an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

The dumbest classical episode of Sesame Street is coming to your screens…..

‘I’m Alan Gilbert, I’m the conductor of the New York Philharmonic.’ Yep, that’s the level of dialogue.

This may qualify as just about the stiffest piece of children’s television ever made. Who on earth wrote the duff script? And why would no members of the  New York Philharmonic agree to take part? The road to hell is paved with stuff like this.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. SergioM says:

    I don’t see what’s the problem with this. I mean the show is made for 5 year olds after all. In fact I’ll bet there are plenty of adults for whom this would be too complicated for them

    • Byron Hanson says:

      I’m mixed on how I feel about this one, but it could use some work…..and another “i” in “Juilliard’” would be a place to start.

      • Janet Kessin says:

        Sesame Street corrected the spelling immediately upon notification, which we very much appreciate. The misspelling of Juilliard is a common mistake about which we’re sensitive. Not every organization is so prompt or or even willing to make the correction, but thank you for your concern. Our students — who all have grown up with Sesame Street and the Muppets — were pleased to be part of this segment, and I hope it is fun for children to watch. It was certainly fun to make.

        • janice aubrey says:

          Janet . . . I noticed the missing letter too! Glad to see that you’re still there to tend to things!

    • I have to agree with Sergio. Considering the age group at which this is aimed, I don’t see the problem with the level of dialogue or presentation. Gilbert actually does a good job of explaining some basic concepts, like tempo, and he doesn’t even shy away from using the German title for the Mozart piece. There are many far worse things kids could be watching.

    • Francesca says:

      I agree with Sergio and Leslie! I found it delightful. All the hypercritical dissection of a show that was meant for children is unwarranted. Sesame Street is a 5 star show and I think they did a great job. What do you critics have against Julliard? Unwind your knickers! Smile a little.

  2. John Kelly says:

    Not horrible. I’ve seen worse stuff for kids in my time. I would have thought The Count would have been perhaps a more entertaining and appropriate character. I mean he at least looks like Fritz Reiner, and sounds like him too!

  3. For what it is worth, Gilbert is also associated with the Conducting program at Juilliard. It is likely that the reason they used Juilliard kids instead of NY Phil is cost. Budgets are tight on public television. This “let’s try to be cool while doing classical” thing is very common in the US.

    • Actually, he’s also head of the orchestral program at Juilliard, so perfectly natural for them to be involved. It could have been a little more fun… but that’s Alan Gilbert!

    • No, the reason the Philharmonic stayed out is the orchestra’s union won’t allow this kind of broadcast recording without charging of $$$ and involving lawyers.

      • Capt_Spaulding says:

        Perhaps the TV shoot came up at the last second and the NYP couldn’t slot this into the orchestra’s schedule. Unless you know the terms of the player’s contracts, many Juilliard “kids” are members are members of Local 802 and may have been paid for the shoot. I don’t know the reasons for personnel, but your snide anti-union comment clearly demonstrates that you don’t either…

  4. Petros Linardos says:

    TV has amply done its part in paving the road to hell. The best TV for young kids is no TV.

    Andf yet If kids were to watch any TV, that Sesame Street clip is better than most, maybe because the bar is so low. And at least they speak and play music properly.

    But if the goal is to introduce kids to music, nothing beats hands on activities or leading by example (especially if you play an instrument or sing yourself) .

  5. I would be interested to know of any thoughts regarding the appearance of Andre Previn on The Morecambe & Wise show – unlike Sesame Street in so far as it could hardly claim to be of any educational value whatsoever.

  6. Ouch.

    I can see what they were trying to do ….but between the stilted dialog, the poor delivery, and the fact that they only demonstrated that the musicians can play fast, slow, loud, and soft (they didn’t bother to explain exactly WHAT the conductor does to help the musicians beyond saying that he “moves”), it ended up being a total turn-off.

    • Heck, alot of us would love to finally hear an explanation of exactly what the conductor does to help the musicians.. . .

      • Gerard Schwarz had a wonderful method of explaining to an audience–kids and adults– exactly what the conductor does.

        He had the audience repeatedly chant a word or a phrase, and he’d conduct them, speeding up like a bat out of hell, slowing way down, crescendo, diminuendo, stopping, starting, etc. Every time, they followed him, perfectly.

