A “talent seed?” This is what I mean:
Despite the six inches of snow on the ground at my house, today is the first day of spring. And in anticipation of the eventual good weather, I have been entertaining myself with gardening books and catalogs. Did you know the Burpee seed catalog lists over 100 varieties of tomatoes? I was particularly taken by “Black Krim,” a very dark colored tomato. If you didn’t know better, you might think it had spoiled on the vine.
And then I read a short blog post from Seth Godin on talent. And the two items started a train of thought that I wanted to share with you.
I believe the two most frequent statements we make about talent to be dangerously misleading.
False statement #1: That person is so talented.
False statement #2: I’m just not talented.
If talent is something you either have or you don’t, then those statements are true. In fact, then practicing is pointless and most of us should give up studying music completely. But both statements are built on an underlying misconception that renders them both false. They imply that talent is immutable, unchangeable and quantifiable, when talent is none of those things.
Most of us have read books like Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, underscoring the idea that every “talented” artist is at the core a hard worker. Not that there isn’t an innate ability, gift, a touch, a proclivity, a temperament that gives a creative artist his or her spark. But talent is not where artistry stops; it’s where it begins.
Try thinking of talent as a seed, as potential waiting to be developed. With care, nurturing, work and a little luck, the seed will sprout and grow. The harder we work, the bigger and stronger the plant. When the plant is big enough, it will bear fruit. And as in Burpee’s catalog, there are endless varieties of fruit the plant may bear.
I believe most of us have many “talent seeds” inside us. Our circumstances and our choices usually result in our growing only a few of them. Who could possibly follow every interesting path?
I also believe that people who choose to study music, whether beginning as a child or an adult, and who persevere beyond a few lessons have a music “talent seed.” How that seed grows depends on how we nourish it. It will grow bigger and stronger the more we work and study and practice. That much is certain.
The kind of fruit it will bear is a more interesting question. Each person’s talent bears its own kind of fruit. If every composer composed like Bach, we would have no Debussy. If every violinist played like Paganini, there would be no Heifetz. The world would be much less interesting.
Your aim as a music student is to grow the seed you have. Nurture it with everything you can, and enjoy the particular fruit that is yours, no matter what it looks like. It will be sweet if you choose to enjoy it.