Prelude, Fugue & Riffs

Artful Learning: Educators Unite to Study West Side Story June 17-21, 2008

by Judith Clurman

Leonard Bernstein once said, "I am proud and honored to be part of it."1 The "it" he was referring to was West Side Story. I, too, was proud and honored to have been part of "it" as I served as Artistic Consultant for the Leonard Bernstein Center for Learning (LBC) this past year. The LBC is a K-12 comprehensive school model which places the arts at the center of learning and harnesses the idea that the arts cross all disciplines. Schools that employ the LBC method provide their teachers with a system that organizes curriculum around a "masterwork;" teachers in all subjects design their units of study around the same masterwork, creating an atmosphere of creativity, cohesiveness and intense student participation.

Once a year, these teachers that use the LBC’s "Artful Learning" method convene at a conference at Gettysburg College.

Working with Kenneth Pool, Executive Director of the Leonard Bernstein Center, with LBC Chairman Alexander Bernstein and with LBC consultants, I created the 2008 LBC "masterwork" conference. I chose the obvious: West Side Story. Not only did the musical celebrate its 50th birthday last fall, but it also fit the LBC educational model perfectly.

Our conference was a combination of interactive workshops, small group discussions, and master class activities. Each session, named after a song from the show, reflected the Bernstein "model." The participants used the same four elements they employed with their own students: they experienced, inquired, created and reflected.

We began each morning with a coffee hour called Dance at the Gym: The Fabulous Fifties – Were They Fabulous? We showed 1950s news clips as well as scenes from TV shows and movies dating from the era. Some of the conference topics included: Maria: Tension and Resolution; Gee, Officer Krupke: Text and Tableau; Dance at the Gym: The Classroom as a Museum; The Rumble: The Evils of Prejudice; Cool: Page to Stage – Characterization in West Side Story; Quintet: Creating a Museum; Tonight: Comparisons and Contrasts; America: The Magic of Movement; and Dance at the Gym: The Sounds of the Street/Percussion Workshop.

Guest artists and teachers included: Mark Eden Horowitz, a Senior Music Specialist in the Music Division of the Library of Congress; Jamie Bernstein, the composer’s daughter; LBC staff member Charles Dittrich; LBC consultants Alison Kenny- Gardhouse and Susan Stauter; massage specialist Hank Blumenkranz; American Ballet and New York City Ballet dancer/ choreographer Robert LaFosse; psychotherapist Gene Guberman; composer and Philadelphia Orchestra/Juilliard educator Thomas Cabaniss; University of Michigan and "Silk Road" percussionist Joseph Gramley; and Phyllis Staplin, Director of Curriculum and Pamela Ballard, Instructor and Art Chairperson, both from the West Des Moines, Iowa school district.

It was extremely gratifying to be involved with so many dedicated professionals who were so thoroughly committed to sharing the joy of teaching and learning. Though the task of education reform is challenging, the reward is in the proven outcome that learning can be successful by being fun.

Please go to and read about the conference in detail.

Copyright 2008 Judith Clurman

1Leonard Bernstein, "West Side Story Log," August 20, 1957, published by Leonard Bernstein Office, 1982.

Judith Clurman has served as Director of Choral Activities at The Juilliard School, as a guest artist teacher at Cambridge University and has conducted and collaborated in numerous projects at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. She was codirector of Harvard's Leonard Bernstein, Boston to Broadway: Concerts and Symposia in October, 2006.

Leonard BernsteinNewsCalendarShopNewsletterPressResearchb100
The personThe EducatorThe ComposerThe Conductor