Leonard Bernstein’s Boston Years: Team Research in the Classroom” emerged initially from the course, “Before West Side Story: Leonard Bernstein's Boston” taught by Professors Carol J. Oja and Kay Kaufman Shelemay at Harvard University in Spring, 2006. The seminar explored the childhood and early career of one of the 20th century's most renowned musicians and composers. Working in teams, students fused ethnography and archival research to explore the interlinking communities and institutions (Congregation Mishkan Tefila, Boston Latin High School, Harvard class of '39, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, among others) that shaped Bernstein's formative years, and they prepared an exhibit for Harvard's Bernstein festival. This website is the cumulative result of their classroom and festival-related interviews and projects.

If you wish to use content for any reason other than personal, noncommercial educational and scholarly purposes, you must obtain any required permission from the participants. Selected documents require permission to cite for public presentation or publication, and student names, in some cases, are kept anonymous. Questions about use and access may be directed to Kerry Masteller, Reference and Digital Program Librarian, Loeb Music Library (Harvard University).


Leonard Bernstein (1918-90)—the now-legendary composer and conductor—had deep roots among Eastern European Jewish immigrants in Boston. This community, as well as the connections he forged with other Boston-area educational and musical institutions, played a significant role in shaping his personal character and professional development. This website includes interviews and research materials about Bernstein’s Boston experiences that were gathered during an intensive team-research seminar at Harvard University during the spring semester of 2006. It also includes a second wave of interviews with Bernstein’s colleagues, which were conducted as part of a separate seminar in the fall of 2006. In multiple dimensions, this website represents a partnership between faculty and students in Harvard’s Music Department and the staff of Harvard’s Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library.

The materials about Bernstein’s Boston years were gathered in a course titled “Before West Side Story: Leonard Bernstein’s Boston,” which positioned Bernstein within interlocking local communities, primarily during the 1930s and early 1940s. Carol J. Oja and Kay Kaufman Shelemay designed and team-taught the seminar, guiding a group of nineteen graduate and undergraduate students in both fieldwork and archival research. Emily Abrams Ansari served as teaching fellow for the seminar. They timed it to precede “Leonard Bernstein – Boston to Broadway,” a major international festival and conference about Bernstein, which was co-directed by Carol J. Oja and Judith Clurman (New York City) and took place at Harvard in October of 2006. The festival was produced by Jack Megan and Tom Lee in conjunction with Harvard’s Office for the Arts.

The students in this course covered an extraordinary amount of turf in a short time, and they did so in innovative ways. Organized into research teams, they spread out around Boston and pursued diverse threads among Bernstein’s Boston experiences. They conducted interviews with his classmates, colleagues, and friends, and they delved into archival resources at a range of institutions, including Congregation Mishkan Tefila (the Bernstein family’s synagogue), the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Harvard University, the New England Conservatory, the City of Boston, the New York Philharmonic, and the Library of Congress, which houses the extensive Leonard Bernstein Collection. In the process they unearthed a wealth of exciting materials, some of which were published in a special issue of the Journal of the Society for American Music (January 2009). The students also contributed to an illustrated program book for the Bernstein Festival, as well as to an exhibit titled “Boston’s Bernstein” in Harvard’s Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library. Sarah Adams served as staff curator for the exhibit and Ryan Bañagale as student assistant.

A second round of interviews was completed within a Harvard seminar on American musical theater, which was led by Carol J. Oja in the fall of 2006. Ryan Bañagale assisted with the course and organized a series of interviews that were conducted during Harvard’s Bernstein Festival. This provided students an opportunity for focused conversations with some of the major luminaries in Bernstein’s career, from director and producer Hal Prince to biographer Humphrey Burton.

This has been an exceptionally rewarding project from start to finish. Studying these historic aspects of Bernstein’s formative “communities” seemed to send off ripple effects, building gratifying relationships both on campus and with diverse communities surrounding us. Many pitched in with gusto, and we are immensely grateful to them for sharing memories and offering professional expertise.