  7. What’s the issue exactly? Scripts on Sesame Street are written by people with a huge amount of experience and training in getting and holding the attention of little kids. Also, why do you assume they would want members of the orchestra to participate? If you have a script to pitch to them, go for it!

  8. I agree with SergioM.

    This is for 4, 5 and 6 year olds, and maybe younger, and I find myself smiling.

    There is nothing wrong with this.

    Even Alan began to look as if he were enjoying himself.

  9. David Boxwell says:

    The black & white footage (thanks Youtube! of Bernstein’s kiddie concerts astonishes for showing how LB talked _to_ 8 year-olds as if they were 16 (and some of the rapt tots, all in their Sunday Best, are no more than 5 or 6).

  10. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    I enjoyed it. If every kid 6 years old or younger saw this at least one morning in his/her life, the world would be a better place. Kudos to Alan Gilbert for participating. I even know a percussion grad of a major American conservatory who became a puppeteer:

    PS: In the spirit of Ciceronian rhetoric, I shan’t mention that Juilliard was misspelled in the final credits.

    PPS: A little high class video with music that will appeal to children of all ages (thanks, in part, to Mr. Yerrid who produced it):

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      “And why would no members of the New York Philharmonic agree to take part?” Because they probably weren’t asked and because they would scare the little kids. The Juilliard students seem perfectly suited to this kind of activity and I’m sure they smiled without asking for combat pay.

  11. David B Teague says:

    This was an EXCELLENT piece for the intended age group. I cannot see what Norman Lebrecht is complaining about. On the other hand I must agree whole heartedly with SertigoM about adults for whom this could easily be too complicated.

    • I thought the dialog was terribly stilted and unnatural; I don’t know about you, but I never talked that way to my kids when they were in the targeted age group.

      The explanation, such as was, of what a conductor does, is likewise very poor.

      If you want to explain how a conductor helps the musicians play loud/soft or fast/slow, you need to explain and demonstrate the differences in what THE CONDUCTOR is doing, rather than in just having someone listen to musicians first play one way, then the other. The best way to demonstrate this is have the conductor conduct the audience (or in this case, the muppets), and have them watch him while they sing, and respond with THEIR voices to his changing beat. Then you can watch the musicians do the same thing.

      I think the idea of having Alan Gilbert on Sesame St. was a great one; it’s too bad it was so poorly executed (though the Juilliard players were wonderful).

  12. Because they would have to be paid. . .

    • Not necessarily; orchestral musicians vote to waive contract details all the time, and often waive the contract if the majority consider it to be for a really good reason. I would guess that most orchestral musicians would think that Sesame St. was a really good reason, but who knows?

      The bottom line is, it’s unfair (as well as foolish) to assume.

  13. Ken LaFave says:

    What was he supposed to say? “Guess what I am”? or “I am NOT the conductor of the New York Philharmonic”? Thanks for calling my attention to this. I’m sharing it with my Third Grade.

  14. Norman: Part of a music director’s job these days is to connect with a younger audience. Let’s give Alan some credit for trying, even if this collaboration falls short. (Any opera singer or conductor who has experienced working with a clueless stage director/designer can relate, I’m sure!) I’ll bet that Alan offered some suggestions that saved the script from being even worse.

    As for using Juilliard students instead of members of the Phil: GREAT! New York is an expensive place to live, and these kids… I really don’t know how they swing it! If Alan–who also teaches conducting at Juilliard–is responsible for getting these fine young musicians some rent money, GOOD FOR HIM!

    The burning question that *I* have is: Where are Bert, Ernie, and Fozzy when you need them?

    • “The burning question that *I* have is: Where are Bert, Ernie, and Fozzy when you need them?”

      I can’t speak to the absence of Bert and Ernie, but Fozzie has never been on Sesame Street. Ever. He’s from The Muppet Show.

  15. Linda Grace says:

    My grandson loved it. I say he is more qualified to judge, and I’m also wondering why Alan Gilbert’s mother would turn down the opportunity to be on Sesame Street. It was good to see the Juilliard students, hopefully more resonant with the children, although my grandson thought them “old”.

