I’ve just come across another musical prodigy. His name is Geoffrey Gallante and he plays the trumpet. Check him out:
He’s just one of scores of musical prodigies that appear on my Facebook and Twitter feeds over the course of a year.
Of course there’s Joey Alexander:
And that little Chinese kid.
I hate musical prodigies because I’m envious. I’m a musician myself, who was given perhaps the cruelest of musical gifts: just enough talent to recognize and appreciate the greatness of musicians at the very highest level of the art, but too little talent to join their ranks.
Musical prodigies are born with remarkable technical skills, the kind the rest of us spend a lifetime of practice struggling to attain. And the most annoying prodigies are not only brilliant technically but also display a mind-boggling musical maturity.
Some say, as a way of consolation, that these prodigies are merely performing parlor tricks. What they can do at the age of five or ten the rest of us will be able to do at twenty or thirty. They’ve been born with a head start, the thinking goes, but it all evens out in the end.
To some extent this might be true. Despite the many prodigies who pop up year after year, it appears that few maintain their hold on the public’s imagination as they grow into adulthood. We humans seem to have a thing for young talent. We lost interest in older talent.
But down deep I know this is a rationalization. Some of us are simply born with gifts that give us the chance to experience an artistic and spiritual freedom that may never be available to me.
As I get older, I fear that I may never get even close to the extended state of grace that is afforded a musician when he or she enters that zone of near-effortless playing, when it is as if one is standing outside oneself, simply observing the music flowing through your mind and body and then out into the universe.
This is in no way to belittle what I’ve accomplished. I’ve enjoyed a taste of that beatific peace. And I continue day in and day out to acquire what’s needed to spend more time in that still and beautiful place.
But if I’m honest with myself, I know I’ll never reach the Promised Land. Life, despite all the talk of “nothing is impossible,” presents us with limits. Some we’re born with. Others we impose on ourselves. Still others are imposed upon us by the societies in which we live.
This might be what wisdom is all about. Recognizing that some things are, in fact, impossible. We can’t always get what we want. We will never achieve our dreams.
And I might attain some sense of peace in understanding that. Wisdom may be, in fact, the recognition of defeat.
This, of course, runs completely counter to the prevailing ideology that humankind is perfectable, that everyone is a creative genius inside and that with enough brute effort we can become anything we want.
Lovely thoughts, but the data points otherwise. We’re not perfectable; true genius comes around maybe a couple of times per century, and we can’t become anything we want.
Perhaps I’ll come to terms with musical prodigies and stop hating them. Maybe I’ll internalize the truth that from 10,000 feet above it really doesn’t matter where we start. That in the big scheme of things, we’re all just hanging on by a thread, and that the journey, not the goal, is what really matters.
Until the, I’ve got to go practice. There’s still a lot more to discover in a C-major scale.