The whole essay is rather entertaining, but I want to pick out a few bits to comment on:
When I was eleven, my mother signed me up for piano lessons that I kept forgetting to go to. I didn't find the repertoire very interesting. She was an old-time fiddler and so I grew up surrounded by music making, but I didn't get captivated until I was in my mid-teens and heard some 60s pop music. Then I wanted to play the drums, or guitar. By age seventeen I was playing bass in a band and doing gigs. It literally never crossed my mind that my mother could have, whatever her wishes, "made me a prodigy." As far as I could tell the essential elements were to be born in a major urban centre so you could hook up with the right teachers and musicians and, most importantly, work your ass off. Cf the early years of Eric Clapton, for example.“Why didn’t you make me a prodigy?”What’s that now? I was driving my 17-year-old son, Fox, to yet another interminable water-polo session at the suburban behemoth that is a locus for every budding swimmer, diver and gymnast in a 50-kilometre radius when he petulantly tossed out this gem.“You can’t make a prodigy,” I responded. “They are literally freaks of nature.”He looked out the window as we passed the site of his one-time guitar lessons and exhaled, shoving his chin into his palm. “Yes, you can. If I had started playing violin like some other kids in the school orchestra, when I was 3, I would be a prodigy.”
That "work your ass off" part is the most interesting to look into. I think that it is why anyone would work their ass off that is the critical question. Obviously this young lout has never been interested in anything outside his own ego enough to actually work at it--or so I surmise from the article. This is an odd passage:
Most really young children are not "into" much, as she notes, other than Froot Loops and Teletubbies. But a genuine prodigy would be an exception. The most prodigious prodigy we know of was Mozart who started teaching himself piano when he was four because his older sister Nannerl was being taught. By five little Wolfgang was already composing and by seven he was touring Europe and composing some pretty decent music. By nine he was writing concert arias with orchestra and by eleven he had written, not one, but two operas. In my experience, there is no doubt if you are in the presence of a real prodigy. You mostly just have to hand them a musical instrument and get out of the way!The thing is, when your kids are prime prodigy age, how are you supposed to know what they’re into – besides Froot Loops and Teletubbies? There is enormous pressure on kids today to be not only good, but excellent. He is a bright, interesting kid, isn’t that enough?
But that little phrase "Froot Loops and Teletubbies" sticks in my mind. I wonder if, by providing our children with a very "child-friendly" environment we are not limiting them in some way? I don't have any children of my own, so this is pure speculation, but the child prodigies I know of were born into families deeply involved with artistic or intellectual pursuits and that is what the children plugged into. If they had Froot Loops and television and video games and iPads and the whole panoply of diverting trivialities that children grow up with now, would they have even had time to realise that there were things that interested them enough to work hard enough to master?
This is the aria for soprano and orchestra, "Conservati fedele" by W. A. Mozart, composed in 1765 when he was nine years old. The soprano is Hannah Schwartz.