  16. Well, Mr. Rogers was someone with a real educational bent, though he and the Hensons are long gone from this vale of tears. Even so, there are many creative possibilities for public television to introduce children to music beyond a stick and monkey suit, a one-liner, and a nice smile. And for those precocious 5-year olds, Mr. Gilbert could think about emulating Lenny. As a more general matter, it would be nice if, in return for the government paying for a student’s education, the payback would be an equivalent amount of time in public service sharing that education, especially with underserved communities. It’s something to consider as a fix for a broken educational system, and an uncreative public television corporation.

  17. Norman, You are wrong. Sesame Street is for children 3-7 and the piece relates well to them as do the student musicians. Sesame Street is one of PBS’s National treasures and should not be belittled in your patronizing way.

    • Compare to Dudamel episode, then withdraw.

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        I just checked the Dude’s clip and I wept as those penguins sang the Ode to Joy; but….beside the entertainment value, what was he teaching? And excuse me, I am trying to phrase this in a most PC way, it is very difficult to understand what he is saying. I wonder if the average 5 year old figured it out .At least let’s be thankful that artists on this level are willing to proselytize for music. Both clips (Dudamel and Gilbert) are worth viewing, IMHO, even by altercockers like moi.. As great as he was, Bernstein was NOT trying to entertain 5 year old children. Are there any Sesame Street clips with LB?

        • I don’t care about the customary permissive mindset regarding Dudamel. However, we cannot have two weights and two measures. There is no way out to consider one clip more valuable than other. Dudamel just entertain, as usual. Agree with Fitzpatrick.

          I can think about a sesame street with Klemperer participation, if it would be possible. What a real shocking it would be see him screaming to Big bird: “What don’t you take the bow I gave you???”

        • Bob- I can’t recall any clips of LB with Sesame Street although I believe SS did some characterizations of him performing or conducting his music. I certainly wasn’t suggesting Norton Lectures for 5-year olds, but my point was that there are many ways to perform, explore and explain the music that can really excite a young child’s curiosity that are also entertaining.

    • I love Sesame St., and I love Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. I also think Alan Gilbert is a wonderful conductor, and the Juilliard musicians were terrific.

      But I still think this part of the episode was very, very poorly done.

  18. It’s insipid. Lenny would have been horrified, and depressed.

  19. PK Miller says:

    I thought it was cute!!! Like others have said, consider the age group toward which Sesame Street is geared. If this whets kids’ appetite for music, bravo! And, given the attention span of today’s kids, you don’t want to go on and on, you don’t want to get technical. I’ve caught parts of Electric Company from time to time & am surprised at the fast pacing of the show. I thought it was too fast but I’m pushing 70–and need time to “process.”This was fun if I’m not sure what Herr Mozart would’ve thought of the cymbal crash in Eine Kleine Nachtmusik!

    PS Some kids at an area elementary school did a very funny, cute, take on Eine Kleine Nachtmusik! PDQ Bach eat your heart out!

    PS#2 Bernstein had an amazing ability to connect with people of all ages and explain musical concepts so that anyone could understand without ever “dumbing it down.” It’s an innate gift that too few of us share. Lenny was an incredibly gifted teacher as well as musician.

  20. This is terrific! I think it’s perfect for little kids, most of whom probably had never heard a note of symphonic music or seen a conductor. I don’t know the orange muppet but he’s very fun.

  21. Reggie Benstein says:

    I’ll submit the opinion that 5-yr olds are often more observant, more open-minded, and at times have better comprehension than adults.
    Besides that, I agree … this was quite poorly written and unimaginative of what a conductor does: “faster, slower, softer, louder” … “…wave my arms” ?

    But I guess the fact that there is a classical musician on TV in this age of anti-intellectualism will always seem good enough.

    To contast: here’s Itzack Perlman on The Muppets from the 80s:

