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Etudes–George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (1924)

New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein–Conductor, Pianist and All-Around Amazing Human

Gasp! This one is a stunner. In this 1975 performance with the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein conducts from the bench of the grand piano THAT HE IS PLAYING. He is conducting WITHOUT A SCORE and playing WITHOUT SHEET MUSIC. Seventeen some-odd wildly complex minutes committed 100% to memory.

I can’t even remember my own cell phone number.

Gershwin? A national treasure. This piece of music is one for the ages. And this performance? If either of them were looking for a finest hour, this is a good candidate.

Clear some time for this one. Watch and listen.

Then write. About what? About the chills you get at the first sound of that clarinet. About instruments doing things that you never knew they could do. About a sound that is quintessentially American. About notes arranged in a way that churns up your insides. About a man displaying superhuman musicianship. About how it feels to know that such talent and skill could exist. About being able to experience it all, to learn from it, to feel the emotion of it, the humanity, the thrill.

Or write about what you do–on whatever level you do it–that makes you proud. That makes you want to declare that you did your best and have contributed something good to the world that only you could have put there–like Gershwin writing this piece of music or Bernstein being capable of this performance.

Of course, mere mortals like us will have to scale it back some–well, maybe a lot more than some. But that’s ok. We all–in our own way and with our own level of skill–have a magnum opus.

What’s yours? What was your finest hour? Or what will it be one day? Think of it as you listen to and watch this video. Then write. About what? You’ll know.