Leonard Bernstein. How I wish I could have known him. Recently a friend of mine reminded me of this statement Bernstein once made. He said, "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."
I remember hearing "So Pretty" for the first time.
It is NOT the same thing as "I Feel Pretty" from one of Bernstein's better known works (although I enjoy all of that, too). "So Pretty" is a stand alone song, written in protest of violence. Bernstein wrote it and several notable people have sung it - Barbara Streisand, for one.
It's obscure, and I believe we're more than a bit fortunate to have a rehearsal recording of Streisand singing and Bernstein at the piano. Take a listen (complete with a delightful false start).
You know what's wonderful about children?
They still see things the way I vaguely remember seeing them years ago - unclouded. For all the difficult days I've had working with children, I've not once had a day void of amazement. I am amazed by their ability to love each other and come around to seeing each other as human.
They do it better than we do.
Today as my fifth graders exited the classroom one of my students asked me, "Can you find us a song from the Philippines? My family is there. I want to know songs from there."
Just after that question came another: "And the Middle East? My family is from the Middle East. Can we learn a song from there?"
Not one beautiful child batted an eye. I said, "Of course. I can find songs from just about anywhere on the planet. And we can learn them all."
Every song was written by a person. And the people who wrote the songs were human. These kids know it, and they already feel that human connection. It's the only important light - the one that shines on our humanity. The one that reminds us what God created before we forgot who we were.
I have sometimes made folks uncomfortable because I talk a lot about humanity these days. Please understand: If Jesus didn't speak all of those beautiful words about humanity, and if so many people hadn't followed in those marvelously nonviolent and holy footsteps, I probably wouldn't be talking about humanity so much.
I find it to be the most important thing.
When my students understand the origin of a song, the story behind it . . the people who used to sing it . . . they sing it better. It gets into their hearts and minds - the idea that they can share something with somebody who is different from them. You know why? Because they can still remember what is the same.
I used to be able to sing Bernstein's "So Pretty" without crying, but these days I'm lucky if I get through the third page.
It makes me think about people that I love.
It makes me think about the first time I saw the movie "Philadelphia."
It reminds me of talking to elementary school teachers in Nicaragua.
It makes me think of the day that I realized that Jesus was someone who was totally other from me, but someone who would look at me in all of my differentness - all of my imperfection - and would love me anyway. Would understand me. Would live with me in my human condition.
I can't look at people the way that culture wants me to.
I can't look at people the way that grown ups have often modeled for me (although my own parents gave me very good, kind examples of how to regard other people).
I have to try to look at other people the way that Jesus has. The way that Jesus has looked at me. At you.
It's going to take my whole life to remember how to do it.
When my students create music more beautifully because of their simple and pure understanding of what it is to be human, I begin to remember.
And that's enough.
Go and do something beautiful. Create more fervently. Look more honestly.
Peace & Goodness,