Librarian's Lobby
by Daniel D. Stuhlman
October 2004

Musical Theater

This past Sukkot was the 14th anniversary of the death of Leonard Bernstein (August 25, 1918 - October 14, 1990 -17th of Tishri). For classical music it was the day we lost our greatest composer, conductor, influential teacher, of the most accomplished pianists, and one of the most famous Jewish-American musicians. His music, which included symphonies, movie scores, musicals and ballets, has enchanted me and other audiences since the early 1950's. His Young People's Concerts on TV demonstrated classical music and brought the genre to millions of fans and young people. His music is among my favorites. At times I wish that he wrote more music for the theater.

In 1966 the St. Louis Symphony performed Bernstein's Symphony No. 3: "Kaddish," composed in 1963 was dedicated "To the Beloved Memory of John F. Kennedy." My father sang in the chorus that accompanied the symphony orchestra. Bernstein, who was already famous as a conductor of the New York Philharmonic and composer of West Side Story, was in the audience. That was the only time that I remember seeing him in person.

The recording of that sympony,Symphony No. 3 ("Kaddish”), Leonard Bernstein conducting New York Philharmonic Orchestra (Columbia) was the classical album of the Year for 1964 (Grammy Award for 1965).

Since even after his death, interest in his work has not waned in October 2000 the New York Philharmonic released a 10 CD set of works commemorating the composer / conductor. Last month (September 2004) National Public Radio started a 13 part (two hours each) series on Jewish music. WFMT Chicago is presenting an 11 hour series titled: “Leonard Bernstein: an American Life, narrated by Susan Sarandon (Distributed exclusively by the WFMT Radio Network. See for more information.) Many of Bernstein’s[1] pieces were inspired by his Jewish heritage.

Bernstein’s life is covered in three biographies and a web site. There is also an office web site devoted to his life and work. Leonard Berstein : a total embrace of  music. Classical Notes, 2002.  Peyser, Joan. Bernstein : a biography (Morrow, 1987), Burton, Humphrey Leonard Bernstein (Doubleday, 1994) and Secrest, Meryle.  Bernstein: a life (Knopf, 1994)

This is not an article on Bernstein, but he was the stimulus to make me think about the musical theater. Recently I gave my students an assignment to catalog some recordings of musicals. All were originally Broadway shows, but two of the items were from the film versions. It occurred to me since many of the students have little knowledge of the American musical many of the conventions and rule interpretations for cataloging them are foreign as another language. Enjoying musicals for me started very early. While I have no memory of attending professional productions before age 13 or so, listening to recordings and attending non-professional performances started very early. Here are some features of a musical that a cataloger needs to know.

For books the author(s) are in full control of the creative effort. While book designers, typesetters, printers, etc. have a role in creation of the finished product, these helpers are only a small part of the total creative effort. Books have few manifestations such as hard or soft cover bindings, audio renditions, and these are usually the exact same words. Perhaps a movie will be made based on the book? Rarely is there a question as to the person or persons chiefly involved with the work. A musical may have 10’s or 100’s of manifestations such as sound or video recordings of performances, sheet music, scripts, song books, or selections. They may be published in media such as print, CD, DVD, cassette, or VHS.

For musicals or any other kinds of performances many people are involved in the creative process. For example the composer, lyricist, writer of the story, performers, director, conductor, etc. have roles in the creative process. There may be many productions of the same work. Each of these productions may have some kind of recording of the performance. Hence a library reader may want to look up a recording with a particular performer or director. The composer of the score may have less than 10 per cent of the creative effort of the performance. In addition when comparing the Broadway and movie versions may have different songs, different lyrics or be presented in a different order.

Musical works that include words (e.g. songs, operas, musical theater, movie musicals are entered under the composer. Added entries are made for song writers or librettists. If the words are based on another text or the story is based on another story, added entries for the name-title of the original.

Above the titles of musicals in publicity and on published items names of stars, directors or promotional words appear. These words are not part of title and should not be part of the title transcription. The interpretation of the title statement on the item sometimes requires knowledge of the work and the people associated with it.

Analysis of the Broadway musical has been done recently in a six part PBS documentary, Broadway, the American Musical and a book, Making Americans, by Andrea Most. Both were reviewed in the October 15, 2004 issue of Forward.  (“The Great White (Jewish, Gay) Way,” by Wayne Hoffman and “All the World is a Stage,” by Glenn C. Altschuler.)  Both mention the Jewish participation in creating musicals, but don’t really answer the questions as to why so many Jews were draw to the creative end of musicals.

In her 2004 book, Making Americans: Jews and the Broadway Musical (Harvard University Press), Andrea Most says that the underlying message of many of the musicals was that Jews are good Americans. Through the musical theater, these artists expressed their desire to be accepted into American society. The stories and lyrics in the musicals in the invented communities popularized a vision of America that fostered self-understanding as the nation became a global power.

The Broadway or movie musical will have an influence for beyond the stage or theater. Most people will simply enjoy the experience and not be concerned with the analysis. They will not make the connection between the struggle to assimilate and the characters on stage.  They will not connect the struggle of the Jazz Singer to unite the popular theater with synagogue music or connect the transformation of characters as metaphor for the American Jewish experience. I love the songs and how they are part of the story. Sometimes I even sing the songs to make my life into a musical. Even though some musicals end on sad notes (the main characters die in West Side Story and the characters get expelled from their homes in Fiddler on the Roof) audiences tend to remember to happy songs and feelings from the shows.

[1] Bernstein contributions to the musical theater and movies include:

Fancy Free (ballet), 1944; On the Town (Musical), 1944; Facsimile (ballet), 1946 ; Peter Pan (songs, incidental music), 1950 ; Trouble in Tahiti (opera in one act), 1952 ; Wonderful Town (musical), 1953 ; On the Waterfront (film score), 1954 ; Candide(operetta), 1956  ; West Side Story (musical), 1957 ; Mass (theatre piece for singers, players and dancers), 1971 ; Dybbuk (ballet), 1974 ; 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (musical), 1976 ; A Quiet Place (opera in two acts), 1983  ;The Race to Urga (musical), 1987.


Bernstein’s first symphony, Symphony No. 1: Jeremiah in 1943 had a starong Biblical and Jewish theme. He conducted the first performance with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1944.

Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Visit our web site to learn more about knowledge management and what our firm can do for you. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at:

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 ©2004 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised October 27, 2004