  22. Oh well. I guess this news is just the latest in a series of catastrophes recently reported on Slipped Disc, such as the opening of an ABBA museum in Sweden, the 24/7 broadcast of Andre Rieu, or the provocative thesis of a philosopher proclaiming the end of a certain form of art. Now, we are told, this latest news leads us literally to hell — odd, because that’s exactly what I feel when tuning on to the news in the morning, and the news is not usually about Sesame Street. Perhaps Schenkerian analysis of Eine kleine Nachtmusik might have saved us from such impending disaster? All roads lead to Rome, and if El Sistema’s attempt at education might indeed be a laudable one, it does not in any way invalidate the educational value of this Sesame Street video which I found charming and, I suspect, very much enjoyed by kids (as well as some grown-ups) — and, more importantly, perfectly appropriate for an audience of 5 year-olds. I wonder what might have motivated all these terrifying reports, if not perhaps the tacit belief that certain forms of art are alone legitimate and enjoy a cultural superiority over other, “lower” forms of “art.” Isn’t part of life the ability to consider viewpoints and perspectives other than our own and to try to learn from them instead of simply shunning them? Classical music is not a religion: composers, conductors, and soloists are first and foremost human beings who, just like you and I, sit down every day — if they’re lucky — to perform a certain bodily function. To try to conveniently put aside this undeniable fact, in the profoundly misguided belief that culture makes us better human beings (just look at the state of our world, and you’ll have a pretty quick answer) is in my opinion to err on a dangerous path. To that effect, the late British prime minister’s reported fondness for Bartok does not in any way rehabilitate her from some of her profoundly misguided policies. Some of the most extraordinary people I have met in my life — perhaps I should say some of the most moral human beings I have been privileged to encounter — probably would not have been able to tell the difference between a Bartok and a Bruckner. On the other hand, as a professional musician I have met many accomplished musicians — some of them world renown — who on a personal level were morally bankrupt. Culture literally abounds with such examples, too many to list here, and they are not confined to music — just look at literature and philosophy. Let’s put “culture” in the right perspective and be open to forms of expression that are not necessarily celebrated by the latest cultural fashion, nor endorsed by the prevailing cultural intelligentsia. Let’s live and let live — or, at the very least, let kids enjoy learning about music through Sesame Street.

  23. Carole Isseks Bailis says:

    We should look at the larger picture. Young children are being exposed to classical music in a manner that doesn’t tax their attention span and doesn’t condescend to their lack of musical education. I enjoyed it, thought Alan Gilbert did a good job, and liked that Juilliard students were featured rather than older members of the N.Y. Philharmonic. Leonard Bernstein may have done it differently, but he was dealing with an older audience of young people. Any attempt to broaden children’s horizons to include classical music should be applauded.

  24. Whether the musicians in the Philharmonic would have to be paid or not, you’re picking on the fact that this video includes a high-profile conductor, working with students, and teaching younger kids about the orchestra and classical music. Let’s at least recognize this video for what it is: fun, educational, and tailored to a young audience. Kudos to all involved.

    • I’ve seen much, much better classical music education directed at little kids than this. The Perlman link above, posted by Reggie Bernstein is a good example.

      Perlman happens to be a very warm, natural speaker, and is just a natural with little kids. If you have an artist who isn’t, then you need a scriptwriter and/or director who can make him LOOK like he is.

      You also need someone who REALLY knows what they are doing directing the script and blocking.

      This could have been really great–it was a great idea–but the devil is in the details, and these details were just really badly done.

      You know, if you see a mediocre performance of something, you might think it’s very good–until you see a really great performance. And then you can understand what the difference is.

      We can’t afford even mediocre music education efforts, particularly on a great show like Sesame St, and with great musicians like Alan Gilbert and the Juilliard players.

  25. [redacted]
    As many others have noted, little kids seem to love it – my non-scientifically picked focus group certainly did.

    If you want a giggle (or a cringe), also look for Sesame Street and….
    Dudamel, YoYo Ma, Perlman, Careras, Kronos Quartet, Tokyo Quartet, Domingo, Stern, Joshua Bell, and probably many others.

    As the saying goes…. “Never judge Sesame Street until you have walked a mile with someone’s hand stuck up your [redacted]“.

  26. Les Dreyer says:

    Bravo maestro Gilbert! This project follows what I wrote about in my Dialogues letters in the NY Times (Nov. 25 issue). Incidentally, a Bugs Bunny film, “What’s Opera, Doc?” (1957) was voted as the greatest cartoon of all time in the 90′s by a query of 1000 animated cartoon employees—-and the music was all Wagner!! The future of classical music lies with our children.

    • I will have to nominate this Pink Panther episode as the greatest cartoon of all time, at least in the category of Most Realistic Animated Short About Having Too Many Trumpet Mouthpieces. The relevant part begins at 3:31, with the punchline around 3:49.

  27. I was waiting for Alan to turn to the muppet and hand him a giant letter “Q” at the end. How disappointing.

  28. Well, there’s certainly more than one “I” in Juilliard.

an ArtsJournal blog