, etc.). Then one enters another room with a video of excerpts from MASS, put into the context of its time, and our own. Shattering.