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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Luikens to speak on Bernstein’s musicals for Festival of the Creative Arts

Published: April 25, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc., Featured

Charming, intelligent, well-spoken and easily one of the most popular instructors at Brandeis, Georgia Luikens has taught not only UWS classes ranging in topics from musical theater to adaptation and appropriation of Shakespearian plays, but also undergraduate courses for the music major and minor. A recipient of The University Prize Instructorship, Luikens currently teaches a seminar titled America’s First Maestro: Leonard Bernstein’s Music and Role in New York Cultural Life, which is a mixture of American studies, musicology, politics, history and theater. “I love teaching this seminar. The students are so fantastic and excited about material I’m excited about. It’s a mutual excitement frenzy,” Luikens said.

This Friday, April 25, Luikens will host “Lunchtime with Lenny” as part of the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts. Bernstein, who was at the forefront of music and artistic life in America during the second half of the 20th century, founded the festival in 1952. On campus, Bernstein was one of the first professors here. Irving Fine, the founder of the music department, basically brought in all his friends who were the biggest names in American music, like Aaron Copeland and Bernstein. Bernstein flew into Boston once a week to teach a seminar on 20th-century music and opera. Bernstein had a large role in spearheading the arts community at Brandeis. The premiere of his chamber opera, ‘Trouble in Tahiti,’ was at Brandeis. “It was a roaring success and was even later recorded for television at a studio. This is what Brandeis offered at this point in time. It was phenomenal. Without a doubt, it offered the best education you could get in 20th-century American music and 20th-century music in general.”

Luikens will speak about Bernstein and Brandeis, but as a self-proclaimed musical “nerd,” she is interested in Bernstein’s legendary musicals. “His work in social advocacy is, I think, sometimes overlooked. He was a big supporter of causes and championing ideals that perhaps other artists would take a step back from because they were afraid of repercussions,” Luikens said. Bernstein was already being followed by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, so it really was not a problem for him to keep following what he believed. He did not care if it antagonized the government even more. He supported Panthers 21 in 1970 and even held a soiree in his Upper West Side apartment in New York to which one of the field marshals of the Panthers 21 was invited.

In 1958, during the Cold War, Bernstein took the New York Philharmonic to the Soviet Union as part of a world tour. “U.S.-Soviet relations were obviously quite tense … I think Bernstein saw music and the arts to not only challenge political boundaries, but also to suggest there were no social or cultural boundaries in the first place.”

Other than talking about musicals and Bernstein, Luikens has also prepared a 46-voice choir composed of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff. “I was initially approached to do this by Ingrid Schorr, the fabulous associate director of the arts, who asked me to give a talk on Leonard Bernstein. She then asked me to also bring someone to sing or perform a Bernstein song, so I thought, ‘Why have one when you can do something that would appeal to the memory of Bernstein?’ I then collected a community of performers. We have a lot of ensembles on campus that include people from different parts of the campus, but we don’t have ones that have everyone because of busy scheduling. I just sent some emails around and about 70 people said they were interested.”

Luikens extensively and eagerly planned her event. “I got everyone’s time table and set them all around my living room. In the end, I found four times that the most people covering soprano, alto, tenor and bass could meet. Unfortunately, that did mean that quite a few people couldn’t do it. I did get 46 singers who are going to sing an arrangement of ‘Make Our Garden Grow’ from Bernstein’s ‘Candide.’”

Despite the challenge of setting up such a large event, Luikens said, “It has been really fun. The only challenge is everyone is so busy. The first time that the entire chorus will sing together will be on Friday. It’s a true community event. We have everyone from all over campus; it is a lovely and enthusiastic group of people.”

“Brandeis has such a rich tradition and legacy of innovative and high quality artistic history,” Luikens said. We should certainly strive to maintain it and we can develop it. It is often overlooked. The performing and creative arts are very important and play a huge role in liberal arts education. I think a liberal arts education is imperative, no matter what you study. It not only makes you slightly more interesting at the dinner table and civilized but also helps you get to know the world outside your immediate environment.”

Luikens will be holding “Lunch with Lenny B.” April 25, from 1-2 p.m. in Rapaporte Treasure Hall.