Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Desert of the Real

Andrew Solomon's NYT article on the family life of prodigies has a lot of good material in it; it avoids a lot of the cliches about prodigies, while also avoiding the cliche about avoiding the cliches. This quote from pianist Ken Noda struck a particular chord, as it deals with the lifelong developmental challenges faced by anyone in their creative life:
“Young people like romance stories and war stories and good-and-evil stories and old movies because their emotional life mostly is and should be fantasy,” says Ken Noda, a great piano prodigy in his day who gave up public performance and now works at the Metropolitan Opera. “They put that fantasized emotion into their playing, and it is very convincing. I had an amazing capacity for imagining these feelings, and that’s part of what talent is. But it dries up, in everyone. That’s why so many prodigies have midlife crises in their late teens or early 20s. If our imagination is not replenished with experience, the ability to reproduce these feelings in one’s playing gradually diminishes.”
The difficulty faced by the families of prodigious children is how to balance feeding the talent against feeding the person who has the talent. I'm reminded of an article by Cynthia Gorney about Rafael Nadal (discussed elsewhere in BRS), which mentioned that his uncle trained him to be not just a great tennis player, but also a gentleman and decent human being, and that both of them were of the opinion that if you couldn't be the latter things, then being a great tennis player wouldn't be worth it. There has to be something that helps bridge across the desert.

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