It's been a while since I contributed any sort of thoughtful commentary. Been too darn busy to think about stuff, let alone write it. But in the spirit of conversation (and it can
be two-way conversation, if anyone cares to post a comment or sign the ol' guestbook), I've got something now.
Word of the year: prodigy.
This has to be one of the most overused terms these days. The definition, according to Webster, is "(a) an extraordinary, marvelous, or unusual accomplishment, deed, or event (b) a highly talented child or youth." While I'm on board with example (a), I guess I'd have to beg to differ with (b). There are a lot of parents who think their kid is a prodigy (I used to work music retail and can't count the number of moms/dads that went on and on about how their precious 3-year-old Jimmy-poo could sit down at the piano and play just like Oscar Peterson. Uh-huh.) I suppose this is natural. But when this word is used to label every kid who plays a little above average, it begins to lose its meaning.
For example, last week a local restaraunt/bar had signs plastered all over the place announcing this 15-year-old guitar player from Chicago who had a gig lined up for Saturday night. We had the night off and considered checking him out, but due to laziness we couldn't decide whether to go or not. The deciding factor would be, we said, what we thought when we heard the sound clips on his website. Preparing to be blown away, we tuned our ears eagerly towards the computer speakers.
Hmmm. The kid sounded ok, but he didn't sound like a prodigy. He was actually kind of sloppy and didn't really play anything out of the ordinary. (We didn't go to the gig.) In all fairness, I realize it's probably not cool to judge someone based on a few low-quality sound clips on a website. But I did talk to a friend who attended the show and asked what he thought. "Kid sounded all right," he said. "Better than average, maybe. But no wow factor."
Shouldn't a prodigy have some
sort of wow factor? (See definition [a]). Shouldn't something about their playing make you stand up and say, holy crap, this is unbelievable? Shouldn't you be envious of their ability, as you've been playing for many more years than this youngster?
I can honestly say I've known exactly one prodigy...a young saxophone player from Peoria. He was amazing at age 13. Blew most--if not all--of the adult musicians away. Today he still sounds great...he's grown in many ways--his approach to music, the type of music he plays, etc--but you know, anything he plays now (technical, general sound, improvization-wise) he could do then. It really is amazing. I've known other kids who were really good for their age, and who work hard and have become fantastic musicians, but I wouldn't describe them as prodigies. This is a special term that should be reserved for really exceptional individuals.
Like 13-year-old Kit Armstrong, a classical piano player who was recently interviewed on NPR's Weekend Edition
. (He's also taking graduate-level classes in math & physics.)
Or a kid I just heard on the radio today, 18-year-old Eldar Djangirov
. Now he
sounds like Oscar Peterson!
And 16-year-old Julian Lage
, a guitarist touring & recording with vibraphonist Gary Burton these days (I wrote about him before).
So am I writing this out of jealousy? Maybe. But not really. I'm a wordsmith in addition to being a (very mediocre) musician, and misuse of terminology bugs me.
Every prodigy (both real ones and those who are mislabeled) has one thing in common: one day, he/she will grow up. Then that wow
factor will wear off. While she'll certainly be regarded as an excellent musician, the special attention that was lavished upon her will cease. (Well, maybe not for "her" if she continues to perform wearing skimpy outfits and long, flowing blond hair...but for the guys, definitely.) Will he be confused? Will he think he's no longer good enough? How does all this special attention affect the kids?
All I'm saying is to think
My $.02...go ahead, hit me with your commentary. I'm ready!