Loeb Music Library Launches Bernstein Web Site

Leonard Bernstein

Composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. A new
Web site, "Leonard Bernstein's Boston: Team
Research in a Harvard Classroom," devoted to
Bernstein's early years in Boston, was launched in
January by the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library.

January 23, 2009 - Leonard Bernstein's Boston Years: Team Research in a Harvard Classroom, a web site devoted to Bernstein's roots in the Boston area was launched today by the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library at Harvard University.  Created by students, faculty and librarians, it focuses on the conductor's childhood and early career, and features more than a dozen unique interviews with Bernstein family, friends and contemporaries.

As its name suggests, the site is largely the product of research conducted by students taking part in a Spring 2006 class taught by Music Department professors Carol Oja and Kay Kaufman Shelemay. Working in teams, students fused ethnography and archival research to explore the interlinking communities and institutions that shaped Bernstein's formative years, and prepared an exhibit for the "Leonard Bernstein: Boston to Broadway" festival held that fall. The site also includes interviews conducted during the festival by students in a musical theater seminar led by Oja.

"These student projects are really interesting, because they made unique discoveries and connections," said Liza Vick, Music Reference and Research Librarian at Loeb Music Library, who helped construct the site. "We also have a fascinating interview with Bernstein family members, including his brother, Burton, and daughters, Jamie Bernstein Thomas and Nina Bernstein Simmons."

Virginia Danielson, the Richard F. French Librarian of the Loeb Music Library, believes the site will offer insight into a largely unexplored facet of Bernstein's history.

"In all of the literature and journalism surrounding the life and musicianship of Leonard Bernstein, his origins in Boston have not really been explored," she said. "The Bernstein in Boston project features new research that explored the community of his childhood, his synagogue, the summer camps he attended and family memories of his early life. I am particularly proud of this project as a thoroughly integrated endeavor, knitting together the resources of the Music Department faculty, Graduate and Undergraduate students and those of the Loeb Music Library."

For Oja, the William Powell Mason Professor of Music, the experience of leading the seminars was profoundly rewarding, not only because students were clearly excited about the project, but because the unique research produced by students will now be preserved.

"We worked intensively with the students, who became deeply invested in the project," she said. "It was rewarding to reach out to relevant pockets of the greater Boston community, and build relationships with the Bernstein-family synagogue and other constituencies that helped nurture this talented young musician in the 1930s and 1940s. With this sort of research, the past speaks palpably to the present."

Oja and Shelemay wanted to make sure the research, and the one-of-a-kind materials it produced, were preserved. "This site is the only place to access this material," Shelemay said. "We didn't want all this incredible work to go away."

This month's launch marks the end of more than three years of work in creating the site, Vick said, much of it spent tackling technical issues, securing the consent of dozens of students and interview subjects, and contextualizing the material. For now, the site consists largely of interviews with individuals connected to Bernstein, but additional material, including photographs and archival documents, will be added in the coming months.

The site is the result of a collaborative effort among the library, the Academic Technology Group, and several Presidential Instructional Technology Fellows, Vick said. The work was completed with the assistance of Music Department graduate students, including Ryan Banagale, Drew Massey, Elizabeth Craft and Lucille Mok.

While some of the student-conducted interviews will be available to all site visitors, the interviews conducted during the 2006 Bernstein festival and selected student findings will be accessible only on computer terminals in the Loeb Music Library. Researchers who wish to access the material off-site will need to make special arrangements with Vick. E-mail 

"This project, and the materials on the web site, represent an array of new insights," said Shelemay, the G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music. "Even the seemingly straightforward "facts" about Bernstein's formative years were vulnerable to correction, we found-- for example, one of our freshman participants spent hours going through Boston school records, discovering that Bernstein had attended more elementary schools than anyone had previously known or documented.  There were many such fascinating findings - a previously unknown photograph here, a concert program there - each of which shed new light on Bernstein as student, son, and musician.  All in all, this has been an unforgettable experience for all of us, and a most satisfying meeting of musical scholarship with the study of musical life."