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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Waste of Talent?

Some time ago I was chairing a little symposium dedicated to the development of musical talent. It was organized by a well-known youth string orchestra from the region in honor of its 25th birthday.

The symposium was nice. We invited as a key note speaker the principal of a municipal music school which still manages to play a role in talent development, which is not straightforward. Many of those schools, traditionally considered as the key providers of instrumental music tuition in The Netherlands, are going through rough times. That is: if they manage to stay alive, because many of them close due to severe budget cuts by their municipalities. Many of them are funded by the local governement but less and less those governments consider it as a given that they should keep doing that. I am not going into that debate, apart from saying that the questions posed to music schools are sometimes not unrealistic, and the answers offered by music schools are sometimes not realistic. Having said that, I notice each and every music school that dies with regret.

For group discussions we invited two guests from outside the music domain. One was from the sports world, I confess kind of a regular choice because as soon as 'talent development' is at stake in music someone starts talking about the sports world; and indeed, many professional musicians claim that 'music is topsport'. The other one was, maybe more surprising, from the world of good food; we invited a restaurant owner/chef and asked him to tell about his experiences with training people in his kitchen - some of whom may be considered talents. I happened to be present at that group discussion, and found it fascinating.

However, and as usual, I also felt ill at ease in the discussion. Yes, talent development is important, maybe - but why? And which talent? I tend to think, rather naively, that the main goal in life is to become happy, and that music might contribute to that; and I am always unsure whether it is really true that developing your musical 'talents' - whatever that is - makes you happy. At some point someone said that if only our educational system would be better we would discover many more musical talents in a much earlier stage, talents who now might be lost for the music world because they never find out that they have a talent for music and they never find themselves in the circumstances to nurture that talent.

That may be a loss for 'the music world', for 'the audience', for 'the music lover', yes, even for 'music'. But for me the main question is: is it always a loss for the person involved? Is someone less happy by definition if his talent remains undeveloped?

Recently I read Jan Brokken's 'Baltische Zielen' (Baltic Souls). He writes about Gidon Kremer. And after having read that chapter I honestly wondered if it was really worth it to develop his musical talents. Yes, the world may boast one more great violinist; but at the price of the happiness of the individual Gidon Kremer.

And I couldn't help feeling that price was too high. Way too high.

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