I suppose that each of us has a fascination with people able to do things that are beyond our own abilities. In particular I am in awe of those who are musical. There is probably little in this life that gives me as much joy as listening to music and I am totally eclectic in my taste. My playlist would include classical, jazz, blues, rock, pop, country, hip hop, rap, soundtracks, Broadway, you name it. Of course I have my favorite pieces and and artists in every category, but mostly I find myself in awe of anyone with the talent to create or perform great music. While I am able to catch on to mathematical processes quickly, I feel totally devoid of any ability to make beautiful music. Even my voice is lacking in discernible potential.
I was thinking about simple songs just the other day. I am somewhat able to string words together to form a cohesive idea, but if I had to make them work within the confines of a particular tune I’m not so sure that my abilities would hold up. Sometimes the difference between a one hit wonder and a forever song lies in a seamless combination of musical notes and words. I often think of the teamwork of John Lennon and Paul McCartney when they were both members of the Beatles. Paul’s music was often the more satisfying than John’s, but John found words to go with the tunes that elevated them to high art. When the two broke up and went out on their own they still found success, but only once in awhile did their music find the ultimate combination of both wonderful lyrics and magnificent melodies. John Lennon’s Imagine comes to mind as a perfect work of art, but many of his other solo efforts were quite forgettable.
I’ve been following some heralded musicians and song writers of late out of curiosity to learn if their talents are inborn or the product of hard work. The answer in most cases seems to be that it is a combination of both. Most great artists began their journeys in the world of music as children. It was something that interested them, and so they kept at it, experimenting and practicing until they found a sweet spot in their work. When we witness someone who appears to be a naturally creative genius we often forget the hours and hours of practice and revision behind the scenes that pushed them to greatness.
One of my all time favorite movies is Amadeus, a glimpse into the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I had heard stories of young Mozart playing his music for kings and queens when he was little more than a toddler. He definitely possessed instantly notable talent in music from an early age, but it might never have come to light but for his father’s deliberate attempts to nurture and push Wolfgang to develop his skills. Mozart’s is a story of a man driven sometimes to madness in his efforts to both please his father and demonstrate his genius to the world. He did not simply show up one day with a collection of beautiful music. He worked hard to create some of the best loved pieces the world has ever known. Sometimes he found perfection and others he was devoid of ideas. Always music was an obsession that dominated life.
I suppose my fascination with music and those who create and perform it comes from a sense of wonderment that anyone would be willing to spend so much time perfecting a single note, an intonation, a word. It is a kind of devotion and drive that few of us have. When they perform they make their talent seem easy but when we follow the arc of their fame we begin to see just how much of their lives have been spent pushing for ever better ever more wonderful sounds. While we are sleeping, they may be practicing and creating. While we are with our families they are holed away in a room repeating the same phrase or stanza over and over and over until it is just right.
I once saw a cellist perform and she was incredible. She seemed to be as one with her instrument. She created sweet sounds the likes of which I had never heard. When the conductor spoke of her rise to notice in the music world, he noted that she had regularly practiced twelve hours a day from the time she was a young child. I remember thinking that she was so good that there seemed to be no need for her to spend that much time rehearsing each movement of her fingers and her bow. I was in awe that anyone would be willing to literally spend so much time finding perfection. Then I considered that when I was working as a teacher I regularly spent twelve to fourteen hours a day working on my craft. I suppose that the only difference is in where we choose to center our focus.
Maybe if I had made music all day, everyday for years I too would be masterful. Then again it is doubtful because I never really had a desire to spend that much time learning music rather than enjoying it. Instead I studied all day long, pretended to create newspapers and books as a kind of game when I was a child, played school with my brothers and my friends. Somehow I was always moving in the direction of my talents and my interests. I ended up in a career that brought me happiness and purpose and for which I was willing to give most of my waking hours each day.
I never became a rock star in my profession, but I found great joy in it. Hopefully I even brought some pleasure to some of my students just as musicians bring happiness to me. I suppose that if we are really lucky each of us finds a niche that feels just right. When we have to work, we don’t mind the time or the effort because it’s something that we love. We’ll have glorious moments when it feels as though we have created the perfect fusion of all of our talents and skills. Then there are times when nothing seems to come together right. I suppose that is the definition of work and life. For each of us a place in the world is somewhere out there waiting for us to find it and work hard enough to reach it. There is music in all that we do to get there.