What, Another Child Prodigy?

Please, don’t harass me with another child prodigy video!

I love kids and want kids to just be kids and do kids’ things. I don’t want them strapped to a piano bench or face down in math equations for ten hours a day. There’s a whole life ahead for that stuff. 

What gets me are those constant Facebook postings about child prodigies. Honestly, an eleven year old singing Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is a no go for me. Same goes for a twelve year old playing every Eddie Van Halen lick.

I like witnessing the growth thing — that point when a young artist begins to find their own voice. Only a rare few can see the world in those terms at a young age — let’s say like writer Carson McCullers who wrote so eloquently about the South in her teenage years and flamed out at 50.

Artistic expression is a lifetime of learning, refining, redefining and polishing. Early life is about facility and developing the tools and beginning to understand the sensitive terms in which to proceed. There is a contract to be signed with yourself and the future and you better have an understanding what’s in that internalized document. 

There was a study done of 210 prodigies — gifted in math and music etc. — and only 6 made the cut. Most had to deal with high expectation, many were robbed of their childhoods and others just socially handicapped. The world is about interaction and developing a range of social skills that must be melded with ability. 

I kind of faced that as a child and saw where this was going. I was in conservatory and many hours where spent in isolation behind the piano. I was there because I loved it and didn’t really start playing until I was thirteen. I remember Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Fame Manager Sparky Anderson saying he would never allow a kid to pitch or lift weights until they were fifteen. He wanted the body grow and mind develop naturally. I wouldn’t let my son play Pop Warner football in Marietta, Georgia because of potential concussions and injuries that could have plague him his entire adult life. He was a big kid and perfect lineman material. There are no broken fingers or teeth on the man and he’s as sharp as a finely crafted blade.

I was fortunate to be born into this half Italian family with a tough business woman for a grandmother. She ran three farms and communicated like no one I knew outside the neighborhood. Before I could slip into a self- imposed cynical musician’s coma she led the way up and down boulevards greeting people and pausing for long conversations. She made life fun and friendships – long lasting.

To often we see ourselves in our kids and wish they live our dreams and walk forward on the world stage and dazzle. Not going to happen!

Give me the life journey — the chance to be better as each year passes. That’s what mystifies and perplexes. Think of it — there’s no looking back, just momentary pauses to survey where this all began — the miles and hurdles in between and that wide open road ahead. 

I’m truly fascinated with what’s happening in music. Booker T. Jones, in his seventies, playing with his young son — the whole band twenty and thirty “somethings.” George Clinton & the Parliament Funkadelics — a stage packed with young players. All across the spectrum, I see ‘ageism’ in retreat other than pop music. 

A prodigy needs a master because master time is invaluable. There are no twelve year old masters, so apprenticing with someone who has lived and absorbed and can deliver the finer details we all seek. An aspiring songwriter needs to be in the company of successful songwriters. A gifted guitar player can only transcribe so many solos or finger so many exercises before they need a bandstand and players who will whip in shape and encourage them on.

Learning is a community action.

Centuries ago we taught kids how to hunt, protect themselves — how to plant and how to harvest and at the same time be responsible members of the village. The same applies today. 

We recently lost a Canadian icon, Archie Alleyne who took it upon himself to travel school to school and mentor through his Evolution of Jazz road show. The Slaight Foundation does this through many activities including the giving of annual scholarships for tuition at the Berklee College of Music, Artist in residence at Soulpepper Theatre, CFC Film Composers residency, etc. These are the kinds of targeted programs that give young adults the opportunity to realize their potential and live the dream.

My life has been mentored by every great recording, every intriguing music manuscript I’ve picked up, every moment in the darkroom with a great photographer, every great book, every night on the bandstand with great players and continues to this day. 

You think you have a talented kid roaming the house — my advice — listen and find out what their true passions are and provide the tools, encourage, get them tutoring. Be there to take them to the next level — but be there with a smile and loads of patience. Learning is at times boring and frustrating for all. Most of all — lots of love and big hugs. The evolving parent is the real prodigy!


"Weird Al" Yankovic - "Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me"


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